Mimio Educator

Paper Planes - A Complete STEAM Activity

Posted by Melizza Rios on Tue, May 26, 2020


Do you remember the first time you made a paper airplane? Who taught you to fold one? Did your plane fly? I think I was about 6 years old and my uncle visiting from the Philippines showed me how to fold one using one of my homework sheets. I was fascinated as I watched him make the folds, ensuring that each fold was precise, explaining each step. Then he took the newly built paper airplane, lifted his arm, and – whoooosh!-- it flew across my living room. It worked!! This was my first exposure to science and engineering, and it was one I often repeated throughout my elementary school years – design, construction, and test flights to identify the “perfect” paper plane. I was doing STEM before STEM was part of our educational vocabulary! Well, today is National Paper Airplane Day and this is the perfect time to explore the different areas of STEM with one activity.

As many of you know, STEM encompasses the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math. There has been a move toward including arts so that an emphasis on STEAM-related curriculum is gaining more and more traction in education. To successfully incorporate STEAM topics and content, many feel that integrating across subjects helps students process concepts much better than learning them in isolation. Also, real-life connections help students work through problems that they are familiar with, thus ‘owning the learning’ and strengthening critical thinking skills.

Combining creativity and innovation, discussing ideas and collaborating with peers, and persevering through trial-and-error, STEAM activities help build and strengthen 21st Century skills. 

That brings us back to the paper airplane. How are the different areas of STEAM involved with folding a sheet of paper?

  • Science includes asking questions, doing research, constructing hypotheses, testing, analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and communicating results. The Scientific Method can be used when designing paper planes. For example, will a paper plane with a tail fly for a longer amount of time or for a longer distance? Students can record the steps taken in design, explaining why their hypothesis will work, and test. For ideas on different paper airplanes, visit Fold’NFly.
  • Technology can involve digital tools and models to help students expand their learning experiences. Besides using technology to search for resources related to building paper planes, students can record video of their ‘flight tests’ and post them to the class/school website. They can also create videos showing the steps in making a paper plane, using simple-to-use software such as MimioMoovly. There is also opportunity to use modern tech such as 3D printers to boost creativity.
  • Engineering consists of the design, building, and improving of engines, machines, and structures. Engineering is inherent in making paper airplanes. Besides testing features such as tail length and flight distance, engineers improve designs. For example, different folds on a plane can cause it to fly in loops or straight. To watch videos on different paper planes and the world records set, go to the YouTube channel Foldable Flight.
  • Art supports creativity in the design or decoration of the paper plane. Students can even elect to make two planes: one for flying and one for adorning with color, glitter, and other art mediums. Incorporate technology by taking photos and posting to the Google Classroom or the class notebook in OneNote.
  • Math is an obvious integration with making paper airplanes, since measurement is a large part of the building process. Students can also record data such as flight distance and time over repeated attempts, and create a graph or table showing the progress of plane improvements. Create simple graphs using G Suite or Microsoft 365 tools and post to the class collaboration environment.


So, have some fun today! Make your planes and post using the hashtag #paperairplaneday.


If you’d like more information about Boxlight STEM products, including Robo-3D printers and MyStemKits, please visit the Boxlight STEM page: Boxlight STEM Education.

Topics: STEM Lessons, tips for teachers, STEM


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