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Flight School Transformation for First Grade

It's no secret that classroom transformations have become one of  my favorite things to create for my students. 

Transformations make learning:

  • fun
  • engaging
  • memorable

At the end of the year (and ten years from now) students won't remember the worksheets, but they will remember THESE moments. 

The moments that you made special for THEM!

So why flight school? 

Our school's theme this year was “Dream Big… The Sky's the Limit”. 

So I wanted to do something that matched the theme… and my first thought was paper airplanes!

They are easy to make and the kids LOVE them!

Everything else was built off of that and we ended up with an AMAZING “flight school” transformation!



If this is the first time you have read one of my transformation posts, here's a few things you need to know: 

  • I am currently a Librarian for 1st, 2nd and 3rd Grade
  • I convinced my principal to let me run transformations through the library because it's less work on the teachers and it saves money by only having to decorate one space
  • I set up the space and order the materials for my teachers
  • I lead the lessons and the classroom teacher assists me
  • I host one grade a day (10 classes for 30 minutes each)

How to Set up a Surgery Transformation for First Grade

Creating the Flight School Backdrop

The Flight School backdrops were actually several different pieces. 

Part One: The sides were cloud backdrops that I purchased from Amazon that were hung up on backdrop stands. 

Part Two: I hung light blue butcher paper along the back wall. This is an item we already had on hand. The white cloud balloons came from Amazon.

Part Three: The airplane hangar was actually something I painted. I taped together three strips of white butcher paper. 

The Flight School Tables

I wanted students to feel like they were truly in a different space, so I wanted them standing at their tables rather than sitting like they would do in a classroom.

I covered the tables in brown packing paper. I learned the hard way that it's way better to cover each table individually. When you cover them together, they get messed when a table inevitably gets bumped! 

Each table had all of the tools the students would need to build and measure their paper airplane!

The Flight School Gear

Every student also got to pick out, wear and take home a pair of sunglasses. 

I explained to them that this was because pilots are known for wearing super cool sunglasses. 

We bought the glasses in bulk on Amazon. The glasses with the crazy lenses were actually way cheaper than regular glasses!

I do have to add that giving the students sunglasses to wear was a decision I would definitely do again! Well worth the investment!  

Flight School Transformation Activity #1: Building & Measuring Paper Airplanes with Rulers

The second grade students did a measurement activity where they had to build a paper airplane and measure it with inches and centimeters using a ruler. 

Students had to write an estimate before they made their measurement.

After students finished their measurement activity, they were able to do three “test flights” down the runway using their paper airplanes.

Benefit of this Activity

First and foremost, students really had fun! 

But I think students also really benefited from creating something and THEN measuring it. They were able to take more ownership over the activity.

For tactile learners, this activity is so great because the hands on experience helps them understand the concept better!

Flight School Transformation Activity #2: Building & Measuring Paper Airplanes with Non-Standard Units

First grade students also did an activity where they had to build a paper airplane and measure it. 

However, we had students measure the planes with non-standard units such as: 

  • paper clips
  • blocks
  • bears
  • links
  • cubes
  • squares

I will say that building the airplane required more step by step directions for first graders. 

I also showed them how to fold the airplane before I actually walked them through the steps which I think helped out a lot!

Another helpful tip is to label the measuring tools. This made it much easier for students to record the name of the unit they were measuring with because it was written directly on the box!

Flight School Transformation Tip #1 Prep Ahead of Time

One of the things that made this week of flight school so successful was how much prep work I did ahead of time. 

I did as much as possible in the weeks leading up to our transformation. So much so, that the day of set up, all we had to do was hang the backdrops, wrap the tables and set out the materials.

Flight School Transformation Tip #2: Step by Step Instructions on How to Build a Paper Airplane

I mentioned this earlier, but each grade level required different levels of support when it came to actually building their airplanes. 

First graders need the most support. We went step by step together and stopped after each fold. 

It was helpful to have them fold it in half first, then open it up and I made everyone point to the middle line. 

The middle line is where most of the folds meet which ended up being incredibly helpful. 

Second graders also needed step by step support, but we were able to go a little bit faster. 

Third graders were able to build their own paper airplanes (for the most part). 

All in all, it only took about 5-8 minutes for each group to make their paper airplanes. 

It took about another 5-10 minutes for the measuring portion. 

This left plenty of time (in their thirty minute time block) for students to be able to get in three test flights with their paper airplanes down the runway. 

Flight School Transformation Tip #3: Label Everything Clearly

Again, this is something I mentioned earlier, but make sure your non-standard units are clearly labeled. 

This makes it easier on the students (and you). 

By having the buckets clearly labeled, students know exactly which measurement they are using and what tool name to write on their paper. 

Flight School Transformation Tip #4 Have an Example

I think one of the biggest things that made the activity itself run smoothly was having an example for students to look at. 

I had an example on each table so it was very clear what my expectations were for the activity and what the finished product should look like!

(It also helped the students AND teachers to have the step by step fold directions printed at the top of the page.)

Flight School Transformation Activities for First Grade

Every activity seen in this post can be found in my Flight School Transformation product here: 

Amazon Purchases for a Flight School Transformation

Here are the links to everything I used in the surgical transformation. *Disclaimer: this post includes affiliate links. 

Four photo/backdrop stands. Shop here. 

Four sky/clouds 5×7 backdrops. Shop here.

Mylar cloud balloons. Shop here

Brown Kraft paper to cover tables. Shop here.

Student Plastic Sunglasses. Shop here

Plastic Rulers. Shop here

Astrobrights Paper (“Cool” Color). Shop here.

Posters were printed on our school's poster machine. 

More Transformation Ideas for First Grade

Flight School Transformation-Kristen Sullins Teaching

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Kristen Sullins

Kristen Sullins

I am a current Elementary Librarian and
Enrichment Teacher, mother of two, follower of Christ and Texas native. In my own classroom, I love to save time by finding unique ways to integrate writing, social studies and science into all parts of my day. I also love all things organization!