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Big Learning with Pinwheels


Make Pinwheels

I have this fear that my kids will get through their entire childhood without me teaching them all the essential kid lore. In addition to all the basic knock-knock jokes and card games, everyone should know how to make all the classic instant toys. The ability to make newspaper hats, paper footballs... that's what they should put on those high-school graduation tests.

So today's subject is pinwheels, a fun instant toy and a great Big Learning opportunity.

Here's the basic procedure:

1. Cut a piece of paper into a square.

2. Cut inward from each corner, 1/3 of the way to the center as shown here.

3. Gently bend one side of each corner to touch the center.

4. Stick a pin through all 4 corners and the center.

5. Stick the pin into a dowel, pencil eraser, or straw to make the handle.

Pinwheel Challenges

Here are some challenges for your kids once they get the hang of making pinwheels:

1. Optical illusions. Decorate the pinwheel so it makes cool patterns when it spins.

2. Wind lessons: Hold the pinwheel in front of a spinning fan. Turn the handle side to side, and observe how fast the pinwheel spins. Is it best for the pinwheel to face directly into the "wind" or does it go faster when the wind hits the pinwheel at an angle? Why would that be true? Now change the speed of the fan. Is more wind necessarily better, or does the pinwheel work better at a medium or low wind speed?

3. Engineering lessons. Try making three pinwheels all the same size, but out of different weights of paper or craft foam. How does the material affect the pinwheel's performance? Now make three pinwheels out of a single material, but different sizes. Test how size affects performance.

4. Geometry: Is it possible to make a pinwheel out of another shape besides a square? How could you make one with more petals? What if you use a circle?




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