Make some Toothpick Twirlers! This is a fun science experiment for kids, and all you need is paper, scissors, tape, and some toothpicks.
This post was updated February 9, 2024.
The twirlers spin as they fall to the ground, which is super fun to watch. This activity also lends itself well to testing scientific variables. Which will twirl faster – wider or narrower wings? Shorter or longer wings?
Before starting this science experiment, you’ll want to discuss with kids that all things fall at the same rate because of acceleration due to gravity. Try it! Drop a paper clip and a rock at the same time from the same height. They will hit the ground at the same time even though the paper clip has less mass.
But wait. We all know that feathers or paper will float to the ground! Why do they fall more slowly if all objects fall at the same rate?
Prove this by dropping two pieces of paper – one sheet of paper and one wadded up sheet of paper. The wadded up paper will land first. But if you wad up the other sheet of paper, they will now land at the same time. You didn’t change the mass… just the shape. And this affected the air resistance.
Ready to make and test some toothpick twirlers?
- Clear tape
- Markers for decorating
Step 1: Cut a strip of paper and fold it in half like this.
Step 2: Fold one side up 90 degrees and make a nice crease.
Step 3: Flip the paper over. Fold the other side down 90 degrees. Your paper should look like the photo below.
Step 4: Poke a toothpick through the folded part and secure it in place with tape. If you add stripes to the wings, the twirler will look like colored circles as it falls!
How to Fly Your Toothpick Twirler
Hold your twirler as shown and then let go!
If you drop it from a standing position, it won’t twirl much. Kids especially are too close to the ground. It’s ideal if you can drop it from a staircase. Or, stand on a chair and drop the twirler.
Now, make it an experiment! Make more twirlers in different sizes and shapes. Compare how they twirl!
This experiment lends itself well to learning about changing one variable at a time.
- Which twirls better – short or long wings?
- Which twirls better – narrow or wide wings?
- (Make it more complicated) – Which twirls better – short and narrow, short and wide, long and narrow, or long and wide? Make a chart and record your results.
- Do the twirlers always spin in the same direction?
- Does a faster spinning twirler take more or less time to reach the ground?
(Hint) This twirler was especially successful for us:
Have fun experimenting!