Paper Helicopters are a classic science study of forces and interactions- gravity, air resistance, pushes and pulls. Here is a new twist with the steps of Scaffolded Science Inquiry: Explore, Directed, Guided, Connected, and Full Inquiry as an Engineering improvement. Activities have been added to align this lesson with the Next Generation Science Standards for Grade 5 Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions.
NGSS Performance Expectation 5PS2-1
Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down. [Clarification Statement: “Down” is a local description of the direction that points toward the center of the spherical Earth.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include mathematical representation of gravitational force.]
Students explore paper helicopters in order to discover the forces acting on the helicopter to make it drop and spin clockwise and counterclockwise. They read and interact with Science Notes to learn how the forces of gravity and air resistance act make the helicopter drop and spin. Then students conduct a Directed Inquiry to investigate how adding weight (paper clips) to the helicopter affects how fast it drops. They read Science Notes to learn how air resistance affects the helicopter as more weight is added. Next, students conduct a Guided Inquiry to investigate how the length of the helicopter blades affect how fast it drops. They read Science Notes to find out more about the interaction of the blades and air resistance. After reading, students complete a RAFT (Role-Audience-Format-Topic) describing the journey through the air of helicopters with various blade lengths. Then students sort their "Next Questions" in a Connected Inquiry to select and plan an investigation. Finally, students engage in Engineering Design to improve the helicopter design. As a final display of knowledge, students are expected to write a persuasive essay as a scientific argument using their data and observations as evidence.
Teacher background, teaching steps, student recording sheets, rubrics for scoring, Science Notes for reading are included for all lessons.
A slide show of all these lessons can be found under the NGSS Grade 3-5 tab at the website: