Before fidget spinners there were (and I suspect always will be) paper aeroplanes. These folded menaces are ubiquitous in schools up and down the country. They can be crafted out of almost anything, from a no-longer required worksheet to or a page torn slyly from the centre of a book.
Many primary teachers will simply sigh when they see one and request that the creation be filed in the recycling bin. But what if, instead, you embraced the paper plane and explored the many educational opportunities that it offers?
There’s no denying that in the wrong (small) hands, paper aeroplanes can be a huge distraction, use up vast quantities of paper and endanger eye health throughout the school. However, they can also capture the imagination, are relatively quick and easy to make and can add an element of creative enjoyment to a lesson.
There are literally hundreds of different aeroplane designs, from the simple dart to hugely complex constructions, involving much folding, cutting and rolling of paper – and there is much to be gained from encouraging children to become paper engineers.
Lessons in perseverance
Firstly, the making of the plane can provide an excellent opportunity for children to practise their listening skills. Can they follow verbal instructions to craft a plane of a particular design? Can they work together, collaborating to complete a set of aircraft that fulfil particular specifications? For younger children, fine motor skills can be honed by careful folding and cutting. And for those children who struggle to fold a plane that can fly well, there are lessons to be learned in perseverance.
In science lessons, in particular, paper aeroplanes provide an excellent opportunity to learn about air resistance and the aerodynamic properties of different models: why does one design fly further or faster than the rest? What can be done to the plane to stop it (or start it) flying in a circle or nosediving to the ground? Children could investigate the effect of different sizes of aeroplane or the effect of using different materials when making the same design. You could challenge them to create an aeroplane strong enough to fly a Lego character across the room, or at the very least, to get a message from one side of the classroom to the other.
There is also an interesting experiment that involves creating four identical planes and then cutting flaps at the back, which are then bent up and down in different formations. Each plane will fly differently, but the question is, why?
When flying the carefully built models across the playground, there are many opportunities for measuring and mathematical calculations: the distance flown, the amount of time the plane was in the air or working out the speed at which the plane flew. Children could explore, and then graph, the relationship between wingspan and distance flown. Is there a similar relationship between the length of the plane and distance? The possibilities are almost endless.
Above all, exploring with paper aeroplanes gets children asking questions and engaging with their learning. The only real challenge is getting them to put them away at the end of the lesson.
Josephine Hopkins is key stage 2 leader at Slade Primary School in Tonbridge, Kent