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18 October 2013
Paper Jet Competition: Learners fly further with STEM

Any school child who's ever taken a break from class to toss a paper jet knows that it's not as easy as it might seem: achieving good flight requires a jet of the perfect size and shape, not to mention a well-calculated throw that takes into account wind speed and direction, and the presence of obstacles. Refining paper jet flight techniques can draw on impressive amounts of scientific, mathematical, engineering and aviation knowledge.

To celebrate this special brand of knowledge, the University of the Western Cape’s Science Learning Centre for Africa (UWC-SLCA), with the Sakhikamva Foundation, hosted their annual Paper Jet Competition at Victoria Park Primary School in Worcester on Saturday 12 October 2013.

Grades 6-9 learners from 15 schools in the Breederivier-Overberg region participated in the event. Up to three teams from each school competed in three categories, combining their knowledge of aerodynamics, mathematics and paper engineering to see who could design the best plane, and employing their most cunningly-calculated throws to see whose planes could fly the furthest and the longest.

Competition was tough, with Worcester RC Primary Team 3 taking home the prize for the longest distance flown (as measured with a measuring tape), FJ Conradie Primary Team 2 winning for the longest flight duration (timed with a stopwatch) and FJ Conradie Primary Team 3 showing off the best paper airplane design (as determined by a panel of judges, and based on learner presentations on their research and design).

The paper jet competition was a way of encouraging learners to do research, to learn to think outside the box and to work in teams, while also developing as individuals and fulfilling UWC-SLCA's plan of promoting science education in schools, and Sakhikamva's aims as a non-profit organisation that creates aviation awareness. Fatima Jakoet, SAA pilot and Founder and CEO of the Sakhikamva Foundation, was on hand to give encouragement and advice.

Prof Shaheed Hartley, Director of UWC-SLCA, was impressed with what he saw. “The striking thing about this competition,” he explained, “was the enthusiasm of learners and teachers and the extent to which some schools went to be competitive in this competition. At Worcester RC Primary, for example, the principal and science teacher decided to hold trials for the entire school and endeavoured to bring only the best teams to the competition. Needless to say, this school did the best of all the schools entered.” (To see how well this school did, just see the Full Results below.)

“Through this competition we strive to improve the collective interest of learners in science and mathematics in order to improve the culture of learning in those learning areas that are currently in crisis in South Africa,” Prof Hartley added.

Through their research, students were given the opportunity to learn and demonstrate fundamental principles of science and aviation, and were exposed to possible career options in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), as well as in Aviation.

They also got the chance to finally put all the mathematics and scientific – and paper jet throwing – knowledge they've gained in class to use and to win prizes along the way.

Paper Jet Competition Full Results

Distance Flown

1st = Worcester RC Primary Team 3

2nd = Worcester RC Primary Team 2

3rd = H Venter Primary Team 1

Flight Duration

1st = FJ Conradie Primary Team 2

2nd = Worcester Primary Team 1

3rd = H Venter Primary Team 1

Best Design

1st = FJ Conradie Primary Team 3

2nd = WA Rossouw Primary Team 2

3rd = Vergesig Primary Team 1