Designing, Constructing and Testing Parachutes: A STEM Investigation

By on September 6, 2011 in Science Education Videos, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education, Teacher Training Workshops

One of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) investigations I often introduce during the STEM teacher training workshops I conduct nation and worldwide is the science of Parachutes.milk weed seed parachute STEM teacher trainingWe begin the investigation by analyzing seeds and how they are dispersed. That may be followed up by designing and constructing a paper helicopter that floats through the air similar to how milkweed, pine cone, and dandelion seeds travel. We discuss how man borrowed the design of the modern-day parachute from nature as in the flight of dandelion seeds. Leonardo daVinci is said to have gotten his inspiration for his triangular-shaped parachute from observing and analyzing how seeds were dispersed. Additionally, we discuss STEM-related concepts relative to parachutes (air resistance, surface area, gravity, Newton’s Laws of Motion, kinetic and potential energy, and other concepts). We then move onto the engineering design process. Teachers observe and analyze a variety of pre-made parachutes. They then design, construct, and test their own parachutes, re-designing if necessary. I provide a wide-array of materials for teachers to build with. Low-cost and accessible being number one priority. Plastic trash bags, paper bags, tissue paper, string, washers, plastic figurines, tape, digital balances, and rulers are about all you need to design some pretty cool and functional parachutes.