GROTON -- What a fun way to spend the last day of school, outside in the shade of Groton-Dunstable Middle School South, with a warm breeze, surrounded by friends, and competing in the sxith-grade glider competition.
The event was possible due to the approval for funding of glider kits, supported by a Groton-Dunstable Education Foundation mini grant. The science unit was a followup to a spring after-school program, where guest speaker, Aircraft Structures Engineer Rick Coveno (MIT Lincoln Labs), presented a GDSTEM-sponsored glider challenge workshop to students.
Rick taught the students about the relationship between force and motion and the affects of weight and lift on a glider. One of the two sixth-grade middle-school teams expanded on the program as part of their regular curriculum, creating and building their gliders, then testing them outside of the school where they cheered each other on with great enthusiasm to see whose plane would fly the farthest.
An interdisciplinary exercise, the social-studies component was achieved by a lesson in the history of flight; the science curriculum included physics as a key factor; math was required in the design of the gliders and in measuring their flight distance; and language arts reading skills were required to follow directions.
Instructions to build the gliders were based on the SAE's "A World in Motion" (AWIM) education program. The AWIM activities incorporate the laws of physics, motion, flight, and
GDRMS sixth-grade science teacher Caitlyn Entwistle wrote the mini grant for the glider kits because flight-and-engineering design are part of the sixth-grade science curriculum. The Groton-Dunstable Education Foundation's mini grant provided enough funding to purchase kits for one of the two sixth-grade teams. The plan is to have the entire sixth-grade class exposed to the same concepts and experience next year.
"We've used paper airplanes in the past, but there were so many variables to consider that really took away from the learning experience," Ms. Entwistle explained. "The glider kits come with a standard model, which we flew as is, then changed one major variable to see how that variable would affect the flight path and distance. After determining how these major variables can increase or decrease flight distance, students were given new materials, which they could shape in any way they wanted to."
The longest-distance winners, David Heffernan and Max Morenz made sure, "...the weight was even from front to back and side to side," David said. Max added: "We positioned the center of gravity under the wings and made sure the glider was streamlined for aerodynamics."Ms. Entwistle continued, "students designed their gliders from scratch, test-flew their gliders, and made adjustments several times. I don't think they would ever be completely satisfied with their design! We always kept the force of launching as a control, since we were testing the design, not the speed or force of the glider."
The students appreciated the premade materials, which allowed them to focus on the design variables, use their creativity, and experience how different types of wings create lift. "I decided to make the project into a competition because their motivation waivers a lot at the end of the school year, and sixth-graders tend to care more about prizes than grades. The project kept them excited and focused through the last day of school." And...they were still learning!