Toby is afraid of heights, but when his cat gets stuck in a tree, Toby must face his fears in order to rescue him.



​Simply Suggestions:

  • String

  • Character (lego man or teddy bear gram weight)

  • Tissue paper

  • Construction paper

  • Felt

  • Newspaper

  • Waxpaper

  • Cardboard

  • Similar items


Your Choice: 

  • Design a parachute that can be used by a child

  • Used multiple times

  • Allows the child to float to the ground at a reasonable rate (the specific time will be relative to the height)

design challenge


How can we design a parachute that would work for kids afraid of heights? 

Students should engage in a Driving Question Board to elicit ideas and ask questions about what they need to know to answer this question and solve the problem. 


Students might be able to connect with the idea of being afraid of heights, or afraid of other things. It's important to think about what design choices would need to be made for a child. Students may consider aesthetics of the parachute, or even a design that can be converted into something else. Would it fold up and be compact?


Students may need to see some visuals or a video to better understand what a parachute is and how it functions. They will need to make decisions regarding string length, material, size, and shape. Considerations may be made about durability and usability. 


Allow class or small group discussions about ideas or experiences. Students may draw on what they have seen in movies, or possibly playing with the parachute in gym class. By eliciting discussion you will see any preconceptions they have about how parachutes work, with hopes that they are not confused at all with hot air balloons or ways that superheroes fly. 

PE aligned

Including, but not limited to: 

  • Kinetic / Potential energy

  • Air 

  • Gravity

  • Planning and carrying out an investigation


This plan should be focused more so on their investigation than the specific design of the parachute. Consider helping them think through the variables and how they will investigate the best combination of string length, size, shape, and material. They will need to keep a constant and change a variable at a time to narrow down their findings. 

Teacher Tip: You may facilitate this initially to show the role that size of the parachute plays. In doing this, the class may come to consensus as to the maximum size the parachute can be (tie in surface area when appropriate). 


Students will create their parachutes and be prepared with measured string lengths to be able to streamline their testing. Their plans should have specific measurements, and thus part of this time is making sure they have accurately measured for their designs. 


Given the variables, it is important for students to be able to test independently and keep iterating as they document their findings. Prior to testing you will need to ensure students have the same weight character (consider lego men, or teddy bear grams). You will also need to standardize the height that they are dropping from, will students stand on a chair? Holding the parachute at the top, students should hold their arm straight out and drop the parachute straight down without throwing it into the air. Students may use a stopwatch or timer to assess how long it takes to hit the ground. 


This should be allow continually as they test and document their findings. They should be tuning their design to meet the goal of the design as they go. Giving them a table to chart their findings will help them to see patterns, and test/iterate in a purposeful way. 

additional texts