Written by Christa at Little Log Cottage School.
This year I’ve developed a whole year of STEM activities to go along with our science standards. We study a new inventor each month. This month it was Leonardo Da Vinci!
Studying about Leonardo da Vinci can combine two subjects kids usually don’t consider as similar: art and science. When you can tie the arts, engineering, math, and science into a project; you’ll have kids who are going to be able to creatively solve problems their whole life.
Combining many different facets of learning keeps kids engaged and focused in their schoolwork. When kids begin to understand there is a creative aspect to science, they become more interested and excited to dive into deeper science concepts.
These activities are perfect to use with a Leonardo da Vinci study. You can combine them with an art study, and have a whole Leonardo da Vinci unit!
I chose to build and test da Vinci’s parachute. After studying his sketches, we used math concepts such as perimeter and isosceles triangle constructions. This also uses physical science such as gravity, mass, and air resistance.
Da Vinci Parachute STEM Activity
What You’ll Need:
- 1 piece of graph paper
- Four ⅛ inch dowel rods; 12 inches long (Don’t pre cut these)
- Four ⅛ inch dowel rods; 16 inches long (Don’t pre cut these)
- 4 pieces of string; 18 inches long
- masking tape
- thin paper for the covering
- 5 paper clips per parachute
We began this project by doing a bit of research on Da Vinci as an inventor. We researched his sketches and found out many of his sketches were ideas of inventions that we use today.
Then we began the project.
Making a Hands-On Da Vinci Parachute
The first step was to sketch out the blueprints. To get in a little math, I gave the kids the following problem to solve:
The square base of the pyramid will be 144 sq feet. Each square represents 2 inches. How many inches will each side of the base be? Draw it out on your graph paper.
After checking to see if the kids had drawn a 12 x 12 square, it was time to cut the dowel rods into 4 12” pieces.
You may need to use craft scissors to cut through the dowel rods.
Next, we used as little masking tape as possible to connect the 4 dowel rods into a square base.
Then it was on to the triangular sides. By presenting another math problem, the kids were able to find out how long the isosceles triangle had to be. Here’s the math problem:
The total perimeter of the isosceles triangular sides is 44”. Since we already know the base is 12”, what will be the length of the other sides?
To solve the problem the kids had to subtract 44 from 12 to get 32. Then they would divide 32 by 2 to get 16. The triangular sides will be 16” long.
The remaining dowel rods should be cut to provide 4 16” rods. These rods are then carefully taped onto the base of the parachute.
When the triangle pieces are all taped together and lying flat, it’s time to cover the sides of the parachute with very light paper. To do this, we traced around the outside of the triangles and then used as little tape as possible to attach the paper.
Then it was time for the strings. This was the hardest part. You must cut four 18” strings.
To keep them from getting tangled, tie all 4 strings together at one end and then make a little loop and tape up each individual string at the other end.
You will then loop a paper clip through each loop. Use one more paper clip at the top of the strings, to connect all of the strings to the top of the parachute. The strings should be hanging down the middle of the parachute.
Model of Leonardo’s Parachute
To test out our design, we connected each individual string onto a washer. We used the school playground castle to drop our parachute and to see how long it would hang in the air. We tested different weights to see how we could achieve the longest hang time.
Here’s a recap of the project:
Step 1: Cut and tape together 4 12” dowel rods to form a square.
Step 2: Cut and tape onto the square 4 16” dowel rods to form 2 isosceles triangles. Lay flat.
Step 3: Trace the triangles with light paper to cover the parachute. Use tape to attach the paper
Step 4: Cut 4 18” pieces of string and tie together at one end. Then make a small loop at the end of each string and use a little tape to keep the loop.
Step 5: Attach a paperclip to each loop and and one at the top where the strings are tied together. Use that paper clip to attach the strings to the middle of the parachute.
Step 6: Attach a washer to the 4 paper clips and then find a spot to test your parachute.
This was a highly engaging activity that my kids loved. They learned a lot about Leonardo Da Vinci, a lot about mass, gravity, and air resistance, balance, and a little about perimeter and shapes. I’m so glad that we took on the challenge of designing Da Vinci’s parachute!
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