April is Flying-Things Month!

April is Flying Things Month for The Science Works!  My Monthly Preschool Science Visits will be focused on the themes of flight and flying, as children test and try out the World’s Simplest Glider, the Helicopter, the Flying Fish, and even the Doughnut Airplane!

The workshop starts with the “World’s Three Greatest Airplanes”:  As I demonstrate them, they are…

  1. A crumpled up ball of paper
  2. A piece of paper,and
  3. The world’s simplest glider.

Not too impressive sounding, granted, but they do lead to a lot of science-questions.  In testing the first two, the children and I discover…

  • the crumpled up ball falls fast to the ground
  • the piece of paper floats slowly down to the ground
  • they appear to move differently through the air….why?

The first thought that always comes up from the children is that the ball of paper is heavier, and that is why it falls faster.  But opening it up we can see that is it the same kind of paper as the one that floats, and indeed it floats slowly down to the ground itself when dropped.  So we keep thinking and generating ideas.  It usually takes them a few tries but generally we come around to the idea that the flat piece of paper floats down to the ground because it is spread out, and the ball of paper falls fast because all of its weight is concentrated in one spot.  I then compare these two to a baseball and a parachute.  Just as a ball of paper would not make a good parachutes, the piece of paper makes a lousy baseball!  Trying to throw a flat piece of paper is like wrestling jello.  The air pressure pushes the paper onto your hand as your hand is moving, keeping the paper “stuck” onto your hand!  As long as  you keep your hand moving…you have invented “Sticky Paper”!  It will never fall off! (or at least not before your hand stops moving!).  Testing the crumpled up ball on top of the paper will also create some interesting results.  When it is In the center of the paper, the ball and paper together fall faster than the flat paper, but slower than the ball by itself.  When the ball of paper is set off to one side, the piece of paper tips and “flies” in that direction.  It is actually  possible to tape a crumpled up ball of paper in just the right spot on a piece of paper so that it will really fly!

This leads us to the last paper airplane, the “world’s simplest glider”.  This is a single piece of paper with one edge folded over and over until the paper is about half its size.  When you let go of this one it glides in the direction of the weighted side, and flies very far.  This is very similar to the piece of paper with the crumpled ball attached to it:  a wide, flat surface with a weighted edge.

From here, setting up an “Airplane Creation Station” with paper in different weights and sizes, straws, tape, scissors and glue, along with these two models, can give children the inspiration they need to make their own inventions and discoveries in the Art of Paper-Airplane-Creation!


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