Science with parachutes

We are learning to (WALT) design and test a parachute

I know I am successful when:  

  • I can talk about air resistance

  • I can make modifications as I go

  • I can design a parachute that will fall slowly to the ground

Purpose of the lesson

Have fun with science by designing a parachute using part of a plastic bag, some string and a small toy attached that will float slowly to the ground

The students had to cut a large square from a plastic bag, trim the edges so it looks like an octagon (8 sided figure), punch a small hole near the edge of each side, attach 8 pieces of string of the same length to each of the holes, tie the pieces of string to an object and use a chair or a high spot to drop their parachute to test how well it worked.  The idea was for it to drop as slowly as possible to the ground.

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What is happening?

Hopefully, their parachute will descend slowly to the ground, giving the weight a comfortable landing. When they release the parachute the weight pulls down on the strings and opens up a large surface area of material that uses air resistance to slow it down. The larger the surface area the more air resistance and the slower the parachute will drop.

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The students enjoyed working together and helping each other.  At first their parachutes dropped very quickly to the ground. After some discussion it was great to listen to them them discussing that if they increased the size of their plastic parachute, the figure would fall more slowly. They talked about the plastic having more air inside it and that that is what would slow it down. View our video here.

Ihaka: I liked doing this experiment because I got to measure my own parachute.  I used a mini soldier as my weight and I was able to make it drop to the ground slowly.  This was because I made quite a big parachute so that the air would catch it and make it go slowly.  My toy was also very light. I really liked doing this experiment, it was fun. In fact it was the best science experiment I have ever done.

Jack: My parachute didn’t really work out.  I originally did a parachutte that was too small and the mini soldier just feel to the ground too quickly.  So I remade my parachute but that one didn’t work either. It also just dropped quickly so I realised that I needed to change something.  I thought a clever thing to do would be to join the two parachuttes together but that didn’t work. I then attached another soldier to help balance it out and that didn’t work either.  Next time I would make a really big parachutte and have a much lighter weight at the end. I would think about this a bit more carefully!

Delta:  My parachutte worked really well.  I worked hard to make it balanced and then chose a night light toy to put at the end.  I then stood on a chair and let it go and although it feel a bit quickly, if I was standing higher it probably would have slowed down.  I really enjoyed doing this experiment.

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Keywords: science, air resistance, student engagement 

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