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Rainbow Rotors

Experiment with flight! Make bright helicopters and toss them into the air. Can you make them fall faster? Slower? Spin wildly? Gravity and friction have never been so much fun!

  • Grade 2
    Grade 3
    Grade 4
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. What happens when you throw a ball or sweatshirt in the air? It always falls back to the Earth. Maybe you noticed that some things return a lot faster than others. Two forces are at work when you toss things up: gravity, the force that keeps drawing things back to the Earth and friction, the force that slows movement. Here's a fascinating science experiment that students can try again and again.
    2. With Crayola® Scissors, students cut a sheet of paper into four strips across the paper’s width. These strips become the Rainbow Rotors.
    3. Students save one strip for test purposes. Fold the remaining three in half across their widths. Open the fold. From one end, cut a slit down the center lengthwise almost to the fold. Cut each piece this way.
    4. At the fold, cut one third of the way into each strip. Fold both sidepieces into the center panel to form a long tail in the center of this end of the strip. Bend about one-third of the end up toward the middle. Repeat with the other two Rainbow Rotors.
    5. Students decorate all four strips, on both sides, with Crayola Rainbow Twistables. Ask them to think about the shapes and how rotors will spin. Refold any folds.
    6. Students work in teams to experiment with Rainbow Rotors. Use a stopwatch, video camera, or other technology to record investigations.
    7. Students throw the uncut strip in the air. Watch how it falls to the ground. Does it spin? Fall end to end? How long does it take to reach the floor?
    8. Next, students toss the folded pieces, one at a time. What happens to them as they fall? Do they move in a different way than the first paper? How long do they take to reach the floor? Record the differences and similarities of each flight. Ask students to explain what happened.
    9. Ask students to write a summary paragraph reflecting what they learned in this experiment.
  • Standards

    LA: Read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grade level text complexity band independently and proficiently.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    MATH: Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems.

    MATH: Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles.

    SCI: Investigate the motion of objects to determine observable and measurable patterns to predict future motions.

    SCI: Construct a simple explanation for the relationship between energy and motion.

    VA: Use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories.

    VA: Use visual structures of art to communicate ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: What is Gravity? by List Trumbauer; Why Do Balls Bounce?: All about Gravity by Rob Moore; What is Friction? by Lisa Trumbauer; Friction by Matt Mullins; Friction and Resistance by Chris Oxlade; Why Do Moving Objects Slow Down?: A Look at Friction by Jennifer Boothroyd

    Students work in small groups to test their rotors. While watching the rotors fall to the ground, students videotape the movement. How does it fall to the ground? Do the various rotors move in different ways? Discuss what the videos illustrate about movement.

    Students set up a controlled experiment and chart their findings. Find a place where the Rainbow Rotors can be dropped so that the distance remains the same. Change other variables such as weight (by attaching paper clips, for example). Adapt the rotors by bending, the length of the string, etc. Chart all results. What patterns are you witnessing?

    Students work in teams to develop fast and slow-moving Rainbow Rotors. Race them and compare the group's findings.

    Students investigate items found in nature that can illustrate locomotion. For example, experiment with seedpods of trees such as maple, ash, and elm. How do these move like the rotors? How do they move differently?


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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