Professional Development:  Do It Again: Aeronautical Testing the NASA Way

Target Audience
  • Educators: K-12
  • Students
Hosting Center(s)
  • Langley Research Center
Subject Category
  • Professional Development
Unit Correlation
  • Professional Development Programs
  • Special Programs
Grade Level
  • K-4
  • 05-08
  • 09-12
Minimum Delivery Time
  • 090 min(s)
Maximum Connection Time
  • 090 min(s)

Event Focus

Imagine teaching about engineering and scientific practices by engaging your students in real scientific research. Do your students struggle with identifying the IV and DV in experiments? 




Teachers will learn how to engage students in the investigation of variables that affect flight patterns of paper aircraft. Students manipulate wing shape to evaluate the affect on flight patterns. Students launch paper aircraft in the classroom to collect, measure, and evaluate data. All materials needed to implement the lesson will be created during the workshop.

When implementing the activity with your students, the students will

• use algebra to calculate wing area, wingspan,

chord length, and aspect ratio;

• use a portable glider catapult to analyze wing

geometry based on measurement (distance rating)

and observations (glide rating and speed rating);

• design, construct, and test an experimental wing to

achieve maximum distance;

• incorporate collaborative problem-solving

strategies in a real-life application.


Aspect ratio - Wingspan length divided by the average chord length.

Chord - Straight line distance joining the leading and trailing edge of an airfoil.

Fuselage - The part of the airplane to which the tail and wings are attached. The fuselage holds passengers and cargo and is streamlined to produce the least possible drag.

Horizontal stabilizer - The horizontal part of the tail.The horizontal stabilizer helps to increase the stability of the aircraft.

Lift - A force that is perpendicular to the air flow around the aircraft.

Thrust - A force created by the engines that pushes an aircraft through the air.

Weight - The force of gravity acting on an object. The weight force pulls an aircraft toward the Earth and must be overcome by a combination of lift and thrust.

Wingspan - Distance from wing tip to wing tip.

Reynolds number - When testing a small scale plane or flying object inside a wind tunnel, the Reynolds number helps aerospace engineers adjust the wind tunnel test conditions to make sure results of the wind tunnel match the full scale model in flight. Engineers sometimes use a gas other than air (for example nitrogen, carbon dioxide), increase air density by pumping the wind tunnel up, adjust temperature, and run the tunnel at different speeds so the Reynolds number in the wind tunnel matches flight conditions.


Instructional Objectives




Learners will observe flight patterns. 


Learners will explore various wing dynamics, and discuss observations and possibilities for differences in flight patters observed.



Learners will develop and test hypothesis, identifying the IV, DV and other components of scientific practices. 



Learners will identify another hypothesis that could be developed and tested using the practices listed above.


Learners will evaluate data collected, and form a conclusion. 


Sequence of Events


Pre-Conference Activities


Collect all necessary materials:

Materials you will need to do this activity with your students (per 4-student group)

20 straight pins


4 small binder clips masking tape

Student Worksheets (p. 13 - 21)

10 meat trays (suggestion: 28 cm x 23 cm - size 12)

meter stick or measuring tape

4 scissors (optional: plastic knife, box cutter)

fine sand paper or emery board

Teacher Materials

4 small binder clips 2 thumbtacks

rubber band (size 64) cardboard (28 cm x 40 cm)

2 wooden rulers or paint sticks


Videoconference Activities


During the distance learning event, teachers will receive training on how to implement the hands on activity, and specifically how to employ inquiry learning techniques. They will focus on having students identify the Independent and Dependent variable, and other components of scientific practices.


Post-Conference Activities


Please take a few moments after the completion of your activity to fill out a Feedback Form




Mathematics (NCTM) Standards

• Compute fluently and make reasonable estimates

• Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements

• Develop and evaluate inferences that are based on data

• Build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving

• Recognize, use, and learn about mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics

• Analyze characteristics and properties of two- and three-dimensional geometric shapes and develop mathematical arguments about geometric relationships

• Use visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling to solve problems

• Understand and use metric systems of measurement

• Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them

• Monitor and reflect on the process of mathematical problem solving

• Select and use various types of reasoning and methods of proof

• Organize and consolidate mathematical thinking through communication

• Recognize and use connections among mathematical ideas

Science (NSE) Standards

•Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

• Understanding about scientific inquiry

• Physical Science

• Motions and forces

• Science and Technology

Technology (ITEA) Standards

The Nature of Technology

• Develop an understanding of the attributes of scientific experimental design

• Develop an understanding of engineering design

• Develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving resources to accomplish a variety of tasks and solve problems.

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Page Last Updated: January 31st, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator