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Paper Airplanes

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Keywords: Math, Algebra, Airplane, Algebra Project
Subject(s): Algebra, Math
Grades 9 through 12
School: Cambridge South Dorchester HS, Cambridge, MD
Planned By: Jim Heister
Original Author: Jim Heister, Cambridge
(This project is done at the end of our graphing linear equations unit.) The first thing we do is to discuss aerodynamics as is applies to airplanes, and then paper airplanes. After a brief discussion, I show the class several websites dedicated to paper airplanes. Once they see how intricate some of these planes can be, they become very interested and want to try to make some of the designs.

This is where it starts. I allow them to use my computer to research paper airplanes and print out the folding directions to the models they are interested in making. Some are content to make what they find but others will begin to make their own designs. These are much more interesting sometimes because the students really take ownership of the planes and treasure them. I also make several designs while the students are making theirs and fly them around the classroom. I allow the students to make "Test Flights" in the classroom, hallway or outside (weather permitting). As they are making the planes I discuss why I am having them make paper airplanes. I tell them we are gong to have a contest to see who has the best plane. The two categories being judged are Distance and Hang Time! This really gets the students intense and serious about their plane. I allow them a class period or two to completely design and test as many models as they wish before Flight Day.

On Flight Day, I take the class to the cafeteria (unless the gym is available) for their timed flights. I make this very simple and get the whole class involved. I put a piece of tape on the floor for the throwing line (this cannot be passed or flight is disqualified) and all flights are measured from this line. I have students timing the flights from the point when it leaves the throwers hand to the time it touches the ground. Other students are marking the flight and returning (walking) the airplane back to the thrower. While other students are recording the flight time and distance in a table. Each student is allowed three trials.

Once all students have had a chance to fly their planes we go back to the classroom to begin the number crunching and other data gathering. Back in class I have the students weigh their planes (borrow a scale from science department), measure length of their planes and the wingspan of their planes. When all of this information is gathered, I have them use this data to get the following graphs: Distance vs. Time, Wingspan vs. Time, Weight vs. Time, Length of Plane vs. Time, Distance vs. Length of Plane, Distance vs. Wingspan. From these scatter plots the students are to draw in their line of best fit for each graph. I use these graphs to discuss applications of scatter plots, constant functions, linear functions and lines of best fit.

(This next part is done in the Media Center because of the number of computers needed.) The students use the TI-83/84s to get the scatter plots, graphs and equations for the line of best fit. I have them use the Screen Capture feature from the TI-Graphlink software (free from Texas Instruments on their website) to transfer their screens of each part of this process and have them paste these captures into a word processing document. This document (Project Write-Up)is what is graded. The Write-Up is to include the following: Table showing their flight data. Describe the pattern/model of your airplane. Why did you choose the model you constructed? Labeled screen captures of the graph of the scatter plots, lines of best & equations for these lines for each graph. For each line of best fit they have to answer "Is your line of Best-Fit a Good Model?"

Throughout this entire process, I am taking photos of my students (in each phase of the project). I take these pictures and some screen captures from some students work and put a power point presentation together for each class to show the progress, effort, and results to other classes and administrators. I even had the Assistant Super Intendant make & fly a plane this year! Once we have completed all write-ups and everything is done, I show the class the presentation. They really like this part because I put "funny" captions on each of the photos that give them a good laugh.
Links: Alex's Paper Airplanes
Ken Blackburn's Paper Airplanes
Amazing Paper Airplanes
Materials: Digital Cameras, Calculators, Graphing, Camera/Video Accessories, Math, Word Processor, Slideshow, Screen Capture
Other Items: sheets of paper, $??? each