Paper Airplanes Help Youth Explore STEM Topics

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One fold, two folds and a third – ready to fly! Most people remember a time when they made a paper airplane, whether it was out of boredom or just for fun.

Exploring science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts can be done with simple, low-cost materials and through at-home experimentation. For example, families with youth interested in STEM can explore physics and aerodynamics using paper planes.

paper airplane flying

(Photo courtesy of Rakicevic Nenad) A paper airplane is released into the sky. Youth interested in physics can learn from paper airplanes taking flight and connect ideas to how rockets propel into space.

After making several paper airplane models, youth hypothesize or make an educated guess about which model will be the most accurate when flown towards a target. In addition to accuracy, paper airplanes can also be tested for distance.

Adults should inquire about youth thought processes to encourage critical thinking and reflection. Ask them, “What happened with your paper airplane? Did it fly the way you thought it would? Why or why not?”

Other questions adults could ask are, “Would you change anything about your paper airplane? If so, what?”

To keep older youth engaged with this type of activity, an added element of challenge may be needed. STEM offers many examples of real-world applications, and paper airplanes are no different.

By making your at-home paper airplane experiment space themed, adults can discuss how physicists might ask similar questions when they help build rockets. Have older youth research Bernoulli’s principle and how it relates to airplanes.

Youth in Caldwell County ages 8-14 are invited to register to attend a STEM challenge event called “Galactic Quest” on Saturday, October 23, 2021, in Lenoir. The event will begin at 1 p.m.

Galactic Quest Logo

(Graphic courtesy of National 4-H Council) Caldwell County 4-H invites local youth ages 8-14 to attend a special STEM-focused event called “Galactic Quest” on Saturday, October 23. Learn more at go.ncsu.edu/galactic.

Galactic Quest explores the history of humans in space, the technology and resources needed for missions, and the obstacles humans encounter in orbit. Youth activities will explore important STEM topics ranging from physics and engineering to computer science and space agriculture.

This event will be facilitated by scientist Melissa Mitchler from North Carolina State University and hosted by Caldwell County 4-H. The cost is $10 per youth participant and youth must be enrolled before October 23 in 4-H Online, which is free to do. For assistance with the fee for youth, contact 4-H youth development agent Sarah Kocher at sarah_kocher@ncsu.edu.

If possible, families should also plan for one adult per family to attend (free of charge) with youth registrants.

Youth registration for Galactic Quest is open at go.ncsu.edu/galactic.

For more at-home STEM ideas, visit 4-H at Home.

Caldwell County 4-H is a member agency of United Way, and it enthusiastically supports its partnerships. Learn more about Caldwell County 4-H programs online at caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu.

Sarah Kocher is the 4-H Youth Development Agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension in Caldwell County. The N.C. Cooperative Extension, Caldwell County Center, 120 Hospital Ave. NE #1 in Lenoir, provides access to resources of NC State University and N.C. A&T State University through educational programs and publications.