Invention Convention

Questacon Invention Convention

Don't just use the latest technology- create it!

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Questacon Smart Skills Teacher Workshops are no longer supported offerings. For Questacon's current Educator Professional Learning program, check out Engineering is Elementary

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Enterprising Australians

Find out about Australian inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

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Make at Questacon in Canberra

Foldable Flight Teacher Resource

Welcome to the Maker Project Foldable Flight workshop. In this workshop, students will investigate the science of flight through. This document provides information to prepare you and your students for the workshop. Included in this document are activities we recommend you run before and after the workshop to help maximise your students’ learning from our workshop.

Background – Innovation

Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Edison didn't "invent" the light bulb. He is known for this life changing invention because he improved upon a 50-year-old idea and made it accessible for everyone to use. This process of building on ideas to create something new is called innovation.

We all have the tools we need to be innovative; problem solving, creativity, maths, science and technology, but it’s how we use these tools that can make the difference between having an idea and doing something with it.

The process of need, think, make, try, refine is at the heart of any design or engineering feat. These stages don’t follow a set pattern or order, but arise naturally from the exploration of new ideas. It can be useful to think about each of these stages as you work on your own designs.

  • Does your idea address your need?
  • Can you think of a new or better approach to solve your problem?
  • Can you make a prototype?
  • Try out your prototype – does it do what it’s supposed to?
  • How can you refine your design to make it better?

Before your visit

Pre-visit Activities

The innovation process is simply about taking an idea and making something new. So an innovator is someone who wants to create change by coming up with new ways of doing things.  Sometimes, making this change in society comes from changing your perspective.

Activity 1

Obtain two random objects (anything from a plastic spoon, a single serve pack of vegemite to a test tube). For each object ask the class to brainstorm other ways the object could be used.


1. Imagine the object at any scale, made of any material, or in any context. It might be helpful to ask your students what they could use the object for if they were abandoned on a desert island – this can get the creative juices flowing.

2. How would you improve the original object to better address the new purpose? Does this new object perform the function better than existing products?


Activity 2

This activity is designed to prompt your students towards thinking about some of the design elements that will affect the paper plane flight.  Out of one A4 sheet of paper, the students need to design a paper aeroplane.  They must be able to control the lift and the direction the plane will fly in, and are aiming for maximum distance.

Things to keep in mind

What can you change or adjust in your design to alter the flight path of the plane? Can you make your plane do a loop-the-loop?  Can you steer the plane so it flies clockwise or counter-clockwise? Does your plane nose-dive, or climb quickly? Adjustments to the design can only be made in between flights.

Information for teachers to facilitate pre-visit activity

In order to control lift and dive of the plane, flaps may be used on the back of the wing. This can be achieved by cutting about 1 cm into the back of the each wing; the flap should cover about half the width of the wing. The flap can then be bent up (to give more lift) or down (to give less lift) to help control the plane. If the wings are bent differently to one another then the wings have uneven lift causing the plane to corkscrew as it flies.

Another important factor which helps control the flight is understanding where the centre of mass of the plane is, and where the centre of its air pressure is. The centre of air pressure is the middle point of its silhouette, and the relationship between this and the plane’s centre of mass controls how the plane glides. The tutorial at the end of this document provides a quick guide on identifying both centres.

Cutting flaps on the back of the plane


During your visit

What to expect at the workshop

In this workshop students will investigate different types of paper planes and how launch methods and design factors can influence how they fly. Students will utilise their critical thinking and problem solving skills as they create a unique and reliable solution to problems posed to them throughout the workshop. The students will then be challenged with refining their design to meet a variety of flight scenarios.

All tools and resources will be supplied; a teacher will need to be present at the workshop to act as a supervisor.

Running time: 120 minutes


Foldable Flight


Intro to flight (lift and weight distribution)

Outline of challenges, tools and safety

Main Activities

Students begin by designing a simple paper plane. As the workshop progresses, they will have the opportunities to investigate the uses of dart designs vs. gliders.

Elastic and air-powered launch methods will also be investigated and tested throughout the workshop.

At all points, students are recording data to aid in the refinement of their plane operation.  Distances travelled, starting angle and weight distribution must all be taken into account.

