Parachute Challenge

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Students will be able to design and build a parachute of their own design that will safely land a raw egg from a height of approximately 25 feet.

Big Idea

Research and design of parachutes are utilized to drop an egg from a second story roof.

NGSS Background

This lesson is based on California's Middle School Integrated Model of NGSS.

NGSS Performance Expectation (PE): (MS-ETS1-1) Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

Science and Engineering Practice SP1 Asking Questions and Defining Problems. Students are to research and design a parachute that is capable of safely landing a raw egg from a height of approximately 25 feet.

Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI): ETS1.A Defining and Delimitating Engineering Problems - The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions.

Crosscutting Concepts (CCC) Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World - The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. 

In this lesson the students are allowed to build any design of parachute they can conceive of after they have performed research into how a parachute functions. The parachute they are building must safely return a raw egg to the ground intact. Prior to being allowed to build they must submit a design proposal that needs to be approved by the teacher. This activity typically takes a week to complete. The first day is dedicated to research and the last day is reserved for the egg drop. 

Parachute Construction

300 minutes

To begin this lesson students are tasked with the requirement to create a parachute of their own design that will slowly and safely regulate the drop of a raw egg from a height of approximately 25 feet. The egg must be intact after landing. The parachute with the slowest drop time and an intact egg is considered the winner. Cracks in the egg are acceptable, as long as yolk is not bleeding out from the egg. The students have to design the parachute and a harness to support the egg. I provide a plastic egg for them to use as a template in building their harness. This lesson begins on Monday and the parachute drops occur on Friday, regardless of what state of design their parachute is in.

Before students are allowed to build, they must perform research into parachute design. Fortunately we now provide each student with a Chromebook laptop, so online research is easy to accomplish.

TIP: One of the dilemmas I've run into with classroom laptops is that the students get too absorbed in the research and don't leave themselves enough time to build. Occasional reminders, and keeping a gentle watch on those who tendency helps insure success.

During the design stage of they project, I try to provide as little input as possible. I want the students to implement their own design. There really is no right or wrong design. I'm constantly asked by students if their parachute is "right", which I have trained myself to respond with, "Do you think it is right?"

I have found that students assume they are to build one large parachute to slow the decent of their egg, whereas the project doesn't have this as a requirement. I'm still waiting for a group to build multiple small parachutes or perhaps form their parachute into some sort of glider. Maybe yours will.

The week's schedule looks something like this:

Monday - research only. Students must record 5 - 10 facts about parachutes and provide at least one drawing describing how a parachute must function.

Tuesday - design and approval only. The students must provide a detailed drawing of how they intend to build their parachute. They are not allowed to build anything until they have an approved design. Approval consists of my signature on their design. Included in their design is a list of what supplies they need.

Wednesday - building. I pass out the supplies on Wednesday only. Students are not allowed any other supplies once they have received supplies from me. I do allow them to bring supplies from home.

Thursday - building and testing. I have a small six foot ladder set up in my classroom that the students can use to test there design with a plastic egg in their harness. Their design must be completed by Thursday.

Friday - egg drop. The students time their work as I drop their parachute off the roof of the locker room.

Parachute Facts

Parachute Design

Student Activity

60 minutes

To perform the parachute drops, I climb up to the roof of the locker room. Any sufficiently high point will work. In years past, I have even climbed to the top of a 20 foot ladder.

On the student's command I drop their parachute with a raw egg attached.

The students then time their parachutes decent.

Student Work Sample

Each student needs to record all of the other parachute's fall time and if the egg survived the drop.