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Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
Up, Up, and Away
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for Teachers is divided into four sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the Lesson.
Steps -- Conducting the Lesson.
Extensions -- Additional Activities.
Tips -- Managing Resources and Student Activities.


  • To build the rotors and shafts -- materials per student (see Animated Demonstration #1):
    pine wood 6"x1"x1/2" (rotor)
    1/4" dowel 8 1/2" long (rotor shaft)
    4' lightweight cord

  • To build the launchers -- materials per student (see Animated Demonstration #2):
    pine wood 6"x1 1/2"x3/4"
    1/4" dowel 4" long
    drinking straw
    construction paper

  • To build the deflection gauge -- only one needed (see Animated Demonstration #3):
    pine wood
    wire from a coat hanger
    drinking straw
    construction paper

  • Tools:
    1/4" twist drill
    1" speed bore bit or auger bit
    power drill or drill press
    rasp file
    smooth file
    abrasive paper
    hand saw

  • Safety goggles for each student
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Funnel
  • Ping-Pong ball
  • Photos of airplanes and helicopters
Computer Resources:
You will need at least one computer with Internet access to complete this lesson. While many configurations will work, we recommend:

-- Modem: 28.8 Kbps or faster.
-- Browser: Netscape Navigator 3.0 or above or Internet Explorer 3.0 or above.
-- Macintosh computer: System 7.0 or above and at least 16 MB of RAM.
-- IBM-compatible computer: 386 or higher processor with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 3.1. Or, a 486/66 or Pentium with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 95.

Additional Software:

A spreadsheet program (e.g. Microsoft Excel).

The Flash plug-in needed to view animated demonstrations can be downloaded for free at

For more information, visit What You Need to Get Connected in wNetSchool's Internet Primer.

The following sites should be bookmarked:

  • NASA Homepage

    This site provides updated information about shuttle flights and other NASA projects, NASA news, and links to related aerospace technology.

  • Ames Research Center

    Some of the features of this site include NASA fact sheets (technical information), the NASA archives, and the NASA search system.

  • Spacelink

    Spacelink is NASA's electronic publication. Its library helps users to search all of NASA's available literature. This is a great site for kids.

  • Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

    The museum's Web site, which includes information on exhibits about flight.


    Time Allotment:
    This lesson requires approximately 8-12 periods.

  • Construct a rotor and launcher to use as a model for the class. (Steps 5 and 6 provide building instructions.) Using the model rotor, demonstrate to the class how it flies. (Use the gym or a field if weather permits.) Ask your students to identify the forces that act on all things that fly. Focus the discussion around the forces of gravity, drag (friction), thrust, and lift. Identify which of these forces enhance flight and which ones work against it.

    Show your students pictures of airplanes (all shapes and sizes) and helicopters. Explain to students that the activity they are about to start will help them understand how such large and heavy objects fly.

  • Have the students conduct a Web search about "human-powered flight". Distribute the Focus Questions Sheet, in Organizers for Students.

  • Assign the following problem to your students: Build and test a model helicopter rotor that will achieve the highest altitude possible. Compare the performance of your rotor with other students' rotors and draw some conclusions about the factors that contribute to the rotor's flight.

  • Help your students analyze the shape of the rotor they are about to construct. Introduce the term "airfoil." Draw the cross section of an airplane wing, a rotor, and a bird's wing on the board. Compare these shapes.

    Introduce Bernoulli's Principle. Discuss how the Bernoulli effect applies to airfoils. Discuss how airplane wings and bird wings create lift by creating a differential in air pressure above and below the wing.

    Conduct the following experiment to demonstrate the Bernoulli effect:

    Set a vacuum cleaner on "exhaust" so that air is blowing out of the hose. Place a funnel at the end of the hose, and point the funnel and hose towards the floor. While the air is blowing from the hose and funnel, place a Ping-Pong ball deep inside the funnel. The ball will not be blown out of the funnel. Ask your students to explain the phenomenon they just witnessed in terms of the Bernoulli effect.

  • Instruct students to begin construction of the rotor blade, using Animated Demonstration #1, as a guide. The animated demonstration requires the Flash plug-in for viewing, which can be downloaded for free. Hand out the pine wood (either pre-cut it, or have students cut to length). This will become the rotor blade. Instruct students to do the following to build the rotor:

    1. Locate the center of the blade, and drill a 1/4" hole for the dowel rod.

    2. Mark off 1/2" on each side of the center as shown in the animated demonstration to form a 1" shoulder.

    3. Draw a diagonal line from corner to corner on each end of the wood, in opposite directions.

    4. Cut the wood along the lines as shown.

    5. Use a file to form the airfoil shape as shown in the animation. Smooth the wood with abrasive paper.

    Make sure that the left and right sides of the rotor are angled in opposite directions and that the shoulder remains flat.

