Lesson 3

A Long Way Down: Designing Parachutes

Slow and Steady Wins the Race / Grade 3 / Stillwater, MN

The EIE Curriculum

EiE - A Long Way Down: Designing Parachutes, L3

Students learn about air resistance and test three isolated variables used in the design of parachutes.

Reflection Questions

Corrie’s plans to have students test parachutes in the spacious auditorium fell through at the last minute. How did she adjust her plans and make the testing work in her small classroom?

Corrie conducts the testing herself from atop a ladder as students watch from the rug.

  • Corrie tapes two yardsticks and ruler to the side of a bookcase to indicate the drop height of 7 feet. (7:20)
  • Corrie has all of her students gather at the rug so they can watch the parachutes hit the ground. (7:47)
  • From the ladder, Corrie can only drop two parachutes at a time. Although the students miss the opportunity to watch all three versions of the parachutes drop together, they can extrapolate results between tests. (8:09)

Corrie’s students are still developing their understanding of what “thickness” of an atmosphere means, and how it might affect falling parachutes. How does Corrie handle struggles with this concept?

Corrie assesses student thinking at several points throughout the lesson. She allows them to grapple with the effects of gravity and atmosphere thickness before mentioning ideas like air resistance and drag.

  • When presenting the Guiding Question, Corrie elicits students' initial ideas about what an atmosphere thinner than Earth’s might be like. Although one child’s response seems to confuse a thin atmosphere with no gravity, Corrie accepts the response and moves on. (1:12)
  • When Corrie introduces the water and air containers as representations of atmospheres, one student predicts that the item in the air-filled container will fall faster, but admits that she “doesn’t know really how to explain it.” Corrie does not pressure her to explain, but validates her prediction. (2:55)
  • When asked why they think a parachute with a small canopy will fall faster than the large one, a student replies, “It’s because it’s got less weight.” Corrie just says “OK” and continues testing. (8:26)
  • After students have actually watched the behavior of several parachutes, one student mentions that the larger canopy can “hold air” and the small one “cannot hold enough air.” Only then does Corrie reinforce the idea with terms like resistance and drag. (9:44)