K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • use a compass to draw eight circles of varying sizes.
  • label the diameter and radius of each circle.
  • compute the area and circumference of each circle.
  • fly their saucers and record their measurements.
  • compute the mean, median, mode, and range for each trial.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

3 hours


Each student needs:

  • 1 white poster board
  • glue
  • compass
  • meter stick or yard stick
  • 6 large paper clips
  • scissors
  • 1 brad
  • masking tape
  • paper
  • pencil or notebook


Students must have already discussed the parts of a circle:

  • radius

  • diameter
  • chord

Students must have already had a lesson on area, circumference, using compasses, and finding averages.


Making the Flying Saucer

  1. Set your compass to a 4 inch radius.
  2. Use the compass to draw a circle on the poster board. Make sure that you draw your circle towards the edge of the poster board so there will be room for all the 8 circles.
  3. Reduce the compass setting to a 3.5 inch radius.
  4. Keep reducing the compass setting by .5 inch increments and draw the circles until you have 8 circles.
  5. Label the diameter and the radius on each circle.
  6. Find the area and the circumference of each circle and write them on the circle.
  7. Show your circles to the teacher to be checked for accuracy.
  8. After your circles have been approved, cut out each circle. Make sure that you put your name on each circle so that they do not get lost.
  9. Poke a hole through the exact center of each circle with the compass point.
  10. Glue the circles one on top of each other with the holes all lined up. The edges should be glued down so that they do not lift up.
  11. After gluing all eight pieces together, push a brad through the center hole and flatten the prongs on the back.
  12. Evenly distribute the six paper clips on your saucer.
  13. Tape the paper clips securely on the back and the front of your flying saucers. Tape the prongs of the brad as well.

Flying the Saucer

  1. Have the students (on a paper or in a notebook) make a hypothesis of how well they think their saucer will fly.
  2. The students need to know that when they fly their saucers, they need to do the same thing every time. For example: Flying the saucer into the wind every time, changing the angle of their throw, etc. *This is important so that they get an accurate measurement.
  3. Take the class outside where there is plenty of room. Students will need to take their saucers, paper or notebook, pencil, and meter or yard stick with them.
  4. As the teacher, you may want to bring out extra masking tape and extra paper clips.
  5. Have the students fly their saucer (like a frisbee) six times. Safety: The students must not throw their saucers toward anyone.They need to measure and record each of their throws. Have them label this as Trial 1.They need to record how their saucer flew.
  6. When they are done, have the students change one variable. For example: Take off paper clips, add clips, take out the brad, change the shape of the saucer, etc. Once they have chosen the variable to change, they need to write this down on their paper or notebook and write what they think about how well their saucer will fly. They should label this as Trial 2.
  7. Fly and record the distances six more times.
  8. When the class is completed, they can find the average, mean, median, and mode for each trial. Have them label this on their paper to be turned in.


  • Students will label the parts of a circle.
  • Students need to compute the area and circumference for each circle.
  • Students will compute mean, median, mode, and range for each trial.

Supplemental information

Teacher Resource:
Hands-On Math For Middle Grades
Grades 5-8
By Robert Smith
Creative Teaching Press


  • This lesson does take a while to complete, but the students love this. They are involved and really apply what they have learned in class.
  • I have used this lesson with 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. You just need to modify it to fit your needs.
  • You can make worksheets and questions for this lesson. I have done this three years in a row and have changed it so many times. There are no limits to what you can do.
  • Some things that I have done that work:
    • make graphs
    • make a spreadsheet from results
    • use scientific method
    • ask journal questions
    • find the class averages

  • Common Core State Standards
    • Mathematics (2010)
      • Grade 6

        • Statistics & Probability
          • 6.SP.3Recognize that a measure of center for a numerical data set summarizes all of its values with a single number, while a measure of variation describes how its values vary with a single number.
          • 6.SP.5Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context, such as by: Reporting the number of observations. Describing the nature of the attribute under investigation, including how it was measured and its units of measurement. Giving quantitative...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Mathematics (2004)

Grade 6

  • Goal 3: Geometry -The learner will understand and use properties and relationships of geometric figures in the coordinate plane.
    • Objective 3.02: Identify the radius, diameter, chord, center, and circumference of a circle; determine the relationships among them.
  • Goal 4: Data Analysis and Probability - The learner will understand and determine probabilities.
    • Objective 4.06: Design and conduct experiments or surveys to solve problems; report and analyze results