Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Negative into positive with a paper aeroplane

Inferior models

Irritated by paper aeroplanes being thrown in your classroom? It happens to all of us during out teaching career at one time or another, some ‘character’, usually a boy, has learnt how to make a paper aeroplane and uses your class to demonstrate his new found skill. I am always amazed at the poor level of construction of these missiles; they are usually just successive folds along a central axis, a demonstration of symmetry. My dad taught me a far more intricate and aesthetically pleasing method but I’m not sure if it flew as far as the, in my opinion, inferior models.

Inspiration takes wing

In an inspired moment that I considered to be equivalent to the great works of Leonardo Da Vinci I decided that paper aeroplanes would be the centre piece of one of my lessons, turning a negative into a positive. It would be fun, something different, give them a chance to explore a number of mathematical concepts and most importantly allow me to make some paper aeroplanes as well.

Departure lounge

I gave the each member of the class plans of 3 different types of paper aeroplane with instructions on how to make them. These are easily obtainable from the internet or books. Each aircraft was photocopied onto different coloured paper; plane 1 was on yellow, plane2 on blue etc. I asked them to make the planes and to write their names on the wing so they could identify which theirs once thrown. Never has a class engaged upon a maths activity with such enthusiasm. Once constructed I armed the class with tape measures and went outside.

Take off

Outside I went to a tennis court, any area where there is a line drawn on the ground will do. This is where they threw the planes from. Once every plane was launched it was easy to see if any particular construction went further because each type was a different colour. The class had to measure the distance from the starting line to each of their aircraft and record distance and type. (It was apparent to me that no one model was superior to any other but some animated discussion did take place amongst the pupils)


Once back in the classroom we discussed which went furthest? I asked how can we tell? Eventually the discussion was guided to pooling the data and finding the average distance. Some pupils are adamant that one particular type flew further, I have used belief  to set up an hypothesis against which we tested our data. Obviously the differences in averages prompted some to suggest that one was superior to others but this enabled me to have a discussion on how significant differences are. It is also the provided me with opportunity to use mean, median and mode and discuss the value of each type of average. I collected the paper aeroplanes in at the end of the lesson as they would form the basis of the next session.

Future flights

For the next lesson I had persuaded the PE department to leave a bench on the tennis court we had used previously. After handing out the paper aeroplanes I posed the question ‘Would the planes fly further if thrown from higher up?’ Again a short discussion ensued and another hypothesis was set up. The same process as before was followed, planes thrown, distances measured, averages found and data recorded. Back in the classroom further discussions and calculations took place.

Follow up

The planes were used as a project which the pupils wrote up. The various angles were measured and classified for each plane, symmetry was identified, graphs were drawn and a conclusion was arrived at from the various hypothesis posed. A really Maths rich set of activities (I got to make some paper aeroplanes.

For another practicl investigative activity see my post
breakfast maths or cereal that never ends

I was reminded of this activity and prompted to write this piece after reading  post by David Wees on using catapults Try his website for more ideas Well worth the visit.

A variety of planes can be built using the instructions from this book. 200 Paper Planes to Fold and Fly Of course the only reason to buy it is for educational purposes, not to release the inner child in us.Click on the link below, best price only 1p, astonishing. 

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100 Paper Planes to Fold and Fly