Carrie Robledo
Engineering, Mathematics, Statistics and Probability
Material Type:
Middle School
  • 6th Grade
  • Engineering
  • K12 Engineers
  • Math
  • Statistics and Probability
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    Cup Gliders

    Cup Gliders


    Students will build and launch Magnus Effect gliders and measure the distance they fly. They will analyze the data to judge which material gives the glider the most distance. Then they may do the same process for other variables.

    Instructor Directions

    Cup Gliders

    Lesson Submitted by

    Clayton Ramsey

    Oxford Preparatory School





    Driving Question / ScenarioWe are engineers trying to design Magnus Effect Gliders that will fly as far as possible. Our goal is to test different variables and find the combination that will give us the longest flight distance.
    Project SummaryStudents will build and launch Magnus Effect gliders and measure the distance they fly. They will analyze the data to judge which material gives the glider the most distance. Then they may do the same process for other variables.
    Estimated Time60-90 minutes
    Materials / ResourcesMaterials per participant group (2 - 4 students)
    • 2 disposable drinking cups of the same size from 3 different materials each, such as paper, plastic and foam.
    • Cups of other sizes (for the Improve phase)
    • Rubber bands sufficient to make a chain 12-18 inches long
    • Office tape
    • Space in the building or outdoors to launch the gliders
    • A technology for data analysis such as Google sheets, Excel, or CODAP
    Subject(s)EngineeringMath (Data analysis and Statistics)
    Educational StandardsCCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.SP.A.1Recognize a statistical question as one that anticipates variability in the data related to the question and accounts for it in the answers.CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.SP.A.2Understand that a set of data collected to answer a statistical question has a distribution which can be described by its center, spread, and overall shape.CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.SP.B.4Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots.CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.SP.B.5Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their contextThis activity is designed to be in line with the principles in the GAISE report: activity is also aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards for Engineering Design MS-ETS1-1, MS-ETS1-2 and MS-ETS1-3.
    Classifying ObjectiveUse data collected during the design process to improve the design.
    Project Outline
    AskWe are engineers trying to figure out how to make these gliders go the farthest distance possible. What combination of variables gives us the maximum flight distance?
    ImagineTo get the students interested, show them a video of this type of device, or make one of your own and fly it. Practice beforehand - they take some time to learn to fly!I like to use this video: class should discuss what variables might have an effect on how far the gliders go, and what the other sources of variation in distance might be.
    PlanThe class should discuss how they are going to control as many variables as possible while varying others. These are factors not related to the design itself, like the angle of launch and the air currents of the area. They should realize that these can’t be fully controlled, and will cause some variation in the distances of identically constructed gliders, or even the same one! The class should develop standards for tape usage during construction, number of rubber bands, launch angle, how to measure launch distance, and so on.Each individual group should decide what types of cups they should use in order to examine the effect of variations in one variable.
    CreateStudents should choose 2 cups of 3 different types. They should vary one variable at a time by choosing 3 pairs of cups of the same size and different materials, or 3 pairs of cups of the same material but different sizes.Students next build and launch the 3 gliders with the standard procedures discussed earlier in terms of taps usage, number of rubber bands, etc. Each one should be launched the same number of times, as decided by the class. The data should be recorded.
    ImproveStudents will use the launch distance data to make improvements. First, it should be plotted using a dot plot or box-and-whiskers. Their understanding of central tendency and variation will help them reason about which type of glider goes the farthest from their designs.Then they can use that type of glider (material or size) and vary the other variable in order to check its effect.
    Closure / Student ReflectionsStudents can reflect on what sources of variation exist, what variables are difficult or impossible to control, and how user needs drive the design process.
    Possible Modifications / ExtensionsIt is possible to compare all the class data using an appropriately designed Google form and the associated spreadsheet. This should have a separate question for each variable - size, material, number of rubber bands, etc.