Public Lab Research note

Building miniature kites at a family science night

by SuziT9 | March 08, 2018 22:00 08 Mar 22:00 | #15900 | #15900

SuziT9 was awarded the Basic Barnstar by xose for their work in this research note.

On March 1, 2018, several members of our Montana State University team (Academic Technology and Outreach)

shared a hands-on engineering activity with hundreds of kids and adults at MSU's annual Family Science Night on March 1.

We are all part of the NASA AEROKATS and ROVERs Education Network (AREN), and our goal was to engage and excite kids of all ages by helping them build miniature kites (see supplies, equipment and observations below). AREN is a program supported by NASA Science Mission Directorate Science Education that designs and uses low-cost instrumented systems for in-situ and remotely sensed Earth observations including kite-based "AEROKATS" and remotely controlled aquatic and land-based "ROVERS."

In the morning, the event hosted 150 fifth graders from local Title 1 schools (high percentage of free and reduced lunch). The evening saw 385 members of the community - mainly families with children, some as young as 2 or 3 years old.

To say it was controlled chaos is putting it mildly!

At our AREN station, kids (and sometimes their parents) used tissue paper, mylar, silk thread and 20-inch straws to build one of two different miniature kites based on the excellent designs and resources of Glenn Davison. AREN team members assisted with the construction process while sharing an overview of the NASA AREN project and words of encouragement for our country's future scientists and engineers. The miniature kites featured blue and gold materials to celebrate Montana State University's 125th birthday.

Overall, kids and adults really enjoyed this activity, and -- if they followed the instructions -- the kites really flew!

Below are the materials and equipment we used, preparation, observations and possible extensions.



* Tissue paper (Experimented with copy paper and plastic tablecloths; tissue worked best)

* Mylar (roll of 24" x 8 feet) (Experimented with audio cassette tape; mylar worked best)

* Silk thread

* 20" straws (bought in packs of 200 for about $20 on Amazon)


* Tape dispensers (many)

* Scissors (several)

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* Signs /banners publicizing the activity/project

* Signs or laminated sheets with step-by-step instructions (This was really helpful because we had so many kids at once and one-on-one help was not possible)

* Cardboard template(s) if kids will be cutting their own tissue paper (We pre-cut the tissue)

* Large surface area for construction plus chairs


* Pre-cut tissue paper for Rokkoku and Koren Fighter Kite designs (or kids can do it themselves if you have more time and less chaos)

* Pre-cut gold mylar tails (The mylar is fairly expensive and a bit hard to cut so allow enough time. Best if kids don't do it)

* Marked off 18-inch spans with painter's tape on table (for thread) (Kids tended to cut the thread way too long, thinking longer is better)

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* Kids under about fifth grade require parent's help

* Kids (and parents) want to experiment with the design ("be creative"), but those kites do not fly. Need a gentle way of telling people to follow the instructions

* "Being creative" can also use up your materials supply

* Kids will try to take a big straw (because they're fun) without making a kite

* Need to find the balance between "helping" and "doing it for them."

Possible extensions

* Make a list of questions we as facilitators could ask (either orally or on a sign) that encourage kids to think about the design process

* If lots of time and small group, could experiment with various designs before "unveiling" the field-tested design that really flies.

For more information, feel free to contact me! It was super fun and educational, too.

Suzi Taylor -

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Fantastic @SuziT9! Is it possible to have a digital copy of the step-by-step instructions? Looking forward to try these minikites!

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For step-by-step instructions, see the amazon book called, "Miniature Kite Plans" with 26 miniature kite plans. Each plan states the difficulty, time to build, and size of the finished kite. It's fun for all. Miniature_Kite_Plans.jpg

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@xose awards a barnstar to SuziT9 for their awesome contribution!

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Great write-up, thanks @SuziT9! I've posted this to the blog --

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I do miniature kite workshops frequently... and I'll build 40 kites with kids tomorrow. It's quick and easy when you're prepared.

See the Kite Workshop Handbook and the book about Miniature Kites

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