Paper Engineering

Guess what’s going to pop up?


One of the most ambitious and far-reaching concepts now being explored by the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies developing new methods in espionage is the micro-aerial vehicle, or MAV—die-cut remote-control robots that fold flat, pop up, and can be assembled. Some of the flying MAVs resemble birds and insects so closely that they can hang out in plain sight, doing surveillance with minimal potential for detection. This activity lets you discover the kind of engineering involved in designing pop-ups—or party decorations!


Grab a grown-up to help supervise with the use of scissors.


  • 9 flat paper bags, all the same size, not exceeding 9 inches

  • markers, paint, or crayons

  • glue stick
  • scissors
  • OPTIONAL: masking tape, hole punch, string

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STEP ONE: Color the bags on both sides. Use any kind of design you choose. You can also opt for bags that come striped or in different colors.

grow snow step-1

STEP TWO: Lay one bag on the table in front of you so that the opening is toward you. Your bag should have one side of the opening longer than the other. Place the longer side on the bottom.

STEP THREE: Draw a strip of glue across the end of the bag that is away from you, then down the center of the bag toward you, so that you draw a big T in glue. Don’t get glue on the long side of the bottom.

grow snow step-3

STEP FOUR: Lay the next bag, oriented the same as the first bag, directly on top of the first, evening up the edges.

STEP FIVE: Draw the T of glue on the second bag and stick the third on top. Continue until all nine bags are glued together, each on top of the next.

grow snow step-6

STEP SIX: Turn the bags so that the openings are away from you. Find the center point of the sides of the bags and the opening. Cut from one side to the center of the opening, then from the other side to the center of the opening. If you want, cut shapes along the folded edges of the bags below the center point, cutting through all bags at once.


Through simple geometry, your gluing and cutting shaped a 2-D bag into a three-dimensional (3-D) form. Your bags should expand to form a 3-D star!


Photographs by Lori Epstein, Nat Geo Staff
From the book Try This! Extreme
Text Copyright © 2017 Karen Romano Young

grow snow step-7

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