All Resources

Why do Hoopsters Fly? (On The Road pre-visit activity)

Why Inquiry?

Science World is a charitable organization that engages British Columbians in science and inspires future science and technology leadership throughout our province.

We engage children’s natural curiosity about the world; we encourage them to formulate questions and then to actively seek answers to those questions, using whatever tools are at their disposal. 

With the increased focus on inquiry-based learning in the BC curriculum, Science World supports teachers to integrate inquiry learning into their classrooms.

Inquiry-based learning requires guidance from the teacher to support students’ progression along the inquiry continuum.

Levels of Inquiry (adapted from Banchi and Bell, “The Many Levels of Inquiry”, 2008.)

Teacher provides question and procedure.Teacher provides question and procedure.Teacher provides question.Teacher provides support.
Students follow directions to confirm the results. “Traditional” lab.Students generate an explanation based on evidence they’ve collected.Students design procedure to test question and resulting explanations.Students generate questions; design and carry out investigations; and draw conclusions.

This Hoopster activity can be adapted for any level of inquiry, depending on the students’ familiarity with inquiry-based learning. Primary students who have less experience benefit from starting at the confirmation or structured levels of inquiry. It is important, at all levels of inquiry, that teachers help guide students through their thought processes (meta-cognition) based on their observations.

Background Science

Aerodynamics is the study of how gases move around things. The word aerodymanics has its roots in the Greek words for “air” and “power.”

Air, which is a gas, creates lift as it passes over and under the loops of the hoopster. The loops of the Hoopster are airfoils. Air moves faster over the top curve of the loops than beneath the loops. This creates a low-pressure zone above the hoopster that lifts it into the air. The Hoopster is an example of Bernoulli’s Principle: that fast-moving air has lower pressure than slow-moving air.

An airplane in flight is acted on by four forces:

  • lift, the upward acting force
  • gravity, the downward acting force
  • thrust, the forward acting force
  • drag, the backward acting force (also called wind resistance).

Lift opposes gravity and thrust opposes drag.

Drag and gravity are forces that act on anything lifted from the earth and moved through the air. Thrust and lift are artificially created forces used to overcome the forces of nature and enable an airplane to fly. The engine and propeller combination is designed to produce thrust to overcome drag. The wing is designed to produce lift to overcome gravity.

Teacher's Note: Scientists are not in agreement about how much Bernoulli principle versus Newton's Third Law of Motion contributes to lift in an airplane. As an extension activity for keen students, they may research the respective arguments and present them to the class, or find some way of building a model to test both theories.


Question for investigation:  overarching goal of an investigation written as a question.

Independent variable: variable changed in a science experiment to test a dependent variable.

Dependent variable: variable that is “dependent” on the independent variable.  It is the variable that is being tested in a science experiment.

Hypothesis: a proposed explanation made as a starting point for further investigation.

Prediction: a statement about what might happen in the future.

Results: outcome of investigation

Example of the Inquiry Process


  • Make and test their own Hoopster airplane.

  • Describe the forces involved in flight.


  • Per paper airplane “Hoopster”:
    1 copy of the Hoopster Template per student (on ordinary paper).
    paper clips
    play dough or plasticine
    100m measuring tape
    inquiry journals or 1 copy of Inquiry Worksheet per student.

Key Questions

  • What are the forces of flight?
  • What changes could you make to your Hoopster?
  • What do you predict will happen?
  • What did you observe?
  • How do the forces of flight explain how Hoopsters fly?

What To Do

Part 1: Set up

  1. Throw the paper airplane. Ask: How does this airplane fly?
  2. As a class, have students list objects that fly.
  3. What do these objects have in common?
  4. Show students the hoopster. Ask: What do you think might happen if I throw this?

Part 2: Activity

  1. Throw the hoopster. Ask:  What makes the hoopster fly?
  2. Have students make predictions about what makes the hoopster fly. Prompt with questions like “What might happen when I throw this hoopster into the air?”
  3. Introduce forces of flight:
    1. Drag: resistance caused by a gas to the motion of an object moving through it
    2. Thrust: force that moves an object through the air. It is the opposite of drag.
    3. Lift:  a force that supports the weight of an object and holds it in the air. It is the opposite of weight.
    4. Weight: the amount of gravity multiplied by the mass of an object. Weight is also the downward force that an aircraft must overcome to fly.

Ask Questions for a structured or guided inquiry:

  1. Students build their own hoopsters (instructions can be found here).
  2. Working in pairs, students will alter the hoopster to answer the following: What changes will make my hoopster fly the furthest?  (Question for investigation) Each student pair will try to make their hoopster fly a distance of over 6 metres.
  3. What can we change on the hoopsters? (eg. Size of hoops, length of straw, distance between hoops, weight, etc.) (Independent Variables)

Ask Questions for a more open inquiry:

If students are familiar with inquiry, omit the question posed in step 2 for a more open inquiry.  Help students form their own questions for investigation (ones that can be answered by taking action) with starters such as:  “What might happen if…” or include the phrase “does the____ make a difference?” or “How does ____ affect ____ ?”

  1. Ask:  What might happen? (eg. speed of fall, direction, etc.) (Dependent Variables)
    1. Record variables to be observed/measured (from problem statement).

Experiment and observe

  1. Form a prediction (“what could happen when we make this change?”).
    1. “If we _____________, then the hoopster will ___________.”
  2. Ask students to test their predictions and record their observations.
  3. Students may test their prediction and revise it up to 3 times.  Teacher circulates among the students to provide feedback and encourage students to evaluate their strategies.
  4. Students test their hoopsters to see how far they can fly after being altered.  Students repeat each experiment a few times to avoid anomalies.


  1. Ask the students: “Was the result what you predicted?”  Do the students have more questions? Repeat the process!


Class discussion: Which hoopsters flew further? Why? What have you learned about the hoopster? What questions do you have now?  Discuss results using the forces of flight.


  • Have students modify their Hoopsters to fly even further! Build a Hoopster that flies beyond 20, 25, 30 metres.
  • Have students make Hoopsters out of different types of paper. What differences do the students notice?

Other Resources

Science World | Hoopster Template

Science World | Inquiry Worksheet