Friday 15 October 2010

The Perfect Paper Airplane

[caption id="attachment_59" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="A reliable classic"][/caption]

This week, I started a new unit with my grade 6 classes to build the 'perfect' paper airplane.  After an initial tuning it period where students build a variety of airplanes that they knew and argued about the virtues of each we realized that we would have to unpack the problem a bit more and try to understand what sort of 'perfect' we are talking about.  Students began brainstorming about criteria that we ought to look for in our airplanes and what sort of fair test could be used to determine which airplane is the best.  So, as we begin to investigate the problem, students have been set with 2 tasks.  First, in groups, they have to design some 'fair tests' that we could do.  I have asked for 4 ideas.  In each case, they have to explain what criteria they are looking for and how they intend to measure it.  They might be looking for a plane that stays up in the air for a long time, flies very far or flies very straight.  And they have already realized that an airplane that is built for one purpose may not necessarily win out in a different category.

They also realized that as a part of our fair test, we will need rules.  Can each person use whatever paper they want or will we make everyone use the same one?  How many pieces of paper can they use?  Are tools like scissors or glue allowed?  Can extra pieces, like paperclips, be added or not?  On Monday, we will look at their responses and by next week, I will be able to post in some detail about our upcoming 'Perfect Paper Airplane' contest.

In the meantime, let me leave you with the results of some of my own research.  A popular term for airplane building is aerogami after the Japanese origami. Having invented paper, the Chinese are likely to have been the first to build paper airplanes.  There is evidence of paper airplane building in China from as early as 500 BCE.  The world record for time aloft for a paper airplane is 27.6 seconds, held by Ken Blackburn.  A very cool paper airplane design that you may not have seen before is the ring.  I can confirm that, at least indoors, it flies surprisingly well.  This website has pictures and downloadable videos for a whole bunch of intersting designs.  This one doesn't require any downloads.  They are laid out as a series of moving .gif files.

More on paper airplanes next week!

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