Week 5

Session 1

Guiding Question

  • How can we make sand stand tall?


  • How do we determine the performance of a wing?

  • Can we test an airplane’s design without flying it?


  • Understand and describe the role of a wing in flight

  • Find the lift and drag ratio of different glider designs

CT Components

Data Collection

  • Different shapes of wings in terms of lift and drag

Automation & Simulation

  • Testing different glider designs in a wind tunnel


  • Sharing test results with others

How can we test an airplane?

Small-group Hands-on Scientific Inquiry

Finish last activity if needed

Discussion: "How can we test an airplane? How can we test an airplane’s wings? For an airplane, you can test it by flying it; but wings are usually attached to the body of an airplane in order to work. Engineers who design and build airplanes use wind tunnels to test their airplanes and their wings before someone has to fly the airplane. It can be dangerous to fly a brand new airplane without some test first. Engineers make sure it is safe enough for a person to go up on a brand new airplane and test it.

Engineers usually first test the wing in a wind tunnel to make sure it is the best it can be and then they test the whole airplane to make sure it is safe and has the characteristics (regarding drag and lift) the engineers wanted. Hence the main purpose of a wind tunnel is to measure the lift and drag of whatever object you are testing.

We have a wind tunnel to use to help us design a better airplane. The facilitator/teacher demonstrates and explains how the wind tunnel works: fan sucks in air, creates wind in the test section. Sensors in the test section measure lift and drag. An engineer will try to maximize the lift over drag ratio to get the best performance of the airplane.

Students will test their airplanes without the propellers and calculate the lift over drag ratio.

The facilitator/teacher shows the students a wind tunnel from the resource below. Read and discuss the introduction together. Ask the students if they have questions, and answer them as best as possible or research answers unknown together.

How to Build a Wind Tunnel and How to Use a Wind Tunnel (Introduction only)

For the facilitator/teacher, be sure you covered the following in your discussion.

  • How to operate the wind tunnel?

  • The different speeds of the fan for slow, medium and fast flight.

  • How lift is measured and where you can read the lift of the airplane

  • How drag is measured and where you can read the drag of the airplane

Students will now test their propeller Styrofoam airplanes, without the propellers and associated rubber band, in the wind tunnel at different fan speeds. Each group will test their plane three times. Students record their data on the Wind Tunnel Record Worksheet provided below and in the resource section.


End of Session Reflection and Debriefing

5-10 minutes

Teacher briefly explains the computational thinking (CT) skill embedded in the Problem Solving Process Diagram. Using the problem solving process diagram, the teacher will ask students to identify what kind of problem solving skills/process/computational thinking they used in this session and explain how they used it. The following are some sample questions that can guide the debrief.

  • What did I learn today?

  • What problem solving skills/processes or CT components in this diagram did I use today?

  • How did I use the problem solving skills/processes/CT components?