Build a paper airplane instead of the PB&J exercise for a less messy, more extensible algorithms introduction activity.

  • Place students in teams of 4-6 to develop directions for 5th graders to build identical paper airplanes.
  • Tell students to make specifications for the 5th graders for creating 100 identical paper airplanes that must fly from one side of the room to the other.
    • This can be an in-class assignment or a take-home project.
    • If you assign this to be brought back to class, students will often bring in an airplane prototype, made from the specifications, in addition to the specification.
  • Next, collect the prototypes and have groups swap specifications.
  • Instruct groups to follow the specifications they’ve received to reproduce the specified paper airplane exactly, thinking and acting like 5th graders.
  • The non-specific nature of the assignment, which (unbeknown to the students) requires very specific results, leaves students with specifications that often don’t create the correct paper airplane.
  • This is a great activity to introduce students with gathering requirements; well specified requirements will not be explicit in the workplace but they’re very important to create.