FREEBIE STEM Activity: Ingenuity! Spinning STEM Paper HeliCopter Lab

Grade Levels
Not Grade Specific
Formats Included
  • PDF
14 pages

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  1. NASA's Mars duo of the rover Perseverance and the helicopter Ingenuity arrived at the red planet and touched down inside Jezero Crater on February 18th, 2021. With this bundle of low-cost, high-impact activities, Ss can practice designing, building, and landing their own Mars mission. Bring the exci
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Inexpensive and ingenious! Let's Build Something Together Engineering Resources (LBSTER) invites students to create a Spinning STEM Copter and improve the design, like NASA engineers did when making the Mars 2020 helicopter.

In the 1480s, the genius of Leonardo da Vinci inspired the design of an "aerial screw". 535 years later, the Ingenuity helicopter took flight on the planet Mars! Now, here’s a really robust rotor blade research project FREE for classroom use. Using scissors, simple folds, and paper clips, Ss explore:

  • How changing a paper helicopter’s shape or weight affects its flight,
  • How air resistance on an object in free fall changes the way an object descends.
  • How does the shape of paper effect how it flies through the air.
  • What makes a paper helicopter fall to the ground the fastest? Slowest? How can Ss explain the difference?
  • How fast does it twirl before it hits the floor? Can Ss think of ways to change it so it twirls faster? In the opposite direction?

The STEMphasis:

  • Science: Can Ss control variables of position, descent rate, and center of mass?
  • Technology: Can Ss find what works best for a helicopter, a glider, or a plane?
  • Engineering: Can Ss improve the Copter to change the velocity (speed and/or direction) of the twirling?
  • Math: Can Ss cut paper to create positive/negative faces with symmetry? Can Ss create a graph showing the calculated rate of descent?

Ts can scale the sophistication and schedule of the investigation up or down. I've done this with kindergarteners (and dropped any data collection; just looked at rotor results), and I've challenged my AP Physics 1 Ss (and scrutinized the slope of their graphs with them).

This product also includes an activity from NASA for Ss to build a model of Ingenuity helicopter using marshmallows, toothpicks, and cardstock. It won't fly, but it will look tasty! [as always BE ALERT TO STUDENT’S FOOD ALLERGY WARNINGS! Products may contain nut and other allergens]. The purpose of this inquiry-based explorations is to stimulate students’ curiosity and to engage them in activities that involve using the scientific method and measurements, and investigate the meaning of a model and how models are used in scientific research.

These activities have the following learning objectives and outcome.

Students Will Be Able To (SWBAT/I Can):

  • SWBAT investigate how a change in the spinning STEM helicopter of affects the amount of lift they generate


  • SWBAT design and construct simple models that use different properties for flight. (For example, one clip vs. two clips.)
  • SWBAT conduct an investigation in paper helicopter flight using the models they construct.
  • SWBAT differentiate between the flight of a model using one independent variable (number of or angle of blades) and the flight of a model using a different variable.
  • SWBAT develop an understanding and the ability to do scientific inquiry.
  • SWBAT work collaboratively with a team and share their findings.

These activities are classroom tested to help students with the following Florida Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in Science:

  • SC.8.N.1.2 Design and conduct a study using repeated trials and replication.
  • SC.7.N.1.2 Differentiate replication (by others) from repetition (multiple trials).
  • SC.912.N.1.2 Describe and explain what characterizes science and its methods.
  • SC.912.N.1.5 Describe and provide examples of how similar investigations conducted in many parts of the world result in the same outcome.
  • SC.912.N.3.4 Recognize that theories do not become laws, nor do laws become theories; theories are well supported explanations and laws are well supported descriptions.

Related Resources.


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Total Pages
14 pages
Answer Key
Rubric only
Teaching Duration
1 hour
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Apply scientific and engineering ideas to design, evaluate, and refine a device that minimizes the force on a macroscopic object during a collision. Examples of evaluation and refinement could include determining the success of the device at protecting an object from damage and modifying the design to improve it. Examples of a device could include a football helmet or a parachute. Assessment is limited to qualitative evaluations and/or algebraic manipulations.
Conduct an investigation and evaluate the experimental design to provide evidence that fields exist between objects exerting forces on each other even though the objects are not in contact. Examples of this phenomenon could include the interactions of magnets, electrically-charged strips of tape, and electrically-charged pith balls. Examples of investigations could include first-hand experiences or simulations. Assessment is limited to electric and magnetic fields, and limited to qualitative evidence for the existence of fields.
Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull. Examples of problems requiring a solution could include having a marble or other object move a certain distance, follow a particular path, and knock down other objects. Examples of solutions could include tools such as a ramp to increase the speed of the object and a structure that would cause an object such as a marble or ball to turn. Assessment does not include friction as a mechanism for change in speed.
Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down. “Down” is a local description of the direction that points toward the center of the spherical Earth. Assessment does not include mathematical representation of gravitational force.


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