Isaac Newton is one the most famous scientists in the world. He is best known for discovering how gravity works, but he worked on so many different topics that he completely changed how we understand the world.

Paper Helicopter

You will need...

The sheet of helicopter templates (download from the link)
Paperclips (optional)

How long will it take?

If you have the helicopter pre-cut it will only take five minutes for the students to get them into shape.  You can give them longer to colour in their helicopters.  Give 15 minutes to play with their helicopters while you describe what's happening. If you want to extend the activity by letting them test out the variables, then this will take an additional 15 minutes.

What to do...

Prepare the helicopters in advance by printing out and cutting out the outline of the helicopters.
Ask the students to follow the instructions, cutting along the solid lines and folding along the dotted lines.  Then they can hold them high and drop them... sometimes a helicopter will fly better if the student holds it by the tips of its unfolded wings.

You may want to take one of the paper helicopters and roll it into a ball and drop it at the same time as a helicopter to demonstrate that the design is what makes a difference to the helicopter air resistance.

What is happening?

The helicopter experiences gravity pulling it down, and air resistance which acts upwards against the pull of gravity.

Initially the helicopter accelerates because of the pull of gravity.  As it gets faster and faster the air resistance acting upwards increases until it reaches its terminal velocity.  At this velocity the downward force of gravity equals the air resistance.  The forces are balanced and the helicopter stops accelerating and continues to fall at a constant velocity.

Changing the design will change how the helicopter falls.  If the wings are bigger, the air resistance is greater.  The helicopter will not reach as high a velocity before the air resistance equals the pull of gravity, and so the helicopter will fall more slowly. 

To extend this activity give the students a blank sheet of paper and ask them to redesign the helicopter.  They may choose one of the options from the list on the students sheet and make bigger wings, the entire helicopter larger or smaller, the size of the body, or add more weight to the bottom.  Compare the designs to one another, and to the original helicopter, in terms of the amount of air resistance and which lands first and last.

Where in nature is this design found? Sycamore and maple seeds are spread by wind dispersal.  Their design allows them to act as helicopters, slowing their flight and allowing them to travel further from the parent tree. 

Sycamore seedSycamore seed









Maple seedMaple seed








Curriculum Links 


Working Scientifically


Lower key stage 2 Year 3
Forces and magnets


Upper key stage 2 Year 5





Design & Technology

Evaluate their ideas and products against their own design criteria and consider the views of others to improve their work


 Scottish Curriculum



SCN 2-07a

Forces, electricity and waves - Forces

Investigating how friction, including air resistance, affects motion and suggesting ways to improve efficiency in moving objects.


SCN 2-08a

Forces, electricity and waves - Forces

Collaborating in investigations to compare magnetic, electrostatic and gravitational forces and exploring their practical applications.



MTH 2-16b

Shape, position and movement  - Properties of 2D shapes and 3D objects


TCH 2-01b

Technological developments in society


TCH 1-13a / TCH 2-13a

Craft, design, engineering and graphics contexts for developing technological skills and knowledge

During practical activities and design challenges, I can estimate and measure using appropriate instruments and units.


TCH 1-14b / TCH 2-14b

Having evaluated my work, I can adapt and improve, where appropriate, through trial and error or by using feedback.

Staying on the ground

Newton worked at Cambridge University until 1665 when it was closed down because of the bubonic plague.  The plague had already killed thousands in London and it started to spread to other towns.  Newton was lucky to be able to move back to his home in Lincolnshire, far enough away to avoid this dreadful disease.

He lived in a small village in Lincolnshire for about two years, until it was safe to return to Cambridge.  It was here that he started working on one of his most famous discoveries..... gravity!

ApplesAfter watching how an apple falls from a tree to the ground, Newton began to wonder if the Moon stays in orbit around the Earth for the same reason.  

Gravity is a force that pulls us towards the centre of the Earth.  All forces are measured in Newtons, named after Isaac Newton.  The weight of something is the force it feels being pulled towards the Earth.  What Newton discovered was that anything with mass pulls things towards it with its gravity.  The more massive it is, like the Earth and the Moon, the larger the force pulling the two things together.


Try this activity to see Newton's forces in action.


Helicopter diagramPaper Helicopter

Download a pdf of the instructions here.

You will need...
A helicopter plan
Paper clip (optional)

What to do...

Take the sheet of paper with the helicopter printed on it.  Cut along the heavy lines.  Then fold on the dotted lines to create your helicopter.  It doesn't really matter what order you do it in.  Decorate your helicopter by colouring it in.

If you like you can add a paperclip to the bottom to give it a little weight.  Hold the helicopter as high as you can and drop it!


What is happening?

Paper helicoptersHave a look at the two forces acting on your helicopter.

There is a force pulling it down to the ground which is gravity, and there's a force that is stopping it from falling very quickly. This force is called air resistance - air moves against the helicopter as it falls, this slows it down.

Watch how the helicopter falls to the ground. Is it accelerating all the way towards the ground, or does it reach a constant speed?



You can try and slow the speed the helicopter falls by changing the amount of air resistance of the helicopter. From the list below have a think about what you could do to create more air resistance. If you are unsure then test them out!

-          Make the helicopter bigger

-          Putting an extra paper clip on

-          Make the wings bigger

-          Make the helicopter smaller

-          Colour it green


Where in nature can you find designs similar to this, and what do you think are they used for?