Helicopters and airplanes are fabulous at capturing children’s imagination. Mine love to watch the airplanes travel through the sky. We are focusing on the letter H this week in our learning. We have looked at habitats for our science. Today, as an engineering challenge, we said H is for Helicopter.
I gave my family a challenge for this STEM activity. We had an hour to create some type of helicopter. The helicopter had to have rotating blades, and have a way to store and transfer energy. Oh, and the helicopter had to be made from household products. After we were done building helicopters, we launched them off of our deck to see which one stayed in the air the longest.
Objective: to have fun and experience some engineering concepts related to helicopter functions.
Toilet paper rolls
Discuss how air foils (rotors and airplane wings) work. Explain that the air flowing under the wings is moving slower than the air flowing over the wings. The slower moving air forces the wings up because there is less air-resistance from the faster moving air.
Tell the group that their job is to engineer a helicopter. The helicopter has to have a rotor that turns. The goal of the helicopter is to descend the slowest. (Actual take off would have required better rubber bands and bushings.)
Stand back and watch the creativity. Encourage the participants to test and modify their helicopters during the construction time. We used almost an hour to build our helicopters.
After the participants have had a chance to complete their helicopters, find a high location (like a deck) and drop the helicopters. Have a judge on the ground to see which helicopter stays in the air longer.
We dropped our helicopters several times off of our deck – mostly because the kids wanted to watch them whirl and fall. They all seemed to have a good time constructing their helicopters.
After one testing, my second grader realized that he needed to do a complete redesign of his copter. He added a parachute as part of this redesign. Later he told me that he learned, “Helicopters don’t need parachutes, Mommy.” He found out that parachutes stop the rotors from spinning.
My Kindergartner made a helicopter he was proud of. He innovated large rotor blades, which acted like parachutes, slowing the helicopter. I personally thought his innovation of the larger propeller blades was genius.My preschooler really enjoyed dropping her helicopter. She worked diligently on creating her helicopter and was very proud of what she came up with in the end.
As for which helicopter stayed in the air the longest . . . well, some things should just stay in the family.
If your family decides to make some helicopters, take pictures and send them. I’ll post them. Happy engineering!