Science + Engineering + Math = Parachute STEM Activity
The basic physical science principles of gravitational force and air resistance are explored as students design, build, test, and evaluate parachutes. K-W-L charts are used to assess students’ knowledge of the engineering design process and the scientific method. The book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” by Margot Theis Ravin, is read to students and they discuss whether the pilot acted like an engineer as he wanted to share sweets with children during the Berlin Airlift. The students are presented with a problem, getting food and water to islanders whose homes and roads have been damaged by hurricanes. Simple materials such as paper napkins, paper towels, crocheting thread, and paper clips are used to build the parachutes. The students use the five ‘E’s’: engagement, exploration, explanation, evaluation, and elaboration as they compare their various parachute models. Students learn that air contains particles, and it is these particles that place forces on bodies moving in the air and counteract the force of gravity. Students use math in the analysis of their models. Students learn that models representing parachutes can be designed in many ways and may behave differently when tested. Students learn the many ways engineering and science are used to explore and explain nature and are employed in manufacturing and technology processes.
Takeaways: Student groups learn that the engineering design process and the scientific method are circular processes as they design, build, test, and evaluate a parachute model then improve it.
Suzanne Cunningham (Purdue University: West Lafayette, IN)