Learning to fly

This is a guest post by Boris Ovetsky about a recent science class at the Golden Key Russian School.  Enjoy!

Starting with Ikarus, we all love to fly. Or at least imagine ourselves flying. We build plane models and kites; we buy toy birds, planes, helicopters etc.  Our kids play with helium-filled balloons, enjoy fireworks and Chinese lights.  Sounds familiar? How about explaining to five- or six-years-old kids why all these objects can fly?

Last Sunday we tried to understand the physics of flight. Can you imagine kids’ excitement? We started from simple experiments on Bernoulli’s Law (of course I did not name or formulate it to them).  We just played around. First we tried to predict what happens if we blow air between a wall and a sheet of paper, kept at a finger distance from the wall. Contrary to our predictions, it moved toward the wall, not away from it. We ran the next experiment – blow air between two sheets of paper. In this case some kids were able to predict the results based on the previous experiment. The papers moved closer to each other.

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The last experiment of this group was to blow air right above a paper that was kept at the lower lip level. When the paper moved up, there was still an element of surprise for some kids.

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The next two experiments caused great excitement for all age groups (4 year olds and 10 year olds alike).  First I lit a candle and asked them to predict what will happen to the flame if I blow air at it from the left. Some kids still insisted that the flame will bend to the right.  Our experiments showed that the opposite was true, and almost everyone was able to explain it.

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Then I put a stack of plastic cups (facing up) on the table and used a hair dryer to create wind right above the top one.  When the cups started to lift up and fly away with the wind, the degree of exhilaration reached its maximum. Many kids understood and interpreted the results. 

The last set of experiments consisted of a standard Bernoulli demo with a light ball flying inside the air flow. I had two different air blowers – a small one from Greentech (it comes with a foam ball) and a hair dryer with a ping pong ball.

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Our lesson ended with building airplanes. The first, unorthodox, model was made of two paper loops and a drinking straw.  The second was a traditional paper plane.

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At least one kid came home and wanted to show his mom our class experiments.  This is one of the most rewarding things for a teacher to hear.  A great follow-up for parents would be to take their kids to the Franklin Institute and let them go through the hands-on experiments in the aerodynamics room.  Last, but not least: it would be nice to ask the kids to describe the experiments and guide them in explaining the results.  I know I will definitely do it with my grand-kids.


About aofradkin

I enjoy thinking about presenting mathematical concepts to young children in exciting and engaging ways.
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1 Response to Learning to fly

  1. Pingback: Learning to fly | physicshandson

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