In advance, download the aeroplane template from the Resources tab, note the fold marks, and follow the instructions in the video tutorial to create the aeroplane model.
Present this already prepared paper aeroplane to your group and challenge them to re-create it, exactly.
Divide your group into small groups and distribute a copy of the template to each group.
Announce that each team’s goal is to re-create the model aeroplane, using the unfolded paper template.
The mystery aeroplane may be viewed from any angle, but it cannot be touched.
Note that the dotted lines on the template indicate a fold line.
Allow your groups to unravel the mystery on their own for up to ten minutes, before contemplating offering a clue.
How To Play Narrative
There are few people, if any, who have not had the pleasure of folding a paper aeroplane and shooting it across the room. Yet, most of us would be willing to admit that the best design for a paper aeroplane has possibly eluded us. Until today.
In advance, you will need to fold the mystery paper aeroplane which will act as your model. Download the aeroplane template from the Resources tab, note the fold marks, and follow the instructions in this short ‘how-to’ video tutorial (opens new browser window.)
Spin whatever story you choose (see Framing Ideas tab,) and eventually present this already prepared paper aeroplane to your group and challenge them to look at it closely.
Divide your group into small groups of three or four people (see Getting Into Teams for some random methods to do this,) and distribute a copy of the template to each group.
Announce that each team’s goal is to re-create the model aeroplane, using the unfolded paper template, exactly as the model.
Furthermore, while the mystery aeroplane can be viewed from any angle, it cannot under any circumstances be touched, ie in an attempt to unfurl a fold.
Explain that the dotted lines on the template indicate a fold line, but the order of the folds, nor their direction can be revealed.
At first, there will be lots of frustration, but eventually, someone will break the deadlock. Allow the groups to unravel the mystery on their own for up to ten minutes, before contemplating offering a clue.
Consider debriefing your group’s experience at the conclusion of the exercise to explore issues of leadership, problem-solving and team roles.
Practical Leadership Tips
Small groups of four or more people, with just one paper template, are generally too large to allow each person to be useful. If you really want to involve larger groups in this exercise, provide them with extra templates.
If you have a large group, prepare several mystery aeroplanes in advance so that more people can view the intricacies of the mystery aeroplane and not be in each other’s way.
Naturally, upon completing their task, each group/person is encouraged to test the flight credentials of their new aircraft.
You could integrate Mystery Aeroplane as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Demonstrating Self-Discipline & Self-Motivation
Setting Personal & Group Goals
Use Planning & Organisational Skills
Taking Other’s Perspectives
Recognising Strengths In Others
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Seeking and/or Offering Support
Build Positive Relationships
Resolving Conflict Constructively
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Making Reasoned Judgements
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of solving a team puzzle.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to interact and problem-solve with others may speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could use these less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see. For example, you could invite your group to reflect on the effectiveness of their leadership, communication and planning processes and relate these to a set of observed impacts on others.
This is also a tough problem to solve, so there may be value in exploring strategies that build resilience.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Mystery Aeroplane could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Any Plane Will Do: Introduce any intricate version of a paper aeroplane you know.
Origami Challenge: Introduce an origami item, to be replicated in the same manner.
Take Flight: Take a look at Paper-Plane Contest to provide a structured guide to propelling your group’s aircraft across the room.
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Inventive challenge to test your group's creativity.
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Fun problem-solving task requiring teamwork & focus.
Useful Framing Ideas
Aliens from a faraway galaxy visited our planet recently and left behind one of their flying vehicles. Owing to extreme levels of deathly radiation, you cannot touch this flying machine, but we have managed to uncover the template from which the vehicle was constructed…
Hands up those people who love folding paper aeroplanes? Keep your hand up if you’ve managed to fold a really good aeroplane which flew a long way across an area? Yeah, just as I thought, not many of us have been particularly successful at embracing this vital life skill. What if I said I knew a very good way to fold a paper aeroplane, would you be interested? Of course, you would, so here it is…
Do you have the ability to look at something, without touching it, and understand how it was constructed? It’s difficult to do, but some people can do it. This next exercise will rely heavily on this skill…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this challenging small group initiative:
How did your group start?
What process did your group adopt to solve this problem?
How many people in your group had ideas to contribute? How many of these were tried?
Would you regard your group as successful, or not? Why?
Where else in our lives or work do we have the ‘formula’ but do not know what to do?
The inspiration for Mystery Aeroplane was sourced from the crew of the Young Endeavour Youth Scheme (Australia) who first demonstrated this initiative to me during a training workshop.