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A safe landing for Santa’s helpers

Students create parachutes for elves

Byron Center ‘Tis the season when elves arrive at children’s homes and appear mornings in different locations, working to report what they see back to Santa

Brown Elementary students are hoping to give the North Pole agents a safe landing as they drop from snowy and starry skies. Kindergarten through fourth-grade students in teacher Sherri Newenhouse’s STEM class designed and tested parachutes for tiny paper elves after hearing the story of Elf on the Shelf, which has grown to become a popular Christmas tradition.

“We are going to make a parachute for your elf to land, hopefully, softly,” Newenhouse told a class of excited second graders.

Students designed their parachutes using coffee filters, paper and string, and tested them to see if they worked. They let them go over a fan, squealing and pointing as the parachutes flew upward before billowing and floating to the ground, providing a smooth voyage for elves they gave them names like Cookie, Brownie and Booger.

Before getting started, Newenhouse explained the concept of gravity. “Do you think air should be stronger than gravity?” she asked, as students took guesses. “Maybe with air resistance, or drag as we say in physics, air can be stronger than the pull of gravity.”

Parker Boelema gave that some thought as she cut out her design.  “I want to see if it can actually fly,” she said.

Newenhouse used materials for the project from a Discovering STEM kit, donated by Grand Valley State University. The Discovering STEM program, run by the GVSU’s Regional Math and Science Center, was recently discontinued and materials were given to local teachers who requested them. Newenhouse received 14 STEM-focused kits, which she plans to use throughout the school year.

She said they give her ample resources for the type of projects she likes to lead. Students test out designs and adjust as needed, providing them with the type of in-depth learning that makes science engaging. 

Peter Crots, for example, found out that his parachute could fly, but he wanted to tweak it a bit after the first launch.

 “It only went up a little bit, so I’m trying to figure out how to make it go higher,” he said. 

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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