Make a Parachute

Grades 3-5 30 min
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Use materials you find around your home to design a parachute.

Engage your students’ curiosity with helping Lucas and Paulo design a parachute to carry delicious fruit down from a forest tree. From students’ first sketch to activating prior knowledge, they will imagine great possibilities through their own parachute creation. Are you ready to help them dream, plan, and make their creation happen?

Learning Objectives

  • Develop skill in sketching designs as part of project planning.
  • Practice iteration through the following steps: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Improve.
  • Develop social and emotional skills via guided conversation and written prompts.

What You’ll Need

Hands-on

  • Paper, plastic, or tissue paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Tape
  • String
  • Ruler

Minds-on

  • Creativity
  • Exploration
  • Risk-taking

In this activity, students are invited to “make it happen” and let their curiosity soar with little initial instruction. On their own, they’ll dream, plan and make their creation happen.

Teachers, here’s your initial story to share:

Paulo and his family recently moved to Alcantara, Brazil so his parents—who are aerospace engineers—can work on a space mission. Paulo is not happy. He misses his best friend, Andre, and the last thing he wants to do is make friends with his new neighbor, Lucas. But then Paulo finds himself working with Lucas to solve an aerospace challenge of their own—designing a parachute that can safely float a large, heavy, and delicious fruit down from a forest tree.

Would doubling the size of the parachute make a difference?

How did the length of the string impact the timing?

How can a different type of paper affect the parachute?

For Students

Students’ creativity will be demonstrated at all levels. Consider asking questions to extend students’ thinking beyond their current abilities. Simple formative questioning can guide the lesson, steer extensions, and inform next steps. Consider the following questions to extend students’ thinking as they work on their parachute designs:

  • How many parachute flights can give you good information on timing?
  • That is a great way of taping your string; would the size of the tape make a difference?
  • Does creasing the lines of the parachute make a difference in flight?
  • What part of the engineering process (Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve) did you enjoy the most? Why?

For Teachers

  • How can student success with this challenge support their risk-taking in future problem-solving challenges?
  • How did the story frame for this project help to motivate students? Are there other class projects that you can put into a narrative context to generate student engagement?
  • To find ways to launch community-connected STEM investigations, check out this STEM Teaching Tool.
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