This lesson immerses participants in the knowledge base and processes of an aerospace engineer. While designing their own working airplanes, students will learn about the science involved with making things fly, the design processes necessary for iterating a model airplane, and the digital fabrication methods that can build a prototype.
Teacher Preparation: Consider the following in planning for your activity: facility needs, prerequisite skills and knowledge, student types, class length, and classroom management techniques.
Facility needs: laser cutter, space for testing of prototype planes and performance contests (long straight hallways, or outdoors is suggested) space for laser cutter and small group work, internet, the ability to charge a class set of computers.
Prerequisite Skills: Basic knowledge of the nature of force and friction and basic understanding of the scientific method. The teacher should also be competent with a CAD program such as Inkscape or Corel Draw. The teacher should have operational knowledge in using a laser cutter to make the student produced wing designs.
Recommended resources: Knowledge of project-based learning is helpful when understanding and implementing the structure of this lesson. This lesson plan utilizes the 5E Lesson Plan model and references the Engineering Design Process
Materials List: Premade balsa wood airplane kits (one kit per two class minimum, while you do not need the exact kit linked, having a similar kit greatly reduces the needed preparation time for the project), adhesive tape (roll per group), scissors (pair per group), box cutters (one per adult minimum, one per group ideal), rulers (class set), heavy-duty card stock (1 pack per two classes), 2 sheets of 24×12 ¼ inch thick cardboard per class, airplane body templates, science notebooks, computers with Inkscape.
Step One: Engage – An engagement that sets the table for the learning objectives and piques student interest in concepts, careers, and fabrication.
Step Two: Explore – Initial hands-on foray into concept.
At least 40 minutes
Step Three: Explain – (Connect content with explore and elaborate.)
Class begins with the teacher connecting the behaviors of the premade balsa wood planes to scientific concepts that are relevant to the curriculum. (Often these are drag/friction, propulsion/force, lift/force, and gravity). The teacher then segues into creating a matrix of these forces and discoveries students have made as to how the forces can be manipulated in order for the plane to fly better. This matrix should be left in a public space for reference and for students to add further discoveries. Additional steps are below.
Step Four: Elaborate: (Take content knowledge and utilize it to complete a challenge in design and fabrication process.)
55 minutes or more spread over two days
Additional steps are below.
Step Five: Evaluate: (Compare student capability to use the content to meet a goal.)
Select a target goal that will evaluate how effectively students can control the flight of their custom aircraft.(Teachers may want to develop a rubric for scoring this that fits their class needs).
The instructor begins the module by returning to the matrix to synthesize student discoveries about how to manipulate the forces for added airplane model performance.
Extensions to the lesson:
Below is a list of STEM careers that currently exist and/or are in high demand which directly relate to the activity. These are all careers and job openings that exist today:
With your students, ask if they have heard of any of these jobs. What does a person in this position do? What part of S.T.E.M. is utilized in each of these roles? You may even ask students what STEM careers are interesting to them.
Would students like to further their curiosity about studies in aerospace science and have fun?
Make students aware that flight simulator applications exist on almost every type of device, computer and game console.