Extension activities

As extensions, students may be able to launch their planes at a higher power, to discuss how velocity and different atmospheres have different implications for planes and rockets.


Discussion regarding types of planes and their ideal uses, data collection and launch variables.


Absolute bare minimum materials to enforce creative and calculated design – materials may include:

  • Limited amount of sticky tape/hot glue (etc)
  • Paper

After your visit

Follow up activity

During the workshop, students used a launching mechanism for a paper plane.  As a brainstorming exercise, can your students think of real world examples where such a mechanism may be required?  For example, the navy use electro-magnetic slingshots to accelerate planes when taking off from an aircraft carrier.

Run your own workshop

To encourage further exploration into the properties of flight, ask your students to design their ideal glider. This should be a plane that flies in the straightest line, for the longest distance. Spend a lesson on the oval to find the most successful design!

Further investigation into innovation

Without innovative thinking many new inventions that have made our lives easier, or just more enjoyable, wouldn’t have happened. To innovate, you need tools. Scientific knowledge is just one of those tools (maths, drawing, design, language, computer science are just a few of the other tools you may need or already have). Science and innovation have a close relationship—they go hand in hand. Many scientific and technological advancements and developments are due to innovative thinking; using something that already exists but applying it to something new—being creative, thinking laterally.

Case Study: Did you know WiFi is an Australian innovation?

WiFi was originally developed by Dr John O’Sullivan while he was trying to solve a radio astronomy problem—finding exploding black holes. After some time, other researchers from CSIRO modified his idea; using mathematics and physics to solve another problem—wireless communication. This didn’t happen overnight, but the various applications of WiFi have made this innovation one of the most crucial technologies in our networked society. Check out the full story at

Old knowledge + lateral thinking + problem solving = a new solution = innovation



Paper Plane Tutorial

The centre of mass of the plane is the point where the plane can balance on one finger. (x in the diagram)

To find the centre of air pressure first trace the top surface of the plane onto a piece of paper.

Next, cut out the silhouette of the paper plane.

Finally, find the centre of mass of the silhouette. This will be the centre of air pressure.

The goal is to have the centre of mass (x) in front of the centre of air pressure (o) when they both run down the centre line of the plane.


Curriculum links

Science Inquiry Skills Strand

This workshop’s activities relates to Science Inquiry Skills across all years by encouraging:

  • Questioning and predicting
  • Planning and conducting
  • Processing and analysing data and information
  • Evaluating
  • Communicating


Science as a Human Endeavour Strand

If this activity is extended to research and discuss the applications of planes, variables that are involved and how different planes are suitable for different needs, it links to the Science as a Human Endeavour Strand.


Science Understanding Strand

As well as investigating physical force gravity, if this activity is extended to research and discuss motion and transfer of energy it links across various subjects in the Science Understanding Strand.

Year 7 Physical Science

Change to an object’s motion is caused by unbalanced forces, including Earth’s gravitational attraction, acting on the object (ACSSU117)

Year 8 Physical Science

Energy appears in different forms including movement (kinetic energy), heat and potential energy and causes changes within systems (ACSSU155)

Year 10 Physical Science

Energy conservation in a system can be explained by describing energy transfers and transformations (ACSSU190)

The motion of objects can be described and predicted using the laws of physics (ACSSU229)


Design and Technology: Processes and Production

Year 7/8

Critique needs or opportunities for designing and investigate, analyse and select from a range of materials, components, tools, equipment and processes to develop design ideas (ACTDEP035)

Effectively and safely use a broad range of materials, components, tools, equipment and techniques to make designed solutions (ACTDEP037)

Year 9/10

Apply design thinking, creativity, innovation and enterprise skills to develop, modify and communicate design ideas of increasing sophistication (ACTDEP049)

Work flexibly to safely test, select, justify and use appropriate technologies and processes to make designed solutions (ACTDEP050)


Design and Technology: Knowledge and Understanding

Year 9/10

Investigate and make judgments on how the characteristics and properties of materials, systems, components, tools and equipment can be combined to create designed solutions (ACTDEK046)


Australian National Curriculum Online:

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