Lesson Overview

The students are introduced to the phenomenon of "lift" through a puzzle. They are shown one wing which is square, while the other is aerodynamically shaped to create "lift". They are then asked to guess which model plane wing configuration will lift when thrown. A follow-up section explains the phenomenon, then gives students an exercise that demonstrates the principle of lift.

Time Allotment

10-15 minutes

NCTM Process Standards

NCTM Content Standards

Aeronautics Content


Prerequisite Skills



An appropriate time to discuss vocabulary may be after the lesson when students have experienced the activities.


Pencil, paper, calculator, MathPad (distributed by IntelliTools), strips of paper cut in 2 inch by 8 inch strips

Class Organization Guidelines

Collaborative groups help with classroom and student management and assist student learning. Optimally, in computer lab settings 2-4 students at one computer support each other and learn effectively. Large group class combinations of students can be organized with four students to a computer with each student taking a role: Reader, Navigator, Reporter, Captain.

For example, the Reader reads what is on the screen to the group. The Navigator maneuvers the mouse. The Reporter reports back to class. The Captain keeps track of time and monitors group interaction. Three-student and two-student groups can be assigned a combination of these roles. For instance, Reader and Navigator roles can be assigned to one student while the other student can be the Reporter and Captain.

Teacher Tips

PlaneMath provides a means to accommodate students with physical and learning disabilities as well as to enhance math learning for all students. Thoughtful planning and management strategies are effective methods to accomplish these goals. Grouping, functional roles, access to well-designed lessons, learning styles along with student interactions are considerations for management of students. For more information for students with disabilities, contact the Alliance for Technology Access http://marin.org/npo/ata/index.html. For additional information go to the main Teacher's Page for PlaneMath.

Additional Activities

Here is a simple demonstration of the opposite forces of lift and gravity:

  1. Take a non-breakable object (a wadded piece of paper) and hold it steady in front of the class.
  2. Let the object go. This demonstrates the force of gravity pulling an object to earth.
  3. Pick up the object and hold it steady once again. Why doesn't it fall? Because you are counteracting the force of gravity with your own force. In fact, the force that you are using to hold the object up is equal to the force of gravity trying to pull the object to earth.
  4. Now, slightly increase your force and the object rises. This increase in force represents how the force of lift overcomes the force of gravity. If the force of lift is more than the force of gravity, the object rises. If it is less, the object falls to the ground.

Online Resources

There are many helpful on-line resources listed in our Aeronautics Links page. Some other sites directly applicable to the Lift Off activity are:

Cislunar's NASA K-8 Aeronautics Internet Textbook - This site offers explanations of lift and other forces of flight at varying levels of reading difficulty.


The Sky's the Limit! with Math and Science - AIMS Education Foundation


Adventures in Flight CD-ROM - Addison Wesley

The Way Things Work CD-ROM - Dorling Kindersley MultiMedia