    6. Insert and glue the dowel (rotor shaft) into the rotor hole. Sharpen the opposite point of the dowel -- a pencil sharpener should do.

  • Students should construct the launcher as shown in Animated Demonstration #2. The animated demonstration requires the Flash plug-in for viewing, which can be downloaded for free.

    1. Drill a 1/2" hole through the upper third of the pine wood block.

    2. Drill a 1/4" hole through block, stopping 1/2" below the hole created in step 1.

    3. Mark a small hole in the rotor shaft as shown. The hole should be just large enough to fit the lightweight cord.

    Remove the shaft and drill the hole. Insert the rotor shaft (with rotor blade attached) back into the launcher block.

    4. Drill a small hole in the dowel, just large enough to fit the cord. Attach the cord with a secure knot.

  • Students should now test-fly the rotor in the gym or in a field. In order to launch the rotor, thread the light cord through the rotor shaft hole. Wind the rotor. Holding the dowel, students should pull cord to launch the rotor. MAKE SURE STUDENTS WEAR THE SAFETY GOGGLES WHEN FLYING THE ROTORS.

    Students should test the rotation of flight. Does the cord have to be wound clockwise or counter-clockwise? Students should test fly the rotor at least five times to determine the average altitude to which it climbs.

  • Distribute the Data Collection Sheet, in Organizers for Students. Students should use this sheet to collect information that will later be used to compare the flights of each class member's rotor.

  • As a class, build the deflection gauge that will test for air speed, as shown in Animated Demonstration #3. It requires the Flash plug-in for viewing, which can be downloaded for free. The size of the gauge can vary.

    1. Cut two pine wood triangular blocks, as shown in the animated demonstration.

    2. Drill a hole through each triangle block, large enough for a wire hanger.

    3. Fold a piece of construction paper around the straw, and glue.

    4. Thread the plastic straw onto the wire. Attach the wood blocks as shown.

    5. Draw a distance grid on one side of the gauge as shown. Number each line, which will represent a comparative air speed.

    Place the shaft of each rotor in an electric drill. Place the deflection gauge at a set distance from the rotor and turn on the drill.

    The spinning rotor creates wind. The moving air then strikes the deflection gauge. Students should record the number indicated by their rotor on the Data Collection Sheet.

  • In groups of five, students should share their data. They should then use a spreadsheet program to determine the relationship between the mass, air speed, and altitude of their rotors.

  • Lead a discussion comparing the altitude, mass, and air speed of the class's rotors. What effect did each factor have on the flight of the rotor?


    Social Studies: Students can research and report on significant contributions made by individuals in aeronautics and aerospace technology. Students can generate a timeline of significant events in aviation.

    Art: When yellow and blue are mixed together, they make green. If the left side of the rotor was painted yellow and the right side painted blue, would they appear green as the rotor spun?

    Language Arts: The model rotors your students made are sold in many toy stores and are called "whirlybird" toys. Ask your students to write a journal entry or memoir about a toy they remember from their childhood.


    One Computer in the Classroom
    If you have access to one computer in your classroom, you can organize your class in several ways. Divide your class into two groups. Instruct one of the groups to do paper research while the second group is working on the computer. Bring in books, encyclopedias, etc., from the library for the group doing paper research. Lead the group working at the computer through an Internet search or allow the students in the class to take turns. (Always have a set of bookmarks ready for the students before they start working on the computer, in order to show them examples of what to look for.) When the groups have finished working, have them switch places.

    If you have a big monitor or projection facilities, you can do Internet research together as a class. Make sure that every student in your class can see the screen, go to the relevant Web site(s), and review the information presented there. You can also select a search engine page and allow your students to suggest the search criteria. Again, bookmark and/or print the pages that you think are helpful for reference later.

    Several Computers in the Classroom
    Divide your class into small groups. Groups can do Internet research using pages you have bookmarked. Group members should take turns navigating the bookmarked sites.

    You can also set the class up so that each computer is dedicated to certain sites. Students will then move around the classroom, getting different information from each station.

    Using a Computer Lab
    A computer center or lab space, with a computer-to-student ratio of one to three, is ideal for doing Web-based projects. Generally, when doing Web-based research, it is helpful to put students in groups of three. This way, students can help each other if problems or questions arise. It is often beneficial to bookmark sites for students ahead of time.

    Construction Phase
    If the length of construction time is a problem, have your class mass-produce the rotors assembly-line style. Assign each student a specific task to perform.

    The tools and machines needed for this activity are very basic. All the materials and tools needed for this activity should be available in your school's Technology Education classroom.

    Submit a Comment: We invite your comments and suggestions based on how you used the lesson in your classroom.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students