The Brown Bag STEM Challenge- Paperclip Sailboats

Paper Sailboats are a wonderful way for students to easily experiment with different design components.  In this activity students work with multiple variables including the size/shape of the boat and its sail and the payload it is able to carry.


  • fan (a box fan works well)
  • card stock, tissue paper,  construction paper and other types
  • index cards
  • straws
  • craft sticks
  • glue and tape
  • jumbo paperclips (lots, all the same size)
  • scissors and rulers
  • other miscellaneous supplies to inspire student creativity

For this activity, students will work in groups to design a paper sailboat with a flat bottom.  Once students are finished designing, they will build the boat from the provided materials.  (Building materials can be greatly modified depending on what supplies are available.) The fan will be placed on the floor with each team placing their boat at the start line (located on the floor just in front of the fan) and be allowed to travel as far as possible.  Students will record the distance their boat traveled and have a chance to redesign it for maximum distance.

After three trials, students will begin to test their designs carrying payload (jumbo paperclips) the farthest distance.  Students will start with one paperclip and conduct trials with an increasingly number.  Each time they will record the distance traveled.

So, what did we learn? National Science Standards: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry, understanding about scientific inquiry, properties of objects and materials , abilities of technological design, understanding science and technology.  NCTM Standards:  Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems, and processes of measurement, Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements, Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them, build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving, Solve problems that arise in mathematics and other contexts, Apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems, monitor and reflect on the process of mathematical problem solving. Other Skills: Communication, critical thinking, observation, collaboration, data recording, data analysis, pattern recognition.


Get the Bundle Pack with 10 Design Challenges including the Paperclip Sailboats Design Brief and Notebook Pages!