Brief Description:

Students will learn the basics of aerodynamics and build a parachute demonstrating what they have learned.

Grades: 3-8

Time: 1 hour

Concepts: aerodynamics, aerospace/aeronautical engineering, air resistance, surface area, parachutes, EDP

Lesson Objectives

  • Students will learn about air resistance and apply that knowledge to build the best possible parachute.
  • Students will use the Engineering Design Process to design, build, test, and redesign their parachutes.


  • wind tunnel
  • Fan
  • Paper plates
  • Coffee filters
  • Dixie cups
  • popsicle sticks
  • paper
  • foam
  • aluminum foil
  • straws
  • clothes pins
  • construction paper


    1. Introduce aeronautical engineering, air resistance, and surface area.
  • 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.
  1. Allow students to design and build parachutes out of the provided materials. Remind them to think about surface area as well as the weight of the craft itself when designing.
  2. Students should test and redesign their parachutes for the remainder of the class period.
    1. Testing is done with the wind tunnel and the fan
  3. 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 and Modifications:

  • Using the same principles of aerodynamics, challenge the students to create a hovercraft that stays in the air the longest
  • Test outside by dropping the parachutes off of the roof/balcony of the building


Tufts Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program • 200 Boston Ave. • Suite G810 • Medford, MA • 617-627-5888

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