This lesson introduces students to the art of designing an airplane through paper airplane constructions. The goal is that students will learn important aircraft design considerations and how engineers must iterate their designs to achieve success. Students first follow several basic paper airplane models, after which they will then design their own paper airplane. They will also learn how engineers make models to test ideas and designs.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
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- Colorado: Science
- b. Use the particle model of matter to illustrate characteristics of different substances (Grade 6)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- Standard 18. Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use transportation technologies. (Grades 0 - 12)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Design at least two different paper airplanes.
- Modify one of their designed airplanes in an attempt to improve its flight.
- Become familiar with parts of a paper airplane and how they relate to parts on a real airplane.
Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers
How Do Paper Airplanes Fly?
|The study of the affects of bodies moving relative to gases, especially the interaction of moving objects with the atmosphere.|
|Either of two movable flaps on the wings of an airplane that can be used to control the plane's rolling and banking movements.|
|The retarding (slowing down) force exerted on a moving body by a fluid medium such as air or water.|
|A movable control surface, usually attached to the horizontal stabilizer of an aircraft that is used to produce nose-up or nose-down motion (pitch).|
|A light engineless aircraft designed to glide after being towed aloft or launched from a high location such as a building or mountain.|
|To set or thrust a craft or projectile into motion.|
|Force available for overcoming the force of gravity.|
|The nose of an aircraft is the structure at the very front of the aircraft that is shaped in such a way as to reduce drag. The nose is usually shaped like a cone or a dome.|
|A vertically hinged plate of metal, fiberglass, or wood mounted at the tail of an aircraft, used for effecting horizontal changes in course.|
|Stability is the ability of an object, such as a ship or aircraft, to maintain equilibrium or resume its original, upright position after being displaced from its original course.|
|Designed or arranged to offer the least resistance to airflow.|
|The forward-directed force developed in a propeller, jet, or rocket engine as a reaction to the high-velocity rearward ejection of air or exhaust gases.|
|A measure of the heaviness of an object.|
- Heads Up - This activity focuses on how to fold different types of paper airplanes. It is an introduction to subsequent lessons which will look at modifications to a simple paper airplane design.
- How many of you have ever made a paper airplane?
- How many of you have tried with a friend to see whose airplane will go the farthest or the highest? What did you do to accomplish this?
- True/False: Design, weight and rudders are all things that can affect paper airplane flight. (True)
- True/False: Engineers consider the purpose (cargo, speed, distance) of the airplane before designing it. (True)
- True/False: Engineers make models of things like airplanes to test their ideas in a laboratory setting before they build the real thing? (True)
- True/False: When an engineer designs and builds something, it usually works the first time and they are done? (False: Engineers almost always have to redesign something several times before it is finished.)
Lesson Summary Assessment
Lesson Extension Activities
Schmidt, Norman. Super Paper Airplanes, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 1996.
Shulan, Michael. The Complete Paper Airplane Book, Watermill Press, 1979.
Paper Aircraft Association:http://www.topphotograph.dsl.pipex.com/paamain/index.html
Tom Rutkowski, Alex Conner, Geoffrey Hill, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: February 5, 2016