Name of Activity Designing a Parachute
Author STOMP
Keywords parachute, string, weight, target, test, materials, air resistance
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9+
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Students will select one type of paper for their parachute (i.e. tissue paper, napkin, paper towel, etc.) based on what they think will work best. The students will make a parachute with the paper and string and attach a weight. The students will then test their parachute.
Lesson Objectives: To learn about air flow and materials.
Materials Needed: Tissue paper
Construction paper
Paper towels
1/4 lb Weights (a few batteries tied together would also work)
Preparation and Set Up: – Arrange students into groups.
– Distribute materials.
Necessary Background Vocabulary:
Air resistance
  1. Explain the concept of air resistance to the class.
    1. Air resistance is the force that acts on anything moving through the air. It is not very heavy so humans don’t notice it much. Without air resistance things would fall faster than they do. The more surface area an object has the more air resistance affects it. This is why parachuters use wide light materials to slow them down as they fall.
  2. Have students cut a circle with a 6 inch radius of a paper of their choice.
  3. Have students cut 8 12 inch pieces of string and tape them at equal distances around the edge of the canopy.
  4. Tape the other end of the string to the weight.
  5. Drop the parachutes from a decided height and see if it works.
  6. Repeat steps 2 – 5 with all the different papers.
  7. Discuss the activity as a class. Ask the students:
    1. What material worked best for the parachutes? Why?
    2. What didn’t work as well? why?
    3. What changes would improve your design?
    4. What about a larger or smaller canopy?
    5. What would happen if you added more weight?
Extensions: Take the paper material that worked best and test different sized parachutes.
Make parachutes out of different materials.
Have a competition to see what parachute can land most gently.
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4 Responses to Designing a Parachute

  1. Profile photo of Amanda  Rock Amanda Rock says:

    We used this activity for 5th graders and allowed them to use one material at a time to build the parachute that could fall the slowest and as straight down as possible, by putting an X on the ground and timing the fall as we dropped it while standing on a chair.
    We gave the students a table to fill out with their material, time, and distance from the X. The materials we had were paper, newspaper, styrofoam plates, tin foil, felt, and plastic sheeting, and string, tape, and pipe cleaners.
    Here is the powerpoint that we used to teach about air resistance, friction, drag, terminal velocity, and free falling:

    The students learned that bigger lighter parachutes fell slower because they caught more air, but ones with more weight hanging from the parachute fell straighter. We taught them about how real parachutes have an opening at the top to direct the flow of air so they fall straighter.

  2. Profile photo of Emily  Naito Emily Naito says:

    We used this activity for kindergarteners. We gave each group a Lego box “spaceship” along with a variety of materials (paper, string, tape, rubber bands, plastic grocery bag). They were challenged to make something that would prevent the spaceship from breaking upon impact. If they completed that challenge, then they were encouraged to make it fall as slowly as possible. They really liked the story and worked hard to protect the Lego people in the spaceship.

  3. We used this activity in a 5th grade classroom at JQS.

    We modify it by first doing a gravity and drag related demonstration. We dropped an apple and a crumpled piece of paper, asked students which would hit the ground first. This allowed us to open up a conversation about the properties of gravity. After this vocabulary was established we introduced drag by dropping that same crumpled piece of paper along with a flat piece of paper.

    Even after this demonstration some students we’re still confused and associated weight with how quickly something falls, and should be elaborated on more during the demonstration if done again.

    Our challenge was similar to the one above, except the goal was for a lego figure to be guided safely tot he ground from a drop of six feet. The materials available were paper, paperclips, string, coffee filter, plastic bags, lego people, rubber band and tape.

    In groups of 2 we had the students plan for 5 minutes on a worksheet and then let them build. At the end of the first class (one hour) we tested our parachutes. We gave the next class period to allow the students to redesign and re-test, this final test, at the end of the second hour, allowed us to see the similarities and differences in our parachutes and lead to a discussion about what works best.

  4. We used this activity for 4th graders at Columbus Elementary. Rather than specifying how to make the parachutes, we showed examples of real parachutes and allowed the students to design their own with our set of materials (we included coffee filters and paper plates in addition to the materials listed in this activity).
    We focused on encouraging students to make comparisons between the effectiveness of various materials and redesign their parachutes bases on these observations. This activity was part of an “astronaut training” unit, and, to learn about the force of drag, students were presented with the challenge of slowing the descent of a Lego astronaut as he returned to Earth.

    Here is a link to our presentation:

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