Things Learned by Launching Stuff

Things Learned by Launching Stuff
My 7-year-old launching an early prototype. Then, his final design, which went extremely high, floated for a very long time, and then descended slowly.

We are fortunate to have fantastic resources for learning within our local community.  Not only do my boys (and I!) have opportunities to learn about all sorts of topics, we get to learn in fun, hands-on ways.

 

Last week we attended a workshop at our local library that allowed everyone to build and launch whatever type of object we could imagine (using the provided materials, of course).  I attended with my 7 and 2-year-old, and we all had a blast.

 

The launching device consisted of a large plexiglas tube mounted over the top of a powerful fan.  The goal, when you placed your created launchable object over the fan, was to have it whoosh out of the top.

 

My boys got to test the aerodynamics of various creations.  My 7-year-old modified his creation no less than a dozen times.  He wasn’t satisfied until his creation launched efficiently and then had a parachute that would self-deploy so the object would float for a bit on the air current before slowly returning back down to the ground.

 

While preparing our creations and launching them, we talked about motion, speed, angle, and thrust.  We discussed surface area, weight, and mass, as well as how these relate to force.  We also considered gravity, and how its constant pull toward the center of the earth influenced our launches.

 

Once he optimized his design, my 7-year-old tried various ways of launching his device.  This lead to some interesting observations on his part about the general relationship between force and motion as well as how mass and force impacted the distance an object would travel.

 

In all, we had a lot of fun exploring basic physics concepts.  And by using the language of physics within this enjoyable context (who doesn’t love launching things into the air and watching them come back down?), it helped both of my boys to grasp the vocabulary in an intuitive way.  Force is not just an idea: the force of the air is what pushes my launchable object up and the force of gravity is what pulls it back down.

 

 

How have you made learning physics fun for your kids?  I’m always looking for other ideas.

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