Three Sheets to the Wind

Three Sheets to the Wind

July 16, 2020

There’s a lot you can do with a blank sheet of paper. You can draw a picture on it, write a story… or if you want to stir up trouble, you can send it flying through the air. Folding paper to make a paper airplane is a great trick. The two most common shapes are the “ballistic dart” and the “glider.” The dart will travel very fast, but is more wobbly. The glider flies a little more slowly, but smoothly. So how far can a paper airplane fly? The world record is more than 226 feet, thrown by a former college football quarterback. Of course, you might want to make those stunt planes that loop-de-loop in the air or fly back to you like a boomerang. The good news about that last one is that then you get to throw it again.

Wee ones: How many edges (sides) does a regular sheet of paper have?

Little kids: If you fold a rectangle piece of paper once through the middle, what shapes can you make? Try it!  Bonus: If your boomerang-style paper airplane flies 6 seconds away from you, takes 2 seconds to turn around, and flies back for 6 seconds, how long does it fly?

Big kids: The longest a paper airplane has flown is about 28 seconds. If yours has flown 19 seconds so far, how much longer does it have to fly to match the record?  Bonus: If that record-breaking plane had flown 8 feet each second, how far would it have flown? (Hint if needed: Multiplying by 8 is the same as 2 x 2 x 2, so you can just keep doubling!)












Wee ones: 4 sides.

Little kids: Rectangles, triangles, and crooked 4-sided shapes called “trapezoids.”  Bonus: 14 seconds.

Big kids: 9 more seconds.  Bonus: 224 feet — very close to the distance record!

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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