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Spinning Blimps by Exploratorium


Science (NYS P-12)

Grade Levels

Elementary, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade

Content Provider

© Exploratorium


This activity demonstrates how to create a spinning "blimp" using paper.


  1. paper
  2. ruler
  3. scissors
  4. crayons or markers (if you want)

To Do and Notice

  1. Cut a strip of paper about 6 to 8 inches long and 1 /2 inch wide.

  2. Cut halfway across the strip about 1 /2 inch from one end. Turn the strip around and do the same thing on the other end. You'll end up with a strip that looks like this:

  3. Slip the slot at one end into the slot at the other end. You'll make something that looks like a little fish

  4. That's it! You've made a Spinning Blimp. Hold the blimp high over your head and drop it. It'll spin like mad on its way to the ground

  5. Now you have a blimp that spins through the air. It's really simple to make more blimps and experiment with changes in the basic blimp design. See if you can make a blimp that spins faster or stays up for a longer time. It's best if you make just one change at a time. Here are some things you can try:
    • Make the paper strip longer or shorter.
    • Make the paper strip wider or narrower.
    • Make the tails longer or shorter.
    • Cut the ends of the tails so they're pointy.
    • Try using different kinds of paper.
  6. You can also color your paper strip before you fold it into a blimp. That won't make it spin better, but it's fun to watch patterns and colors spin through the air.

What's Going On?

Learning to experiment

The Spinning Blimp is a great toy to experiment with. Change a little something and see what happens. Your blimp probably flies fine-but maybe a blimp with a shorter tail would spin even better. We've suggested some ways to modify your blimp, but our suggestions are just the beginning. What other modifications can you and your kids come up with?

While you're experimenting, it may look like you're just fooling around. And you are fooling around-but you're also paying attention to what happens when you change your blimp. By making changes and noticing what happens, you're following in the footsteps of many scientists. Many scientific discoveries have come about because someone was "just fooling around."

When you're fooling around, some of the things you try won't work very well. Maybe you make a change in your Spinning Blimp and it takes a nosedive. That's okay. In fact, that's great. You've learned something about what doesn't work, which is important to know. And maybe sometime you'll want to make a blimp that dives-and you'll know how.

Another part of fooling around scientifically is keeping track of your results. What works well? What doesn't work at all? Keep track of experiments that you try. If you come up with a new design that you like, tell us about it. We'd like to try it, too!


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