STEM – Floating Through Air (Mini-Math Lesson – Algebra 2)

This weeks final STEM activity is also a relatively easy one for students to do on their own. And it is a lot more exciting and realistic to collect your own data and analyze the results than to just use given data. Makes the math more ‘real’. However – as with all the activities this week, there is provided sample data.

Today’s activity has to do with falling objects and how gravity and area have an impact on the resistance and acceleration of that object as it falls. Materials needed are pretty basic – a book of some sort and a piece of paper, measuring tape on a vertical wall, and either a stop watch or a camera (video) to record the fall of the object when dropped from a 6 foot height. Video probably works best because you can slow it down and look at the height frame by frame.  At least two people would work best.

The underlying understandings for this activity have to do with gravity and an object falling towards the surface of earth. If gravity is the only influence acting, then acceleration is always downward and has the same magnitude for all objects. An object falling toward the surface of Earth will fall 32.18 fee per second faster every second (32.18 ft/s^2). Students will explore how area of an object increases the drag, which than impacts the terminal velocity (so parachutes have a lower terminal velocity than say a bullet).

Students will first drop a book and record it’s height as it falls. Then, they will drop a piece of paper from the same height and record it’s height as it falls. They will then fold the paper, and repeat the drop for each fold, which is decreasing the area of the paper and thus should decrease the terminal velocity. They will compare the data by making scatter plots and consider when the falling object might have a constant terminal velocity (speed). They will look at different parts of the graph to see where the data is in a straight line, which indicates when the force of gravity is equal to the air drag force.  It’s a fun little experiment and relevant as well.

This activity is adapted to ClassPad.net from the Fostering STEM In Education with Casio Technology, Casio 2013. The links below include the ClassPad.net version of the activity, the PDF version of the original activity, that includes more description and background information as well as calculator tips and strategies, and then a video overview of the ClassPad.net activity, showing how to create the scatter plots, zoom in and out with the plots to look for when the data is becoming linear.

  1. STEM – Floating Through Air (Scatter Plot, Drag, and Gravity)
  2. STEM Floating Through Air (PDF)
  3. Video Overview – STEM: Floating Through Air (Scatter Plot, Tables, Drag, Gravity)


The tool being used in these mini-math lessons is the FREE web-based math software, ClassPad.net.

Remember – if you want to save and/or modify any of these activities, create a free account.  Some useful links below: