Learn about how the science of paper poppers can be used in the classroom with this engaging, standards-based STEM Challenge. Plus download a free guide to create your own paper popper to try folding and creating your own!
What is a Paper Popper?
A paper popper, also called a paper banger, is a folded piece of paper that makes a loud “snap” when thrust downwards. There are many methods to folding paper to create the popper. In general 8.5 x 11 inches or A4 paper works best.
Paper poppers have been around for awhile. The earliest known printed diagram was published in a collection of paper folding designs in 1759. This article shows that diagram along with images of additional diagrams and versions of paper poppers popping up in crafting and children’s activity books over the course of the next hundred years.
However, since origami can be traced to the 17th century Japan, it is thought that the tradition of creating paper poppers most likely originated there with the “origami fold” version still popular today.
Paper Poppers in the Classroom
Teachers may be aware of paper poppers more as a nusiance then a potential learning activity! With the advent of YouTube and social media, paper poppers have been used in various pranking videos and unfortunately has morphed from a meaningful paper craft into a way to bother others!
However, I strongly believe in making learning fun and engaging by incorporating student interest when appropriate. Luckily like most things, there is a lot of science that can be learned via the humble paper popper. So gather your students and tell them that in your classroom, paper poppers may be folded and snapped in the interest of learning, but never again for pranking or surprising others.
By allowing students constructive time to do fun things in a safe way is a good approach to addressing trends most adults find “annoying.” Trust me, it worked for bottle flipping, fidget spinners, and blowing cups!
Paper Popper STEM Challenge
In this Paper Popper STEM Challenge, students are tasked with testing how the texture, color, thickness, size of the paper along with the folding method and throwing technique impact the sound the popper will make.
Students will explore the properties of pitch, volume, and timbre as they observe the various poppers they and their classmates create.
I like to give students voice and choice when completing a STEM Challenge. In this case, students will select the paper type and the method of folding. They also select which independent variable to test and how to best control the other variables.
There are 3 main paper popper folding methods. I created step by step visual diagrams for creating each. Students tend to develop a preference for one type.
To give students more authentic practice with the scientific method, they may need to adjust their experiment if their paper popper set up does not work. This will especially be true if they use very thick cardstock or very thin tissue paper.
The Paper Popper STEM Challenge is self paced. Students work through the procedures on their own or in small teams. Once they have gathered their data, the whole class comes together to share the results of each experiment. I included questions to help students draw conclusions and reflect on their learning too, an important process in STEM and the scientific method.
Extending the Learning
Teachers can extend the lesson by allowing students to take what they learned to design a new “ideal” paper popper. They can even use YouTube to watch tutorials for other folding methods and tips.
If students have access to iPads, I recommend filming and then using iMovie to slow the video down. That way they can see the inner flap popping out which is the part where the sound generates!
I also included a reading passage (and vocabulary list) with the science behind paper poppers that explains exactly what is causing the loud sound.
Students could use this information to create a demo video on Flipgrid or a Google Slide presentation showing the paper popper in motion and then explaining what is happening at each stage.
Try It! Download a Free Paper Popper How-to
Grab a one page sample from the Paper Popper STEM for free to fold your own paper popper. This is a sample diagram of one of the three methods included in the lab. Follow the directions to fold your own paper popper to see what the fuss is all about!
Subscribers, get the free download here!