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Exploring the MapleCopter
Task with Student Directions

Grades 10-12 Performance Task
Developed by: Connecticut State Department of Education
Alternative Assessment in Science (Lomask, Baron & Greig) (1993)

Directions to the Students:

In this activity you are going to investigate a natural phenomenon - the spinning motion of a falling maple seed. Your performance on this activity, alone, and as a member of a group, will be assessed by your teacher, based on your written materials and you group's oral presentation. Therefore make sure that everything that you do is well documented. Keep a careful record of your experimental plans, what you actually do, what you observe, all the data that you gather, analyze and display (computation, graphing, etc.), and your final conclusions.

Your work will be scored on the basis of its quality on the following four dimensions:

Part I - Getting Started by Yourself: Individual Understanding (Dimension 1)

  1. Number and relevance of observations.
  2. Insight and logic of initial explanation.

Part II - Group Work: Group Experimentation (Dimension II)

  1. Number and relevance of factors that might affect the seed's motion.
  2. Appropriate experimental design, using models.
  3. Appropriate and accurate performance of experiments.
  4. Appropriate and accurate gathering, analyzing and reporting of experimental data.
  5. Valid conclusions supported by experimental data.

All of the above should be written clearly in one summary group report. This report should be the basis for your oral presentation and therefore should be clear and detailed.

Part III - Finishing by Yourself: Individual Understanding (Dimension I)

  1. Complete, accurate, and clear explanation of the maple seed's motion, based on knowledge of physics and experimental results.
  2. Elaboration on the usefulness of simplified models in scientific investigation.
  3. Ability to critique a sample research report and draw valid conclusions from it.

At the end of Part II, every group member will be asked to complete the attached Collaboration Scoring Guide which contains criteria for group collaboration (Dimension III). The attached Oral Communication Scoring Guide contains criteria for oral presentations and will be used by you and your teacher during the group presentations to assess Dimension IV.

Part I: Getting Started by Yourself

Throw a winged maple seed up in the air or drop it from your hand. Watch it "float" down to the floor. Describe as many aspects of the motion and physical properties of the seed that are relevant to the motion as you can. You may add a diagram if you wish.

  1. Record all the observations that you have made. Do not attempt to explain the seed's motion at this time.

  2. After you have finished recording your observations, try to provide an initial explanation of the spinning motion of the seed which integrates your observations with your knowledge of physics.

Part II: Group Work

  1. Discuss the motion of the winged maple seed with the members of your group. Write down all of the factors that your group thinks might affect the motion of the winged maple seed.

  2. Discuss, with the members of your group, what kind of experiments you can perform to clarify the motion of the spinning seed and the effect of various factors in this motion.

  3. Sometimes, experimenting with simplified moels (or simulations) might help one to understand a more complex phenomena, such as the motion of the winged maple seed. Use a model, rather than the original seed, to carry out experiments which will clarify different aspects of the spinning motion.
  1. Construct models of the winged maple seed. If after several attempts to improve the seed model, your model still does not work, you may ask the teacher for building instructions for the paper helicopter.

  2. Throw or drop the model and observe its motion.

  3. Design and carry out experiments to test the effect of different variables on the motion of the model.

  1. Summarize your group's findings in a final report which includes:

  1. What your group tried to investigate (statement of the problem with clear definition of dependent and independent variables).

  2. How your group performed its experiments (clear description of experimental procedures).

  3. What your group found (raw and processed data, organized in charts or graphs, as necessary).

  4. What your group concluded (based on experimental findings) and how valid your group thinks these conclusions are.

The report should be clear enought to enable the reader to replicate it.

  1. Prepare an oral presentation of your group's experiments, findings, and conclusions. Include graphical materials to aid your presentation. Each member of your group should be ready to participate in any part of the presentation. Your teacher will determine the order of presenters at the time of the presentation.

Part III: Finishing by Yourself

  1. Suppose you want to explain the motion of the winged maple seed to your friend. Write an explanation that is clear enough to enable your friend to understand the factors and forces which are involved in the spinning motion of the winged maple seed. Support your explanation with findings from your experiment. Specify the aspects about which you are more certain and those about which you are still unsure.

  2. In this activity, you used simplified models to help explain a more complicated phenomenon. Describe several advantages and disadvantages of using a model in the study of the motion of the winged maple seed. Include specific examples from the work of your group.

    The following report was written by one group of students working on the MapleCopter task. Read the report and answer the questions that follow.

    Group Report

    We tested paper helicopters to see if different lengths (3), stiffness (1), and weights (3) will affect the helicopter.

    We used:

    1) 3 cm wing length, stiff (4 paper clips)
    2) 6 cm wing length, stiff (4 paper clips)
    3) 10 cm wing length, stiff (4 paper clips)
    4) 6 cm wings flexible (4 paper clips)
    5) 1/2 way cut through 10 cm wings, stiff (4 paper clips)
    6) 3/4 way cut through 10 cm wings, stiff (4 paper clips)
    7) 3 paper clips on 10 cm wings, stiff (3 paper clips)
    8) 5 paper clips on 10 cm wings, stiff (5 paper clips)

    Paper Model

    1) 3 cm, s
    2) 6 cm, s
    3) 10 cm, s
    4) flexible, 6 cm
    5) 1/2 cut, s, 10 cm
    6) 3/4 cut, s, 10 cm
    7) 3 pc, s, 10 cm
    8) 5 pc, s, 10 cm


    0.49 sec
    0.66 sec
    1.29 sec
    0.77 sec
    1.07 sec
    0.97 sec
    1.15 sec
    1.21 sec


    Our data confirmed our beliefs that wing length, flexibility, weight, and solidness would affect the helicopter. The results turned out as expected.

  3. A scientific report is written to share information and to enable others to replicate (repeat) the same experiment. Does this report give you enough information to replicate the experiment? Please write a specific critique to the group in which you describe what is missing or not completely described in the report.

  4. The group forgot to make specific conclusions about their study. Based on their data, can you come up with conclusions about any of the variables that were studied by this group? If so, what are your conclusions, what are the data that support them and how valid are these conclusions? Please be specific in your answer.


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