Air Surfing with the Tumblewing

Tami O'Connor, Educational InnovationsBy Tami G. O’Connor

So, there I was, minding my own business, looking through posts on Twitter with the scienceisfun hashtag, when I was immediately sucked down the rabbit hole of the Tumblewing!!!  How is it possible that I had never seen this before?  As a former corporate jet pilot and science teacher, this would have been right down my alley. And yet, it was totally new to me!

I’m writing to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you, too!  This awesome activity teaches so much authentic science and is a fun activity for almost any age. 

Presenting the Tumblewing

The Tumblewing—also called the Tumbling Wing, or Tumble Wing—is easy to make, and relatively easy to fly.  It works when the operator creates a wave of air using a simple piece of cardboard.  By moving the cardboard forward, air in front of it is displaced and is pushed out of the way.  Some of that displaced air flows over the top edge of the cardboard, and that’s what we’re going to use to fly our Tumblewing.  The easiest way to think about this is that the Tumblewing is “surfing” in the airflow.

The pattern we’re using was taken from SciencetoyMaker.  They have other awesome ideas on their website including a nifty glider, but right now, we’re just going to discuss the Tumblewing.

Building Your Tumblewing

Click here or on the image below for the pattern you’ll need.

Air Surfing with the Tumblewing - Educational Innovations Blog
Click on image for printable, full-size PDF.

The idea is to use very light paper.  They initially call for phone book paper, but who has a phone book these days?  We used newspaper and it worked great, but you can also use tissue paper, which works quite nicely, too.

Using the largest pattern to start, tape the short ends to a piece of newspaper.  Cut along the solid lines, but do not cut where the tape is yet.  Using a ball point pen, trace along the dashed lines of the pattern, pressing down as you go.  This will help to score the newspaper once it comes time to fold.

Next, fold the small ends up 90 degrees to create winglets.  Then fold along the long lines.  One edge folds downward and the other folds upward creating a type of Z in the paper.  Notice that the folds taper outward at the ends.  It’s important not to fold straight across to the end.  Once your pattern has been cut, scored and folded, you can cut the ends where the tape holds the pattern to the newspaper, and you will have your Tumblewing. 


 © Slater Harrison 2007

Time to Fly!

Now it’s time to fly!  Find an area indoors that is not particularly drafty.  Moving air will disrupt your flight.  Hold your Tumblewing with the edge that is pointed upward closest to you and release it with a slight downward push on that edge.  The Tumblewing will begin to spin in a rolling motion.  The wing is actually generating lift by alternatingly flying and stalling as the angle of incidence changes with the spinning motion.

Air Surfing with the Tumblewing - Educational Innovations Blog

Depending upon the level of your students, this would be a great discussion of Magnus effect.  So much great physics, so little time to write it all!

It takes a bit of practice, but once you have it, your Tumblewing will remain flying as long as you continue walking! 

Tumblewing Tips:

  • The larger the cardboard, the easier it is to control. 
  • Keep the cardboard at a steep angle.  It’s a common mistake to flatten out the cardboard. But when you do, you are reducing the amount of airflow.
  • As your Tumblewing starts to fall, simply walk faster to increase airflow and raise it back up.
  • Keep the Tumblewing near the top edge of the cardboard, but don’t let it flow over the top.
  • After you get the hang of it, try using one of the smaller patterns.  Like a sports car, the smaller the Tumblewing, the more nimble and maneuverable it is.


Feedspot Award

PhysicsQuest – The Quest Goes On!

Ted Beyer, Educational InnovationsBy Ted Beyer

For about a week each year, the staffing here at Educational Innovations swells by a whopping 500%.  These extra hands come to us largely from local high schools, with a few college students and adults mixed in.  The question you are doubtless asking is WHY?

Long story, but stick with me, it’s interesting…

The Birth of PhysicsQuest

Some 14 years ago Jessica Clark, the American Physical Society (APS) Director of Outreach at the time, approached me at an AAPT conference.  She asked me to lunch.  When I asked her what was up, she very quietly said, “I need you to save me from [Giant Science Supply Company].”  Needless to say, I was intrigued.  Soon we had a quick lunch with lots of conversation.

It turns out APS was just launching PhysicsQuest, an ambitious outreach program designed to put physics experiments into thousands of middle school classrooms at no charge.  But they were decidedly unhappy with the product that [Giant Science Supply Company] had turned out for them.  

As soon as I got back to the EI office—armed with specifications and a clear understanding of what APS found disappointing—we collectively rolled up our sleeves.  We went to work sourcing the materials for the experiments in the kits and working out procedures.  Before long, we submitted our bid to APS.

PhysicsQuest through the Years

We soon found ourselves assembling 5,000 PhysicsQuest kits and shipping them to more than 1,000 schools around the United States.  Every year since then, we have worked with APS to produce and ship the yearly PhysicsQuest kits that have become something of an institution in middle school classrooms.

Over the years, APS and Educational Innovations have collaborated together to develop the content of the kits in the most engaging, cost-effective way possible.  For the past few years, the project has grown to 20,000 kits!  As you can imagine, the “cost effective” part of the project is of prime importance.  In fact, we track costs out to the thousandths of a penny in our budgeting paperwork!

