Thursday, February 23, 2012

4th Grade DaVinci Flying Machines

This, was a fun one!  I had found an old box of uncovered paper straws hidden way back in my supply closet and was trying to think of a fun project to do with them.  Then one day, as I was looking through some of my wonderful art books, BOOM!!! There was my answer...

Leonardo DaVinci has always been one of my strongest facinations, both his art and his enginuity.  I put together a really cool slideshow showing all of DaVinci's accomplishments as an artist, scientist, anatomist, mathematician, and inventor.  I really wanted to stress that he was not only a great artist, but that his art became great through his thirst for knowledge and documenting the world around him.  We had a great discussion about his inventions and the students thought that his war inventions and scuba suit designs were especially intriguing.  Turns out there is some game called "Assians Creed" (judging by the title, might be a bit violent haha) but lots of the kids knew it and I guess in that game, the main character meets with DaVinci and gets to use many of the inventions we talked about in class!!  I thought that was pretty awesome.

I supplied the straws, popsicle sticks, string, rubber bands, and wooden shapes along with about a dozen glue guns for the students to use.  Before we started building, I stressed that DaVinci was the ultimate planner and designer, and that we needed to sketch out our designs from at least two different persepectives before we began to build.  I allowed the flying machine concept to stay pretty open, all I required was that it be some sort of flying aparatus.  Students sketched and drew for the entire first class and many continued to draw in the second week as well.

Before I let them start building, I shared a design of my own which was relatively simple and talked to them about how I would start to build.  I told them that their design must have a place for a pilot to occupy and that would be a great place to start building.  We did a demo on safe hot glue gun usage and then, the construction began...

Students built the frame or "skeleton" of their flying machine for the first two or three classes before moving onto some thin foam and tissue paper for wing and cabin construction.  I told them from early on that we could take these as far as we wanted to as far as actual working and moving wings.  In the beginning of the third class I showed students how to build hinges for the wings and a simple axel to a spinning propel.  I was worried that this would be maybe a little difficult for them, but most caught on right away and came up with some ingenious ideas as to how to make their wings not only move, but flap up and down!  There was some real problem solving and creative thinking going on here and I loved every second of it.
This student had created flaping wings by folding one of the straws after it was glued to the popsicle stick base.  He controlled the flapping with a string that was attached to the tip of each wing and ran through a guide tube back to the cockpit and was tied onto a lever.  By pushing the levers down the wings flapped up and gravitiy then took the wings back down.  I was very impressed :)

This student had made a simple axel bracket by glueing four small straw pieces in a square shape with the center opeing just large enough for a straw to fit.  She made two of these and attached them with two guide straws to line them up.  Then all she needed was a straw to slide into the two openings and it could spin freely.

The students had about five weeks to make these flying machines and they turned out amazing!! It was really nice to get away from the typical "Art" project and inject a little engineering and visual thinking into the lesson.  The kids loved it and kept saying how awesome the building was.  I have been haning up all the finished machines in my room.  More pics to come and I'm going to try and put up a few videos of the different flying designs in action!!  Enjoy :)




The Ultimate Patriot Flying Machine!!!  One of my students put two American flags on his flying machine so I had to hang it in front of the flag.

Here is a link to the video of one of our flying machines in action with its wing flapping levers and rubber bands.  I really loved these!


  1. I love this lesson. Perfect for 4th term's unit for grade 5 on flying machines. This post has really helped me see how I can approach the project. Any chance I can get hold of your ppt presentation?

  2. Yes, I would also love to see your ppt and anything else to go with this. Do you have it on TPT?