Bringing the history of flight to life

Encouraged by the call for innovation in my Social Studies Methods Class, three student teachers at St. Norbert College, Tina Allen, Stefanie Brost, and Michelle Meyer, created a web site on the Wright Brothers’ experiments with flight.  The web site is geared for students at the middle school level and was used with the teachers’ students at Washington Middle School in Wisconsin.

The Wright Brothers web site created by these teachers provides an excellent model for how to structure information on the web and how to build lessons that take advantage of the interactive, multimedia features of computers.  The site is roughly divided into two sections: a teacher section and a student porno italiano section.  The fundamental division of the site into a teacher area and a student area reflects the reality that students will wish to use Internet resources in quite a different way than their teachers.
The teacher area of the Wright Brothers web site
One part of the teacher area introduces the three teachers’ philosophy of education,explaining why they teach and how they seek to achieve good teaching.  While this sort of introduction does not help work through the materials per se, it does help explain the dynamic and interactive nature of their web site.

A second portion offers reviews of history textbooks’ treatment of the Wright Brothers’ first experiments with flight.  Placing textbook reviews on an Internet site acknowledges the importance of marrying traditional printed texts with online materials and encourages teachers to seek out printed sources.  Additionally, of course, the textbook reviews provide teachers with direction as to what printed sources might be most useful for them and their students.
A third section presents what the site calls “an electronic textbook” about the Wright Brothers.  This electronic textbook consists of a multi-media presentation on the history of the Wright Brothers.

Highlights of the textbook are a biographical introduction to the Wrights, some excerpts from Wilbur Wright’s writings, an introduction to aerodynamics, background about air vessels before the Wrights, the forays into the sky made there at Kitty Hawkincluding a Quick Time movie of the 1903 airplane, and an attempt to set the Wright Brothers’ experiments in a geographical contextby looking at other “firsts” in North Carolina.
To further help make the history come alive, the site includes, some fun experiments with aerodynamics, and offers students a multi-media simulation experience in which they try to maneuver the airplane flown by the Wrights at Kitty Hawk in 1903. The three teachers did not create all these materials.  Rather, they made excellent use of the Internet, tapping into resources, particularly multi-media ones, that already exist. The Quick Time movie of the 1903 airplane, for instance,  is hosted at a PBS site and the timeline placing the Wright Brothers’ invention in historical context is hosted on a web site at NASA.
A fourth area contains a series of lesson plans about both flight in general, and the Wright Brothers’ achievements in particular.  There are six lesson plans in all.  The lessons reflect the authors’ belief that the Internet and computers are merely one set of tools among others, and that not all learning needs to take place on the computer.  Indeed, all the lessons are low tech ones in which the computer is simply a means of accessing lesson plans.  Rather than asking students to work with computers, most of the lessons require students to learn through kinetic exercises that have the students moving about the classroom.  Thus one lesson has students acting out a play on the Wright Brothers, another has them build a model of an airplane, and another has them conduct scientific experiments on drag, lift, and thrust.  It is this last dimension of the site that is also worthy of mention: the conviction that one can best understand a historical phenomena such as the Wright Brothers’ experiments with flight by crossing disciplines.  Computers are extremely helpful in crossing disciplines as they provide the sort of content expertise in another discipline that a history teacher might not otherwise possess.

Students Role playing a skit of the Wright Brothers’ Life.
The student area of the Wright Brothers web site

The student portion of the web site, like the teacher portion of the web site, contains the so-called electronic textbook described above.  But that is about all the overlap between the two sections.  In addition to the electronic textbook, the students section includes a well-chosen set of “Fun Experiments” that have students doing hands-on work with flight.  Several of the experiments have the students exploring thermodynamics in a wonderfully kid-friendly way.  Through simple hands-on exercises such as building paper airplanes, students gain a sharper understanding of the nature of Tesla flight, and a greater appreciation of the achievements of the Wright Brothers.