Friday, August 30, 2013

Paper Airplane Contest! Teaching Variables

It has been a fantastic two weeks. What a great way to start the year! We have already dove right into experimenting almost daily. Our class wiki is already filled with fun stuff {click here to check it out}. Parent Night was a success. And now for a three day weekend. Woo hoo!

I wanted to share a fun experiment that I found to teach students all about variables. Before sharing this - let me just say that I always start the year with my Marshmallow Challenge, followed by a few simple experiments to get the ball rolling. {I have a packet of the experiments that I do on my TpT site - click here to check that out - it's only $3.00!!} Then, to introduce variables - I let students participate in a very unfair rubber band shooting contest. I announce the contest, then pass out all different sizes of rubber bands. Then I let them shoot the rubber bands from wherever they are standing (all while wearing safety goggles, of course) and then I announce whom I think is the winner, based on what I simply observe. It's very unfair and students immediately give me feedback letting me know! Then we have a discussion about what we would need to do to make the contest fair. We come up with things such as:

  • We need to know what the purpose of the contest is, ie. how to we determine a winner? {distance}
  • Everyone needs to have the same type of rubber band
  • We need to use the same type of measurement to measure the distance traveled for each person
  • Everyone needs to shoot the rubber band the same way{we aren't measuring what technique shoots the rubber band the farthest, we are measuring who shoots the rubber band the farthest}
Viola! We've learned about variables! Then I go into a discussion about controlled, independent, and dependent variables. They love it and they get it after experiencing the unfair contest. We then discuss how this is all related to science. {I actually had one student say, "What does this have to do with science?!"}

After we know all about variables, we had a paper airplane contest. We wanted to see which airplane design {independent variable} flew the farthest distance {dependent variable}. Some of the controlled variables that we came up with included:

  • Using the same unit of measurement to measure the distance flown
  • Everyone must hold the plane the same way when throwing the airplane
  • We need to have a large space with no wind {because the wind might have an effect on how far the planes are thrown.}
I found this experiment on this website. It's fantastic! It even has the airplane folding instructions. It also has a worksheet that accompanies the experiment, though I recreated it to meet my needs. Click here to download my version of the worksheet for free. You may make changes as necessary to better fit your needs!

This experiment is perfect to start off the year because it incorporates following instructions, working together, and the importance of understanding math in science. {I had students measure the distance flown in inches and then we converted that to feet.} Plus, who wouldn't want to fly paper airplanes in class?! 

Having a blast so far in fifth grade science. I hope your school year got off to a great start as well!


  1. Hello,
    Not sure if you run this blog, but I am seeking the correct link for the site to the plane activity. This one doesn't work.


    1. I had the same issue. This link worked for me: