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Paper airplanes whet appetite for math

WOOD RIVER JUNCTION — It stands to reason Max Leatham’s homemade paper airplane flew the longest distance — 96 feet across the length of Chariho High School’s cafeteria before the back wall stopped it.

After all, the 17-year-old senior will attend college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida to study aerospace engineering.

“This is sort of my thing,” Leatham said Monday afternoon, holding his paper airplane, which looked and flew like a dart. “Everybody who makes a paper airplane focuses on the gliding. I thought, why not make something as heavy as possible on one end and throw it as hard as I could?”

His rationale worked at Chariho High’s Paper Airplane Flying Contest on Monday afternoon. The contest, which Leatham and his team won for longest distance, drew about 100 students and dozens of paper airplanes that flew, fluttered and sometimes flopped.

“Whenever you can make something applicable, practical and fun, when you do it in science and math it makes it come to life,” John Wedlock, a high school physics and chemistry teacher said. “It gives students a good opportunity to inquire about what went right, what went wrong and it’s a good way for them to learn.”

The contest served as a kick-off for the newly-formed da Vinci Club, a group created at the high school to foster students’ love of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math.)

The club will meet every Monday after school through the rest of the year.

“I’m so excited this event drew this many students,” Chariho STEM Specialist Azadeh Noorbaloochi said. “I have goose bumps.”

Across the cafeteria, students folded, threw and tested their airplanes. Across its schools, the district is looking to provide more STEM opportunities for students.

“This is a fun way to introduce a whole new initiative,” Noorbaloochi said. “Even if students aren’t good in math or science, they are going to have fun. Making paper airplanes is a very simple engineering assignment.”

Leatham has always been interested in STEM fields. When he was 6 years old, he drew designs of cars and other contraptions in notebooks, including a design for a Tic Tac-sized flashlight.

“(This contest) is a great way to show kids what you can do if you have a background in engineering,” he said. “I started early drawing designs. I had notebooks full of designs. This is all I ever wanted to do.”

Carly Campbell, a sophomore, enjoyed the exercise even though the plane she and partner Katie Caparco made flew under a vending machine and couldn’t be retrieved.

“We’re going to have to start over,” Campbell, 15, said. “I’ve been thinking about getting into engineering. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. I always made paper airplanes as a kid with my brother. This kind of activity definitely makes me think about pursuing it.”

While Leatham and teammates Christopher Edgerley and Nate Guillemette won the contest for longest distance with Leatham’s design, the group of Nicholas Mead, Trevor Grabelein and Regan Beaudreau won for hang-time with Mead’s design. The plane’s hang time was 4.47 seconds. “This is the first time I made a paper airplane,” Edgerley, 16, said as he held his airplane. “(Leatham) took care of distance, I was trying to come up with something that would take care of hang time. I was going for the biggest wingspan.

“It’s all fun, right?”

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