For much of the process, PhysicsQuest lives on my desk and in my computer.  I work with APS to figure out the components to make their experiments work…  I prepare supply lists and arrange for all the necessary materials—often from vendors we don’t usually work with.  Many PhysicsQuest materials are not classic science supplies.  They come from all sorts of industries, so it often take some serious thinking outside of the box to get everything perfectly lined up.

For me, the most fun part of the project is the back and forth I enjoy with my counterparts at APS.  Over the years, we have developed a working relationship where APS no longer tells me what precisely they want in terms of materials.  Instead, they tell me what they are trying to accomplish and then we work together to make it happen.

A PhysicQuest Quandary

A case in point is legendary here at EI.  One year, I was asked to supply butter.  Butter?  How can we store and ship butter in a kit like this?  It’s impossible.  The response from APS was, “Fine!  You figure it out!”

“Well,” said I, “What are you trying to accomplish?” 

Their answer was, “We need something that is potion controlled, individually packaged, has a low melting point—and, of course, is non-toxic.”

I spent that weekend racking my brain trying to think of something that would fit those parameters.  Late Sunday evening a TV commercial caused me to recall a long-ago product slogan:  Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.  I did the calculations:  your mouth’s temperature is about 92o – 94o F, which is really pretty low…

Of course the answer was chocolate!  

And that’s how it came to pass that EI had a pallet with 975 pounds of Hershey’s Kisses delivered.  Not your average science supply!

PhysicsQuest Blog - Educational Innovations Blog

Let the Building Begin!

As soon as the materials arrive, our team goes to work packaging the bits and pieces.  Sometimes they must divvy up huge sacks of components into smaller bags.  At other times, all PQ workers are busy counting out a specific number of a single item and bagging them.  

PhysicsQuest Blog - Educational Innovations Blog

The list of things we have handled is immense—many different kinds of drinking straws, chopsticks, pencils, any number of different wires, at least two kinds of salt, sugar, Splenda, metal sheets, glass sheets, molding clay, sandpaper, thermometers, yo-yos, cloth bags, batteries, even colorful little paper umbrellas on toothpicks….  And of course, Hershey’s Kisses.

PhysicsQuest Blog - Educational Innovations Blog

The materials list is seemingly endless, and eclectic to say the least.  The cool part is that, year after year, these goodies all come together to create four different, hands-on physics experiments that teach solid physics principals in a simple and engaging way.  

APS supplies us with a book filled with teacher’s instructions and student worksheets that guide users through the experiments.  The book is different each year.  They were originally based on the works of famous physicists, but for the last few years they took the form of a comic book in which middle school superhero Spectra (and her friends) must save their town from various perils, thanks to science.

PhysicsQuest Blog - Educational Innovations Blog

The Final Push

That huge crowd of extra workers I mentioned above?  They come in for the last big push.  That’s when we assemble all the components we have pre-built into final kits, and then package the kits for shipment.  It’s quite a sight! 

PhysicsQuest Blog - Educational Innovations Blog

We require special visits from our shipping partners to get the PhysicsQuest kits on the road.  In less than a week, all 20,000 kits are on their way to more than 4,000 classrooms all over the United States.

PhysicsQuest Blog - Educational Innovations Blog

Needless to say, we are very proud of the work we do on PhysicsQuest for APS.  We hope to keep making their kits for many years to come.  It IS a lot of hard work for our team—but it’s also a LOT of fun as well!

I should note that although we manufacture the kits, we cannot provide them to you unless you sign up in advance with APS.  (Although we do have some of the older kits available for sale on our website.)  If you are a middle school teacher interested in receiving a kit, click here for sign up information.  They are available on a first-come, first-served basis, while supplies last.


The Paper Balloon Paradox Mystery

Educational Innovations Blogby Nancy Foote

Two of my favorite things are bubbles and balloons.  I once had a part-time job delivering balloons.  How I loved that job!  I learned a lot about gas laws.  I found out balloons take up less volume in cold weather and expand in hot weather.  (Some of those lessons I learned the hard way.)  I gained plenty of insight into people… and tips… and, of course, balloons!

Read the rest of this entry »

Sound and Waves in the News

Sound and Waves in the News - Educational Innovations BlogWant to get your students revved up over the science of sound?  This area of science has so much to explore, with more advances every day.  Enjoy this collection of news related to recent discoveries about sound and waves.

If you find an interesting article on this subject, please share it with us in the comments below!

Read the rest of this entry »

Sound and Waves TV

Sound and Waves TV - Educational Innovations Blog

Most of us know what a sound is… but what’s the science behind it?  And what can you do with sound (besides listen to it)?  Plenty!  We’ve selected some fascinating videos that explore the science of sound and waves.  One of the most fascinating things about these videos is that they demonstrate how many unexpected ways we use sound—in our daily lives, in the lab, and beyond.

If you’ve enjoyed other videos on this topic, please share them with us!

Read the rest of this entry »