Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
2 students
Active Time
2 hours
Total Time
2 hours
Area of Science
Physics
Key Concepts
Potential energy, kinetic energy, engineering design
Learning Objectives
  • Use the engineering design process to design, build, and test a paper airplane launcher
  • Understand how potential energy is converted to kinetic energy when using the launcher
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Overview

Aircraft carriers are much shorter than a typical airport runway. How do airplanes manage to gain enough speed for takeoff over such a short distance? A catapult gives them an extra boost! In this lesson, your students will practice engineering design as they build their own paper airplane launchers, while learning about kinetic and potential energy.

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • MS-PS3-2. Develop a model to describe that when the arrangement of objects interacting at a distance changes, different amounts of potential energy are stored in the system.

  • MS-ETS1-4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Apply scientific ideas or principles to design, construct, and test a design of an object, tool, process or system.
PS3.A: Definitions of Energy. A system of objects may also contain stored (potential) energy, depending on their relative positions.

PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer. When the motion energy of an object changes, there is inevitably some other change in energy at the same time.

ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it.
Energy and Matter. Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion).

The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system.

Materials


Paper airplane launchers made from different materials
Paper airplane launchers made from different materials. Left: cardboard. Center: LEGO® bricks. Right: Wooden board and screws.
  • Paper
  • Paper clips
  • Tape
  • Rubber bands
  • Tape measures
  • Stapler
  • Construction materials to make paper airplane launchers. You can use different materials depending on what you have available, for example:
    • Corrugated cardboard and duct tape
    • Wooden craft sticks and a hot glue gun
    • Building toys like LEGO® or K'NEX®
    • Wooden boards and nails or screws
  • Open space to throw the airplanes. A hallway or large room like a gymnasium or cafeteria work well. This project works best indoors unless there is almost no wind outside.

Reviews

|
Science Buddies |
Was this review helpful?
Be the first one to review this lesson plan.
Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
2 students
Active Time
2 hours
Total Time
2 hours
Area of Science
Physics
Key Concepts
Potential energy, kinetic energy, engineering design
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
Learning Objectives
  • Use the engineering design process to design, build, and test a paper airplane launcher
  • Understand how potential energy is converted to kinetic energy when using the launcher
Free science fair projects.