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Designing Your Parachute Lesson

In designing your parachute lesson plan, your probably won't get very far without doing the activity yourself. Just as students need to become familiar with the materials they are designing with or the product they are redesigning you'll need hands-on experience with model parachutes before designing your lessons.

The Learning By Design™ curriculum breaks up the activity into a Messing About phase, where students explore materials and see how model chutes work, an experimental phase where they control key Parachute Variables and note the effects off changing them while producing Design Rules-of-Thumb, and then doing final testing and reporting findings. As you can read in DITC, students can easily fall prey to many general Ways of Naive Designers. They also can focus too early on the time it takes their parachutes to descend, and pay scant if any attention to Key Design Criteria. For each day in your activity, you could attempt a Formative Assessment approach and ask, "What easy-to-collect data could inform my next day's teaching and let me know what students learned?"

When it comes to assessing what students' understand from using the parachute task, DITC references three follow-up and related Transfer Tasks. One is the MapleCopter Task (developed by Michal Lomask and others at the Conn. Dept of Ed), where students investigate the rate of descent of maple seeds as they twirl to the ground. You can see the Paper Helicopter task being done by science teacher, Earl Carlyon, and a Design a Toy activity that tech ed teacher, Ed Goldman, devised to follow Parachute.

Depending on your subject, you can focus on ideas directly relevant to your course. Here are some suggestions:
• IN MATH, a study of 2-D and 3-D geometric shapes is helpful in understanding inflation and in figuring out when the 15% limit on vent hole size has been exceeded. Measurement and rounding are important in making the chutes and calculating rate of descent to determine their effectiveness. Working with variables, critical to algebra-based thinking, is done concretely with the parachute task.
• IN SCIENCE, an understanding of Newton's Laws of Motion helps in analyzing and explaining the terminal speed of the chute. Being able to design experiments is central to students developing design rules-of-thumb -- experiment-based hints to other designers on how to deal with the parachute's many design variables.
• IN TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION, there are issues of understanding the design process, and the creation and use of test-based design rules-of-thumb. In addition, using good fabrication skills to make a reliable and good-performing device could be emphasized, as well as a systems thinking perspective that saw the chute as a complete system as well as a collection of components that can be analyzed separately.

The following Parachute Questions can be used as pre- and post-tests with students, along with others you create:

1. What force pulls a parachute toward the ground? (circle)

  1. gravity
  2. inertia
  3. drag
  4. momentum
1b. What change in a parachute's design would increase the pull of gravity on it?

2. What force pushes upward on a parachute as it falls? (circle)
  1. gravity
  2. inertia
  3. drag
  4. momentum
2b. What change in a parachute's design would increase the upward force on it?

3. Describe two steps or design strategies that you did when designing your parachute, either by yourself or with your group?

4. Which parachute do you think will fall most slowly? Explain two reasons for your choice.

5. Which parachute do you think will fall more slowly, Chute A or Chute B?

Read over each design rule-of-thumb? Circle YES if it applies to the two parachutes above, and NO if it does not.
a. The more canopy you use, the slower the descent. YES NO
b. The heavier the parachute, the faster the descent. YES NO
c. Vent holes make the parachute more stable when falling. YES NO

6. If you had one more day to work on it, what would be your next model parachute design? Sketch or draw it below, and give two reasons why you would make it that way.
Draw and Describe Reasons
7. Fair Test Here are two different ways to hold a pair of parachutes during a test drop. Method #1 has the bottoms of the weights even with one another. Method #2 has the tops of the canopies even. Which test is more fair? Why?
Testing Method #1Testing Method #2
OR

Which Test?

Reason:







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