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Building flying machines.

Book Used:

The Giant Jam Sandwich

by John Vernon Lord

Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972

Grades 4-5 Technology Education and Science


The Giant Jam Sandwich, a book by John Vernon Lord, is used to link language acquisition with the engineering design and problem-solving process. The book uses flying machines to solve a problem, which is the inspiration behind the design brief. After reading the book, students are challenged to design a flying machine.

book synopsis

Four million wasps plague the small town of Itching Down. After brainstorming ideas to free the town from the pests, the citizens decide to make a giant jam sandwich to attract and capture them. They use flying machines to hold and suspend the top piece of bread until the right time to drop it on top of the mass of wasps. The townspeople are able to free their town from the bothersome insects and solve their problem using communication, collaboration, technology, and the engineering design process.

lesson goals

The goal of this project is to make students aware of how engineers have improved the designs of flying machines to improve transportation for people and material. Additionally, it is designed so that students can better understand the basic principles of flight, in particular how the four forces (thrust T, lift L, drag D, and weight W) affect the performance of an airplane. Students will then apply their knowledge of aircraft design and the forces acting on the aircraft, combined with their creativity, to design their own flying machine. They will collaborate with their teammates to design and build. Finally, they will communicate their designs and what they learned to the class.

standards addressed

ITEEA Standards for Technological Literacy:

Standard 11B: Build or construct an object using the design process. Using the design process, students can build or construct it in three-dimensional form. This could include building a scaled-down model of the object.

Standard 13: Students will develop abilities to assess the impact of products and systems.

Standard 16: Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use energy and power technologies.

Standard 18: Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use transportation technologies.

Adapted from projects and lessons provided by the Aerospace Engineering Program at San Jose State University College of Engineering-- the SHPE Foundation

lesson objectives

Students will be able to:

* Design and build a rubber-band-powered flying machine for maximum range, height, and load-carrying ability that will fly for at least three seconds given simple materials.

* Test and refine their designs by measuring and recording data on their load-carrying ability, distance and height obtained, and making at least one adjustment that improves these statistics based on their knowledge of the basic principles of flight.

* Communicate their design process by making drawings, completing student worksheets where every step is recorded, and sharing important features with the rest of the class.

* Evaluate their work and their classmates' work by completing an evaluation/reflection worksheet for each group.

* Practice engineering design and problem-solving process by following the exact same processes while making their own flying machines.

* Engage in teamwork by sharing design ideas, and working with others to complete every design and creation.

design challenge: take flight!

Teacher Lesson Plan

We just read The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord where the townspeople used flying machines to solve their wasp problem. While we could probably come up with a better way to solve a wasp problem, we still use airplanes and other flying machines, like helicopters, to transport things and solve other types of problems like they did in the book.

We have been studying the basic principles of flight (thrust, lift, drag, and weight). You will want to review them for this challenge, especially paying attention to how they affect flight. In teams of 2-3, your challenge will be to design, develop, build, test, and present a flying machine that can transport the greatest amount of cargo the farthest distance, flying at the greatest height. It will be constructed out of simple, inexpensive materials and powered by rubber bands. In order to help you design and construct your plane, you will have to do some research on the history of flight and ideas on making rubber-band-powered flying machines. You will determine the shape, size, and types of material used for construction of your flying machine. After you design, create, test, and revise your flying machine, you will present it to the class, and we will evaluate it based on the best of three trials.


A large food distributor needs to ship as much food as possible to as many people as possible overseas who are separated by tall trees and mountains. This will allow them to make the most amount of profit as well as help the greatest number of people. They need a flying machine that can do this and have come to you to design and develop it. It must be able to carry a lot of "food" and travel far and high in order to solve their distribution problem.

Expected Results

You must design and create a flying machine on your own in your groups based on your research and unique creativity. The cost of materials to create your design must not exceed $5.00. Flying machines will be assessed by how far they are able to fly (at least three feet), how high they fly (at least three feet above release point), and how much weight (washers) they are able to carry (at least one washer). Flying machines can be any shape or size and made of any material as long as cost constraints are abided by. Planes must be powered by rubber bands and fly for at least three seconds. Flying machines must be tested and revised. The final product will be shared with and evaluated by the class.


* Laptops

* A variety of media: pens, pencils, crayons, markers, colored pencils, etc.; scrap paper

* A protractor, ruler or compass, if desired; washers

* Scissors; meter stick; masking tape; rubber bands

* Assorted craft construction or recycled materials such as paper, aluminum, string, foam, Legos, blocks, cardstock, balsa wood, cardboard etc.

(STUDENTS CAN PURCHASE ITEMS FOR FLYING MACHINES UP TO $5.00 IF DESIRED. No premade kits allowed. Purchased items must be brought to school on DAY 2 of the activity, or other materials will have to be used.)


1. Review the Student Resource sheets. These could be read in class or given as homework the night before.

2. Divide the students into groups of 2 or 3, and give them the directions and student worksheets.

3. Remind students that they must make their own working flying machine in their groups from everyday items.

Also, remind students that the goal is to design a flying machine that will carry the most amount of weight as far and high as possible. In order to get extra points, the flying machine must fly longer than three seconds, go greater than three feet farther and higher than where it was released, and carry more than one washer.

4. Students will research the history of flight and rubber-band-powered flying machines to see what others have already done. They will focus on what inventions they think were important in the history of flight and what made them so special. (Examples: Sir George Cayley invented a glider in 1804. The Wright brothers invented the first powered airplane in 1903, etc.) They will look for good aspects as well as ones to improve upon. They will take notes on these and use them to inspire their own creations.

5. Students will brainstorm and make lists of various ideas about their flying machines (possible materials, how the forces affect the way their parts should be made, etc.) and develop a plan for their flying machines. Remind students to think about flying machines they have seen and what their parts looked like and what part of the rubber-band flying machine will be the same. When they agree on the materials to be used, they must draw their designs, include descriptions, and share them with the class.

Remind students that engineers' original ideas are rarely used to solve a problem. Generally, they succeed after generating many different ideas, learning from their mistakes, and trying again. This is a critical part of the design process.

6. Students start the development part of their designs. Some groups might need to adjust their designs, make some trades, or start fresh/refer to an alternate design concept.

7. Students will test their flying machines and make adjustments and retest until they have created their best performing design.

8. Next, students will share their creations and complete self- and peer evaluation forms. Have them explain how they considered the four forces of flight (drag, thrust, lift, and weight) in their design. Students should also explain what they think is the best part of their design.

optional writing assignment

Research the life and work of Leonardo

Davinci. Write a paper that contains the following elements:

* Bibliography (personal life details).

* Examples of when and how he engaged in the engineering design and problem-solving processes.

* Examples of his works.

* What you consider his greatest life accomplishment to be and why.

* Ways his works affected technology today.

* Mass and the acceleration of gravity.

Rebecca Abell is a student in the Masters Program in STEM Education at California University of PA. She currently works as a professional mathematics tutor at Carroll Community College in Westminster, MD. She can be reached at
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Title Annotation:department books to briefs
Author:Abell, Rebecca
Publication:Children's Technology and Engineering
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2015
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