Peep Parachute Engineering | YIP@HOME

Engineer a Peep Parachute

This YIP@HOME Challenge is all about testing and playing around with things that don’t work. It’s also about realizing that an experiment that doesn’t work the way you thought it would isn’t really a failure. For this activity, you will test and re-test your engineering and design skills as you design a parachute to carry a light-weight object slowly to the ground. For our object, we use a Peep (large marshmallow treat), but you can use any light-weight object from home (cotton balls, small empty plastic container, Lego figure). See below for more details about materials.

The E in STEM

We all hear about engineers and know that the E in STEAM stands for Engineering, but what is engineering exactly?

Well, it’s a pretty broad subject area, but basically it is designing and building anything- from bridges to towers to simple machines and robots. Engineers tackle all sorts of challenges to come up with solutions for natural and man-made problems.

Fail Forward

One of the most important processes that Engineers do as they create their inventions or solutions is test. Engineers have to go through lots of testing before they have their final product. It is common for a first version of a design not to work, and even the second or the third. Engineers play with their designs and may change the size, weight, materials used or other parts of their models as they make their inventions.

For example, did you know that Thomas Edison tried many times to get his lightbulb to work before he came up with a successful one. When asked by a reporter about how it felt to fail so many times, Edison replied: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

Edison’s biggest hurdle was finding a filament that was strong, affordable, and would not burn out quickly. He and his team tested more than 6,000 materials before finding the one that worked: carbonized bamboo. Thomas Edison’s positive attitude and perseverance are model qualities that engineers must have to be successful inventors. Learn more about Edison in this StoryBots video on YouTube.

Watch the Peep Parachute Challenge

What You Need

A parachute is something that is made of light weight fabric, shaped kind of like an umbrella that can help people safely jump from an airplane. Due to air resistance, a drag force (the air pushes up on the fabric as it falls, like filling a balloon, to slow down its motion to the ground. The larger the parachute, the greater the resistance and the slower the object it holds will fall.

For the Peep Parachute Challenge, you can use all sorts of materials you find around the house. And because you are going to test and re-test and make several versions of your parachute to see which is most successful, you will want to try a variety of materials and play with shapes and sizes for the parachute.

What to Do

Design and test different versions of a parachute that will make a light-weight object fall to the ground as slowly and with the softest landing possible. You can use all sorts of materials and play around with their size and shape to see what makes the best parachute. Then attach the parachute designs to your object using string and tape (yarn, dental floss, ribbon, also work well) and find a spot above the ground (about 4 feet works well) to drop your parachute and object. Check with an adult to be sure your drop location is safe before you start.

Now test- try  each design several times to observe. If you want, measure your exact distance from the ground and use a stopwatch to record the time it takes to for your parachute to land and write down the results. It may be helpful to have someone at home help you with this step.

See which design works best. Take photos and then submit them to us to complete the Challenge.

Testing Constants (The Things that Don’t Change)

The one constant (the thing that does not change in each test) is the object falling to the ground- in our example, the Peep. The goal is to design a parachute that makes your Peep (or object) fall the slowest.

Another constant that will be important in your testing is the drop location, each test should drop the parachute from the same spot so that the Peep travels the exact same distance to the ground every time so you know which design makes the Peep fall the slowest for the softest landing.

Suggested Materials:

  • Objects to Drop: Peeps, large marshmallows, cotton balls, Lego figures, empty plastic container like a yogurt container or plastic egg (the object must be light-weight!)
  • Parachute materials: fabric, paper, tissue paper, plastic bag, coffee filter
  • String
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Pencil or pen to take notes and draw designs
  • Paper or notebook to take notes and draw designs
  • Stopwatch or clock (optional if you wish to time your drops)
  • Measuring tape (optional if you wish to record the distance of your drops)

Lesson Plan

Our lesson plan outlines this activity, materials, and script to follow to lead the challenge. It’s for everony, teachers, parents, leaders, and students, here is the full lesson plan to follow.

Showcase Your Peep Parachute

We can’t wait to see your awesome ideas! Take a photo, video, or scan and upload a picture of your design. Email it to: hello@aas-world.org. Or send your photo, video or uploaded picture or design to your teacher at school to submit to us. You can also tag us on Instagram: @FueltheSpark.

Did You Love this Activity?

If you loved this activity and want to support more, please make a gift to the Academy to help us develop more YIP@HOME and STEM programming.