Glider Project – Integrating Many Aspects of STEM

Glider Project at Academy of Aerospace and Engineering
Glider Project at Academy of Aerospace and Engineering

This past week at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School, the students worked on a culminating project to design, build, and test model gliders. This project integrated many aspects of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). First, the students studied basic aerodynamics, aerodynamic stability, and the flight testing process, including flying flight test profiles on the academy flight simulators. This academic work followed a focus on the forces of flight and a lab focusing on airplane design factors that affect lift and drag. Next, the students used NASA’s Engineering Design Process, which they used several times already, to research and brainstorm various glider designs. After that, students used the academy’s Makerspace to build their designs. Each crew (group of 4 or 5 students) selected appropriate materials, cut, sanded, glued, and duct taped balsa wood, styrofoam, and other materials to create a prototype glider. Here are photos of some of the crews at work:

Crew 1 building gliderCrew 2 building gliderCrew 3 building gliderCrew 5 building glider

For flight testing, the students followed the Scientific Method to see how their glider flew over several trials, then changed one variable at a time to improve performance. Finally, they had a final flight test challenge to see which crew’s glider flew the farthest, demonstrating the best lift to drag ratio. Here is each crew with their glider, and some photos of their flight testing:

Crew 1 final gliderCrew 2 final gliderCrew 3 final gliderCrew 4 final gliderCrew 5 final gliderCrew 6 final glider

Flying Model GlidersFinal flight test 1

Testing model gliders

After the challenge, the class discussed the project and analyzed each glider’s performance to determine what improvements could have been made. Throughout the project, students documented each step and each day’s activities in their engineering notebooks, a type of STEM journal, including a full lab report on flight testing. The next project will be a logical follow on to this one, as students will design, build, and test a powered model airplane. First, however, they will study propulsion systems and types and transfers of energy over the next couple weeks.

Author: Bryan Holmes, Physics & Math Teacher, STEM Competition Mentor

Starting at Thomaston High School in Thomaston, Connecticut, in fall of 2018.

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