Science

Santa’s Parachute

by Amy Collins July 20, 2018

Santa needs a parachute in case he accidentally falls from his sleigh.

You will need:

  • Two F1 Gratnells trays with inserts for organisation
  • Coloured A4 paper
  • Coloured A4 card
  • Cotton wool balls
  • String
  • Corks
  • Sticky tape
  • Lollypop sticks
  • Elastic bands
  • Paper cups
  • Yoghurt pots
  • Shower caps
  • Balloons
  • Felt tip pens
  • A range of Gratnells trays for targets
  • Stopwatch

What to do:

Challenge your class to make a parachute for a paper Santa using any or all of the equipment in the trays.

The aim is for Santa to stay in the air for as long as possible before he touches the ground.

Decide on your design, make it, test it and modify it to make the best possible parachute.

When you are ready for the final test, load Santa into the parachute, hold your parachute as high as you can and, working with a friend to operate the stopwatch, time how long it takes from dropping the parachute for it to touch down on the ground.

Tip: If you have a stage area, small step stool or balcony, you could use this to give extra height for the final tests. Make sure the place you choose is safe and, if you are working above ground level, that the activity is carried out under adult supervision.

Which parachute design takes the longest to fall to the ground?

Compare this with how long it takes for a paper Santa with no parachute to fall from the same height (this will be your control).

What is happening?

Gravity is the force that ‘pushes’ everything to the ground, when Santa falls from his sleigh, it is gravity that causes him to fall down to earth.

The parachute is creating a slowing-down effect due to air resistance. If Santa fell from his sleigh without a parachute, gravity would cause his body to fall through the air rapidly and he may not survive to finish delivering all the presents. If he wore a parachute, it would create more air resistance, or drag, and enable him to drift to the ground much more slowly and safely. He can then call the reindeer back to pick him up and carry on getting all the presents where they need to be.

Tip: to reduce the effect of gravity on your falling Santa, make your parachute as light as possible.

To make it a fair test, all your paper Santa’s should be exactly the same.

For more information on air resistance have a look at this article by Chris Woodford.

Other things to try…

  • Use the Gratnells trays for target practice. Can you get your parachute to land in the tray? Does adding wind, from a fan or your breath, effect the direction of travel or the time it takes for the parachute to fall to the ground?
  • Have a couple of round robin competitions, testing your parachutes against each other, to see which is the best.
  • Discuss the differences in the designs, why were some of the parachutes more successful than others? Research different parachute designs and learn as much as you can about what is needed for to make a really effective parachute.
  • Modify your design or build a new parachute based on your observations and research.

Health & Safety

As with all Gratnells Learning Rooms What’s In My Tray Activities you should carry out your own risk assessment prior to undertaking any of the activities or demonstrations.