We use the engineering process for this open-ended design challenge. All semester, my GATE kids have been building different gliders from blueprints, direct instruction, specific materials with patterns, and even store-bought balsa wood fighter gliders.
Now it’s time for the real test!
Can students construct—limited to specific resources—a glider which meets the three guidelines in the rules? As a bonus, can students research and apply physics knowledge to their real-world prototyping challenge (references to reading information standards)? Let’s have a go!
Use this STEAM challenge to emphasize the engineering process . . . in particular, the application of patience, grit, testing, and re-testing, and going back to the old drawing board.
Also included is an activity for “displacement” review, scores sheets, bonus activity sheets, a debriefing activity, and photos of the process.
This lesson might be a social-emotional lesson for gifted students. Discuss what it means to design and re-design. The process is not one of failure. It’s one of discovery! Take the opportunity to praise stick-to-itiveness. Success also goes to the person who learns the most.
That said, I recommend that you try this challenge yourself. I did, and I saw very quickly that it was not easy. From cutting and taping the trash bags and connecting the straws, it took patience. I built what I thought would be an excellent glider only to feel the frustration when it neatly flipped over backwards. I asked kids for their advice and tried several different weight combinations before I got the glider to work well. By participating in the process with the kids and sharing my frustrations, I raised my credibility with them.
Paper clips, nuts, washers etc. for weight.
Time: 2 to 3+ hours
Level: 3rd grade and beyond. Even works for college physics majors.