Engineering for Kids - Parachute Design

Alrighty guys, I have to admit I am hesitant to post this because my blog is brand new and still isn’t looking exactly how I’d like it! I absolutely cannot wait for my blog design by the amazingly talented Alexis at Laugh Eat Learn designs, but something is telling me to just start sharing my ideas in the meantime.  So here goes…my very first “curriculum-related” blog post!

I spent a few weeks these past two summers designing curriculum for our Summer Engineering Academy. I am a coach for the kindergarten classes, which means I design the lessons based on our district-adopted “Engineering is Elementary” (EIE) program and help the teachers implement them in our three week long summer school class. While EIE is an AMAZING program with such well-designed, easy-to-follow units, they definitely needed to be modified for kindergarten. While I’m still fine tuning our Submersibles unit, I am pretty proud of how the Parachutes unit turned out.

I used More Than A Worksheet’s “Jack and the Parachute” from the Fairy Tale STEM packet as inspiration while still integrating the content, vocabulary, and Engineering Design Process outlined in the EIE curriculum. The kids have had a blast and have really been applying their parachute vocabulary as they work through the steps of the Engineering Design Process.

Below are some images and descriptions of how this Parachute mini-unit was structured, and I hope it provides some inspiration for you to jump on the Engineering train, even with the little guys! Oh and if you haven’t already checked out More Than A Worksheet on Teachers Pay Teachers, go now! She’s got some seriously awesome, themed STEM activities that are always a hit with my students.

So the premise of the Jack and the Parachute unit is that Jack needs a way to get safely to the ground after the beanstalk has been lined with barbed wire by the Giant. After frontloading some parachute vocabulary, the students determine that a parachute can be a useful solution. The EIE unit is a lot more complex, but ultimately has the students designing and testing parachutes with different variables to determine the safest (slowest) design.

I made this simple anchor chart which the students copied to introduce the parachute vocabulary.

We then talked about varying canopy size, and followed the Engineering Design Process to create and test parachutes with various sized coffee filters. The suspension lines were all the same, as were the loads (one small bulldog clip…binder clips have grooves that let the lines slip out). I also made these fill-in worksheets for students to track progress for each variable.

One of my awesome team members, Sara, made this great anchor chart to track student predictions:
The next variable was canopy material, followed by suspension line length. 

We timed 3 parachute trials for each variable, and graphed the averages. 

After discussing, students used this recording sheet I made to note the three variables that would slow Jack down the most, helping him to safely escape the giant! 

The mini-unit culminates with the students designing a parachute based on the data (and, let’s be real, their own preferences!), which they get to take home.

I love seeing the vocabulary growth and engineering interest that stems (hehe, pun intended!) from activities like these. Please feel free to ask any questions regarding this unit. I’m happy to help more students gain exposure to elementary engineering!

Engineering is Elementary –

“More Than A Worksheet” on Teachers Pay Teachers