Middle School Science in the Mountains
Viviana Nielsen, Grade 7 Science Teacher

At the end of May, Grade 7 students headed to ISZL's Outdoor Education Centre, Chalet Bergheim in Wengen, to experience a science and maths programme specially designed for them. During our two-and-a-half-day trip, the mountains and the countryside served as our classroom.

The students applied the concepts learned about the physics of flight while designing their own balsa wood gliders. The design process was broken down into the following steps:
1. Students became familiar with ready to go gliders by flying them and playing around with different features such as wings angle of attack, wings position, addition of horizontal stabilizers, etc. in order to learn how the gliders' design would affect the flying distance.
2. Students researched and discussed, in groups of three, possible glider designs and decided the ratio of wing span- chord to use.
3. Students constructed their gliders using balsa wood.
4. Students tested their gliders and modified the weight distribution to improve its flight.
5. Students flew the gliders to determine the distance covered and time aloft.

Students worked enthusiastically during the process, presented unique and creative designs and achieved very good results with the longest distance being 10.2 meters, which came close to the 2017 ISZL record of 13.2 m. As an extension of the activity, Bernhard Kaelin from Chill Out Paragliding, who holds a world record of being 4 minutes in the air after base jumping, showed the students how the physics they learned can be applied to paragliding and base jumping. To experience the practical part of the concepts learned we went to Stechellberg where students were lucky enough to watch 12 base jumpers!  They saw the functionality of a wing suit in action after having tried one and simulated the air with hair dryers in the chalet. Students also watched paragliders land, measured the ratio span of a real glider and cut a cell from it to analyse the wing shape in order to apply the Bernoulli principle. As a grand finale, students experienced the drag force by playing group races holding parachutes - you can watch one of the races here.

In Maths, students applied the concepts of linear equations while experimenting bungee jumping with Barbie dolls. Using rubber bands, they prepared a correlation graph to show the distance jumped and number of rubber bands used. They used the correlation to estimate the number of rubber bands needed for a thrilling, but still successful jump from the Chalet terrace which is 4 metres high. Some students took a high risk approach when designing the bungeed chord and left everybody surprised with their exact calculations. See Barbie jumping here.

The busy programme also included entertaining activities such as hiking, a campfire with s'mores, a scavenger hunt in the village and a movie night. Students were also able to make new friendships and deepen existing ones whilst they applied classroom teachings to real life situations.

Back in the classroom the students reflected in their blogs about the experience: "It was my favourite trip I have ever been on since being here at ISZL", "Everything about this trip was so much fun and the teachers definitely found a way to make learning fun", "It was lot of fun because we were able to put the things we learned in school into a real life situation".


  • Chalet Bergheim
  • Mathematics
  • Middle School
  • Science

More News