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Aerodynamics Activity



Psyched for Research

Activity 1:

The Paper Airplane Project


Activity Description/Rationale                                                       

In this activity, students will begin by learning the basic principles and laws of aerodynamics, such as drag, thrust, flow, and the law of continuity.  Learning these principles will allow students to apply them to their own personal project based on paper airplane construction. Students will spend a portion of this activity in class for lecture, and the remainder of the time designing, constructing, and testing their own paper airplanes. Students will be expected to provide a full APA-formatted lab report by the end of Unit 1 of the ARM, detailing their background research, methods, and results of their paper airplane project. This activity will provide the basis of the class, enabling students to apply their knowledge of research design to an overall independent project to be submitted at the end of Unit II.


NYS Standards: Content Knowledge & Inquiry, Analysis, and Design

Students will be introduced to basic physics concepts as they relate to aerodynamics (including some Greek origin where appropriate). Additionally, students will learn basic methods of scientific inquiry including research and statistics methodology, which will enable them to design and report their own research project.


Common Core Learning Standards

Common Core reading and writing standards will be addressed, as students are expected to locate, read, analyze, break down, and understand scientific journal articles as they relate to their projects. They are expected to locate a number of articles that they can link together to form a coherent APA-formatted review of a scientific topic that can later be used to assist them in analyzing and writing results of their independent projects.


Common Core speaking, listening, and language standards will be thoroughly tested throughout this activity, as students will be required to partake in general class discussions, as well as present their individual background research, methods, and results of their aerodynamics/paper airplane project. Students will use feedback they receive from their peers and mentors to continuously improve their presentation and writing skills.


Goals: Process Skills (Basic & Integrated) and Attitudes/ (Enduring Understandings & Essential Questions)

Students will learn how to conduct basic methodology of scientific inquiry including data collection and analysis. Students will use their data to conduct basic statistical tests to support their studies. Additionally, students will illustrate their methods and data by creating the appropriate diagrams, figures, and tables. Students will develop a sense of critical thinking and questioning required for successful scientific inquiry.


Universal Design for Learning/Differentiation

Students will begin with a lesson on aerodynamics. They will then be instructed to think about what kind of project they can design (i.e. what different types of paper airplanes can they construct and test). Throughout this process, students will be receiving lessons on how to do background research, find appropriate sources, construct methods, analyze results, and interpret their findings. Students will hand in small portions of their final APA-formatted paper throughout the course, such that they will continuously receive feedback on their progress. Students will also assist each other using peer review methods and constructive criticism. The general knowledge they gather over the course of this ARM will allow them to develop an independent project in any number of areas that may be of interest to them.



The aerodynamics lecture is based on a PowerPoint provided by the instructor. Additional materials required for this activity are access to a computer, a lab notebook for students to take detailed notes of their progress, and things such as construction paper, paper clips, tape, etc. (various materials needed for students to construct individual paper airplanes). Finally, students will need an area to test their airplanes, a measuring tape, a stopwatch timer, all of which will allow them to measure aspects of flight of their paper airplanes.


Estimated Length of Activity:

The aerodynamics lecture portion of this activity will take approximately two 40-minute periods. The research methods and statistics lecture portion will take approximately two weeks for a class that meets five times a week for 40 minutes. The independent student portions, where students will construct, test, analyze their paper airplanes and the data collected, and write a full APA-formatted lab report will take out-of-class time for approximately one semester (5 months).



Students should familiarize themselves with any prior physics lessons as they relate to aerodynamics.


Activity Instructions:

The instructor should begin this activity by first teaching principles of aerodynamics. The instructor should also discuss how to find appropriate sources that students can use for background research. Students should then be instructed to begin thinking about the different types of paper airplanes they could potentially construct. Finally, students should begin reviewing relevant articles for their individual paper airplane projects.

The instructor should require an APA-formatted Introduction section of their lab report.

The instructor should then begin introducing basic research methods as they relate to critical thinking, experimental design, and statistical analysis.

The instructor should require an APA-formatted Methods section.

The instructor should discuss some examples of student work, and require students to begin presenting their individual data and results. The instructor should use this opportunity to explain the appropriate distinctions between a Results section and a Discussion section. These portions of student lab reports should be due within a week or so of each other.


Other relevant class discussions relating to proper APA format and citations, and any other student requested material will be held when appropriate.



Students will be required to keep very detailed notes of their work in their lab notebooks. Additionally, students will turn in each section of their final APA-formatted lab report on aerodynamics and paper airplanes throughout the ARM.


Assessment and Reflection

Student progress will be monitored over the course of the ARM. As students are only required to hand in one section of their paper at a time, this will enable the instructor to ensure that each student is on the right track, and understands each component. Finally, individual out-of-class conferences between each student/group and the instructor will be required biweekly, to provide an additional measure of progress and understanding.


Instructor’s Notes:

Students must be familiar with various search engines and scientific journal databases. Students should also have a working knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel. Limited instruction on these topics will be available during class, and out-of-class tutoring should also be available. Students should also have access to computers in the school with these programs installed.

Instructors can rearrange the layout/specific assignments as they see fit (for example, if an instructor would rather pair the Introduction and Discussion sections as one assignment rather than two separate assignments, that is feasible.

Additionally, if an instructor is more comfortable and well versed in the social sciences, this activity could be replaced by Activity 2: Behave as if the World is Watching. However, please note that the appropriate changes in the foundation of “Psyched for Research” will need to be made, as the Paper Airplane Project contains fundamental learning for the remainder of the ARM.

Go back to "Psyched for Research" Introduction page!