What better way to teach about gravity than to make parachutes and drop them! We began our lesson by reading a science picture book called, It’s Falling, Falling! by Ji-an Yang. This colorful and engaging book helped us to answer questions like, “Do people on the other side of the Earth fall off?” and “Why do astronauts float in space?”
Then, students built parachutes out of yarn, coffee filters, tape, and paper clips. They tested their parachutes using a stopwatch and proved that a parachute really does help to slow down the effects of gravity!
Topic: Building a parachute and testing its effectiveness
Book: It’s Falling, Falling!, by Ji-an Yang
Paper coffee filter for each student
3 pieces of yarn (about 12 inches long), tied together in a knot, for each student
Paper clip- at least one per student, more for extra experimentation
Stopwatches- one for each group of 3-4 students (if students have iPads, the stopwatch feature works great!)
Time needed: 30-45 minutes (45 minutes is much better, because then students can test the parachutes, time them, and make changes to see if this affects the time the parachutes take to fall.)
*Note: I made a parachute of my own to bring with me and demonstrate. I also showed them how to use the stopwatch to time the parachute.
Engage: Show students the cover of the book and ask them to make predictions of what they think the book will be about. Many may guess that the book is about apples or apple trees because the cover shows a young person with his hands in the air appearing excited about an apple falling from a tree. Use student thoughts to introduce the fact that everything, including apples, falls to the ground because of a special force in the Earth. Tell them that this book will help us learn more about this force.
Read the book to students, pausing to make predictions, share connections, and ideas. This book is short and easy to understand, but also encourages students to think critically about the role of gravity in our world.
Explore: Show students the pages in the back of the book that explain how to make a parachute. (I used coffee filters for the parachutes because we had many available at the library.) Demonstrate with your own parachute how to hold the parachute and release it.
Before students built and tested their parachutes, I did a demonstration using a student volunteer of a paper clip dropping without a parachute, and timed it with the stopwatch. We dropped and timed the paper clip three times to get an accurate idea of how long it takes the paper clip to reach the ground. I was working with mostly 1st and 2nd graders, so I told the students that the smallest numbers on the stop watch were parts of seconds.
We determined that it took about 50 parts of a second for the paper clip to reach the ground without a parachute. I then had them predict whether it would take more or less time for the paper clip to fall when we connected the parachute.
It was so nice to hear most students predict that it would take MORE time for the paper clip to fall with the parachute! They even told me that the numbers would be bigger, or closer to a whole second or more.
Put students in groups of 3-4 and hand out the supplies to to build the parachutes.
I did not give students stopwatches until they were finished with building the parachutes. I didn’t want them to get distracted with pushing buttons.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to make 3 blue dots with a marker on each coffee filter to show students where to tape the ends of their yarn.
If you are working with very young children, you of course, could skip the recording sheet. I used it with 1st and 2nd graders, and they really enjoyed recording their scientific findings.
We wrapped up the lesson with talking about different materials they could use at home to make parachutes, and we thought about how the changes would affect the time it took for the parachute and “diver” to reach the ground.
I encouraged kids to continue exploring the effects of gravity by experimenting with parachutes and items. I showed them the back of the book again, and another experiment they could try:
Posted by Kim Angell, Children’s Assistant