Real-Life Algorithms: Paper Airplanes

Lesson time: 20 Minutes         Basic lesson time includes activity only. Introductory and Wrap-Up suggestions can be used to delve deeper when time allows.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will relate the concept of algorithms back to everyday real-life activities by making paper airplanes. The goal here is to start building the skills to translate real-world situations to online scenarios and vice versa.

Teaching Summary

Getting Started - 15 minutes

1) Review
2) Vocabulary
3) What We Do Daily

Activity: Real-Life Algorithms - 20 minutes

4) Real-Life Algorithms: Paper Airplanes

Wrap-up - 5 minutes

5) Flash Chat - What did we learn?

Assessment - 10 minutes

6) Daily Algorithms

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • Name various activities that make up their day
  • Decompose large activities into a series of smaller events
  • Arrange sequential events into their logical order

Teaching Guide

Materials, Resources and Prep

For the Student

For the Teacher

Getting Started (15 min)

1) Review

This is a great time to review the last lesson that you went through with your class. We suggest you alternate between asking questions of the whole class and having students talk about their answers in small groups.

Here are some questions that you can ask in review:

  • What did we do last time?

  • What do you wish we had had a chance to do?

  • Did you think of any questions after the lesson that you want to ask?

  • What was your favorite part of the last lesson?

Lesson Tip

Finishing the review by asking about the students' favorite things helps to leave a positive impression of the previous exercise, increasing excitement for the activity that you are about to introduce.

2) Vocabulary

This lesson has one vocabulary word that is important to review:

Algorithm - Say it with me: Al-go-ri-thm
A list of steps that you can follow to finish a task

3) What We Do Daily

  • Ask your students what they did to get ready for school this morning.
    • Write their answers on the board.
    • If possible, put numbers next to their responses to indicate the order that they happen.
      • If students give responses out of order, have them help you put them in some kind of logical order.
      • Point out places where order matters and places where it doesn't.

  • Introduce students to the idea that it is possible to create algorithms for the things that we do everyday.
    • Give them a couple of examples, such as making breakfast, brushing teeth, and planting a flower.

  • Let's try doing this with a new and fun activity, like making paper airplanes!

Activity: (20 min)

4) Real-Life Algorithm Worksheet: Paper Airplanes

Lesson Tip

You know your classroom best. As the teacher, decide if students should do this individually or if students should work in pairs or small groups.

  • You can use algorithms to help describe things that people do every day. In this activity, we will create an algorithm to help each other fold a paper airplane.


  1. Cut out the steps for making a paper airplane provided worksheet.
  2. Work together to choose the six correct steps from the nine total options.
  3. Glue the six correct steps, in order, onto a separate piece of paper.
  4. Trade the finished algorithm with another person or group and let them use it to make their plane!
  5. If you are concerned about injury when your students begin flying their paper airplanes, we recommend having them blunt the tip of the plane by either folding it inward or ripping it off and covering the ripped edges with tape.

Lesson Tip

If deciding on the correct steps seems too difficult for your students, do that piece together as a class before you break up into teams.

Wrap-up (5 min)

5) Flash Chat: What did we learn?

  • How many of you were able to follow your classmates' algorithms to make your airplanes?
  • Did the exercise leave anything out?
    • What would you have added to make the algorithm even better?
    • What if the algorithm had been only one step: "Fold a Paper Airplane"?
      • Would it have been easier or harder?
      • What if it were forty steps?
  • What was your favorite part about that activity?

Assessment (15 min)

6) Assessment Worksheet: Daily Algorithms

  • Hand out the worksheet titled "Daily Algorithms" and allow students to complete the activity independently after the instructions have been well explained.
  • This should feel familiar, thanks to the previous activities.

Extended Learning

Use these activities to enhance student learning. They can be used as outside of class activities or other enrichment.

Go Figure

  • Break the class up into teams.
  • Have each team come up with several steps that they can think of to complete a task.
  • Gather teams back together into one big group and have one team share their steps, without letting anyone know what the activity was that they had chosen.
  • Allow the rest of the class to try to guess what activity the algorithm is for.

Connections and Background Information

ISTE Standards (formerly NETS)

  • 1.a - Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes
  • 1.c - Use models and simulation to explore complex systems and issues.
  • 2.b - Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
  • 2.d - Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.
  • 4.b - Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.
  • 6.a - Understand and use technology systems.

CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards

  • CT.L1:3-03. Understand how to arrange information into useful order without using a computer.
  • CT.L1:6-01. Understand and use the basic steps in algorithmic problem-solving.
  • CT.L1:6-02. Develop a simple understanding of an algorithm using computer-free exercise.
  • CT.L1:6-05. Make a list of sub-problems to consider while addressing a larger problem.
  • CPP.L1:3-04. Construct a set of statements to be acted out to accomplish a simple task.
  • CPP.L1:6-05. Construct a program as a set of step-by-step instructions to be acted out (e.g., make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich activity).
  • CT.L2-03. Define an algorithm as a sequence of instructions that can be processed by a computer.
  • CT.L2-06. Describe and analyze a sequence of instructions being followed.

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices

  • K-2-PS3-2. Use tools and materials provided to design and build a device that solves a specific problem or a solution to a specific problem.
    • 3-5-ETS1-2 - Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Common Core Mathematical Practices

  • 1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • 2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • 3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  • 6. Attend to precision.
  • 7. Look for and make use of structure.
  • 8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Common Core Math Standards

  • 1.G.1 - Distinguish between defining attributes versus non-defining attributes; build and draw shapes to possess defining attributes.
  • 2.G.3 - Partition circles and rectangles into two, three, or four equal shares, describe the shares using the words halves, thirds, half of, a third of, etc., and describe the whole as two halves, three thirds, four fourths.

Common Core Language Arts

  • SL.1.1 - Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
  • SL.1.2 - Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
  • L.1.6 - Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts, including using frequently occurring conjunctions to signal simple relationships.
  • SL.2.1 - Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
  • SL.2.2 - Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
  • L.2.6 - Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts, including using adjectives and adverbs to describe.
  • SL.3.1 - Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.3.3 - Ask and answer questions about information from a speaker, offering appropriate elaboration and detail.
  • L.3.6 - Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate conversational, general academic, and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal spatial and temporal relationships.