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Paper helicopters

Make simple paper helicopters, which spin when dropped from a height. They model how a maple seed spins as it falls from a tree.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Biology: Life Cycles (2)

For paper helicopter:

  • paper, regular writing/copy paper works fine
  • scissors
  • helicopter template for one of the styles (attached file)
  • paper clip

For either of the models, cut out the paper: as shown in the photo for the first model, or as shown on the attached template for the second model.
Fold as shown. Add a paper clip to the bottom, to hold it together and for extra weight.
Drop from a height - over a balcony is ideal, but standing on a chair works fine.
Watch the helicopters spin, which slows their descent.

Optional: discuss how maple, sycamore and other helicopter-like seeds have a similar shape and spin in the same way as they drop from the tree when the seeds are ripe. As they descend slowly, any wind will move them sideways, so that they fall further from the parent tree, and are more likely to find enough sun, water and space to grow into a tree.

Experiment with longer blades, more paperclips for extra weight, different thicknesses of paper to find out which ones stay aloft the longest.
Optional: add a fan or blow dryer to add wind from the side to see how far they can drift away from where they were dropped.

Attached documents: 
Grades taught: 
Gr 1
Teaching site: 
New York Botanical Garden
Activity originally developed and delivered: 

NY Botanical Garden