Paper Airplanes = Fun Messy Learning

Last week in Reno was the Reno Hot Air Balloon Races and the Camel Races up in Virginia City … this week it’s the 43rd Annual Reno National Championship Air Races (brings $80 million into the local economy), so of course my fourth graders made and flew 3 kinds of paper airplanes during the last hour of school today.

First, out of 27 students only 3 had EVER made paper airplanes before (shouldn’t someone be held accountable for that!?) and none of the three could remember how.

What an incredible following directions lesson (which is exactly why I do this type of lesson early in the school year). I have to give my class credit, those that were being successful right away had a great helpful attitude towards those in their groups that were not as sure – helped without making others feel stupid, another lesson we have been working on.

As an aside … we read the book Be A Perfect Person In Just Three Days by Stephen Manes this week as another of the pieces I do early in the year to build class culture. The story is about a kid that finds a book in the library that purports to make you a perfect person if you follow the writer’s directions explicitly. I had several visitors come through my class while we read that wondered why in the heck the entire class was (including me and anyone that made the mistake of visiting while we were reading) wearing stalks of broccoli tied with string around their necks. To find out you’ll have to check out the book, but suffice to say it is one of the steps to becoming perfect (isn’t that obvious?) So we touched on some of the lessons from the book while we folded planes – what a great tie-in.

When we went outside to fly our planes the wind was gusting about 20mph … not perfect conditions for paper airplane flying. I had explained to the students that some of their planes would fly better going into the wind and some would do better with the wind, depending on which of their three planes they were piloting at the time. To say the least, experimenting, and flying, and blowing, and chasing, and screaming, but mainly fun ensued. Some kids betrayed their lack of experience with plane flying by holding their plane all the way at the back to try and throw it. Some would simply release their plane without throwing … so we quickly formed a remediation group, explained and demonstrated “proper form and technique” and they were back at it. I only wish we had made it back inside in time to have them journal a bit about it. I also wish I had signed releases already so I would have thought to take pictures that I could have posted here … dumb, dumb, dumb.

We returned to the room just in time to get ready to go. They were totally pumped, and even more so when I explained that they really needed to take their planes home to continue experimenting with the best way to fly them during the weekend. Great messy learning. Now how do I follow that up next week? Can you fold a paper camel?

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3 thoughts on “Paper Airplanes = Fun Messy Learning

  1. Now that sounds like a fantastic class! I can’t believe only three students had ever made paper airplanes before — times are changing, eh? Anyway, you’re right: it will be tough to top that lesson, but it will be fun to try!