Museum of Science, Boston

Hoop Glider Engineering at Different Ages

Contact Us

Contact the Discovery Center and Living Lab staff at

February 2013: Hoop Glider Engineering

Hoop Glider Engineering

In the Hoop Glider Engineering activity, children are able to explore being an engineer by building a hoop glider, testing it out, and making changes to their design.

This activity encourages children to create and test a prototype (ideally, an adult will help children make a glider with the ‘basic’ design to start with), to set a goal for creating a better glider, and to change one variable at a time in controlled experiments to make their glider meet that goal.

At the same time, children learn to use the tools and materials available for the activity in ways that are safe and appropriate for their age.

The hoop glider engineering activity also introduces children to the scientific concepts of gravity, lift, thrust and drag. Adults can encourage creativity in the process by restricting the types of materials that are available to children as they design their gliders.

Finally, this activity reinforces good science practices by emphasizing the importance of replicating your experiments (i.e. testing each glider multiple times to see if the glider flies the same way in every trial) and controlling variables (i.e. changing only one feature of your hoop glider design at a time).

Hoop Glider Engineering at Home

You can continue your Hoop Glider explorations at home by

Making Hoop Gliders at Home

Getting ready

Hoop Gliders Materials List

  • Paper Strips
  • Small Paper Clips
  • Drinking Straws
  • Scissors (optional)
  • Set up a “test track” for your hoop glider races
    This could be in any room that has open space, or it could be outdoors. Use a measuring tape to mark out 5-foot increments.

    Indoors, you can use masking tape to show the “start line”, as well as five, ten and fifteen foot marks. Outside, you can use meter-sticks or old broom handles to mark out your test track.

    Making a "Prototype" Hoop Glider

  • Choose one paper strip and form it into a loop.
  • Use a paper-clip to hold the ends of the loop together.
  • Make a second paper loop in the same way.
  • Attach a straw to one of the loops: using the same paper-clip that holds the loop together, maneuver the small end of the paper clip into the end of the straw.
  • Now attach the second loop to the other end of the straw.
  • Toss you hoop glider on the test track... What happens?
  • Exploring Hoop Glider Science

    Air flowing over a curved surface (like the top of an airplane wing) moves faster than air flowing over a flat surface (like the bottom of an airplane wing). As the air goes past the wing, the shape of the wing also turns the air downwards.

    The difference in the speed of the air, combined with the turning of the air downward mean that there is a pressure difference between the top and bottom surface of the wing: there is low pressure on the top of the wing and high pressure underneath the wing. Since objects naturally move toward areas of low pressure, this causes the wing to be ‘sucked up’ into the air, in an effect called lift.

    Lift is also what helps your hoop glider stay up in the air. The curved surface of the hoop glider's loops create a difference in pressure above and below the loops.

    You can also see ‘lift’ in action at the Bernoulli Ball and Pneumatic Tube exhibits on the second floor of the Discovery Center, and at the waterfall in the Discovery Center’s Water Table.

    Other forces acting on a glider are:

  • Gravity: downward pull toward the Earth
  • Drag: also called air resistance- the more "stuff" there is, the harder it is to move that stuff through the air
  • Thrust: the force you exert when you throw it
  • We cannot change gravity, but by maximizing lift, minimizing drag and with just the right amount and direction of thrust, hoop gliders can fly quite far!

    Questions to think about while you experiment:

  • How far does your hoop glider fly?
  • Can you design a hoop glider that flies farther?
  • What happens when you change:
    • Loop Shape?
    • Straw Length?
    • Glider Weight?
    • Loop Size?
    • Number of Loops?