This lesson can be taught in 58 class periods
The focus for students in this age group is on the personal qualities
shared by successful pilots and scientists, such as the Wright
Brothers, Amelia Earhart, and the space shuttle astronauts. Students
will practice their reading comprehension, note taking, and writing
Explain to students that they will be learning about the history
of flight for the past one hundred years. Explain that your study
will focus on three periods: the invention of airplanes (by the
Wright brothers), the introduction of women pilots (Amelia Earhart),
and the space race. Tell students that they will be writing and
publishing their own "100 Years of Flight" news article
at the end of the unit.
Begin the conversation by asking students what they know about
airplanes, pilots, and flying. To stimulate previous knowledge,
students should first create a brainstorming web or list, using
"flight" as the beginning word. Ask students, "What
other words occur to you when you hear the word 'flight?'"
Most likely they will mention birds, the parts of a plane, air,
etc.. You can create a class web together of the students' ideas
as well. Then ask students, "Can people fly? How?"
The Wright Brothers
The class should begin by reading Meet the Wright Brothers
and Inventing the Plane. You can direct students
to the articles online, have printouts available, or conduct a
read-aloud. As the students are reading or listening, they should
keep a running list of facts or qualities of the Wright brothers
that they think made them successful when so many other inventors
had failed. In other words, what about their personality and way
of experimenting helped them create a working airplane? When students
have made their own lists, gather together as a class and discuss
their results, creating a master list on the board or overhead.
Next, direct students to the Build a Plane activity. If you
don't have enough computers for every student, students can pair
up to play. Allow students to guess by trial and error, rather
than reading the Physics facts and the Wright brothers facts.
Once all students have completed the game, regroup to discuss
what they have learned. Review each choice and why it worked or
didn't. What theories do the students have about why they worked?
As you discuss each choice, read the Wright brothers fact aloud.
Were there any choices that surprised your students? Finally,
looking ahead, how was the airplane in the game different from
the planes they know today?
Have small groups of students tour the timeline of Amelia
Earhart's life. Ask students as they read to keep a running list
again of facts or qualities that made Amelia a successful pilot
in a time when most pilots were men.
After reviewing the timeline, encourage students to discuss their
impressions of Earhart's life and personality. What kinds of problems
did she overcome? How would her story be different today? You
may wish to also read the interview with contemporary pilot Sylvia
Challenging the Space Frontier
Divide the class into three groups and direct them to read the
articles about the Friendship 7, the Apollo 11,
or the STS-7 online or printed out. As they read, students
should choose one of the astronauts (John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin,
or Sally Ride) and keep a running list of facts or qualities that
made that astronaut successful.
After reviewing the articles, engage students in a discussion
of the three space missions. Each group should present its findings
to the rest of the class, describing the mission briefly and the
astronaut involved. In general, what are the qualities of a good
astronaut? How many of your students think they would make a good
What personality qualities or skills do the Wright brothers, Amelia
Earhart, and the space shuttle astronauts share? What makes them
different? You may want to chart this conversation on a Venn diagram
with three intersecting circles.
100 Years of Flight Newspaper
Explain to students that now they are to assume the role of a
newspaper reporter and they have the power to travel back in time.
Tell them they need to choose one of the pilots or scientists
you have discussed and write a news story about an event in that
person's life in which he or she overcame a challenge. For example,
students could cover the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty
Hawk, Amelia Earhart's flight across the Pacific Ocean, or Buzz
Aldrin's walk on the moon. Students should be sure to include
specific factual information about the event, such as the place,
date, and circumstances. The news articles should also reflect
the subject's personality and how it helped him or her overcome
obstacles. Print out step-by-step writing directions from the
News Writing with Scholastic Editors activity or direct
students to it on-line. For students writing about the Wright
Brothers, they can also visit the Be a Reporter section of this
activity and follow those directions. Encourage students to
visit examples of previous Earhart Gazette news articles at any
time during the writing process, as well as your hometown paper
or major newspapers online. As students complete their pieces,
confer with them and give them the go-ahead to put their writing
into a final word-processing document for sharing and grading
(see Assessment & Evaluation).
Take time for a Readers Circle in which students have an opportunity
to share their news articles. Reflect on the range of personal
challenges and the strength of character that come into play. Using the newspaper research and papers, create a complete newspaper or a book on the history of flight with different articles highlighting different pioneers.
Extend the Lesson with these activities:
Cross Curricular Extensions
Physics/Science (Grades 35)
Students participate in a paper airplane-building contest. Using
the same materials, students compete for the farthest distance
and the longest time in the air. Go to the National Airplane
Contest for more details.
Drama (Grades 45)
Students can choose to dramatize a specific episode from the life
of Orville and Wilbur Wright or Amelia Earhart, rehearse the play,
and then present it to the class.
Language Arts (Grade 35)
Students write a poem with the theme of "flight." The
poem should include details and descriptions of what it feels
like to fly, either from a human perspective or a bird's perspective.
They can publish this poem online with Writing with Writers: Poetry.
What kind of person makes a good pilot? What qualities and skills
does a pilot need? Is the answer different today than in the Wright brothers' time? In Amerlia Earhart's time?
What kind of person makes a successful inventor or scientist?
What qualities and skills does an inventor need?
What was the world like before airplanes?
What would the world be like today without airplanes or space
How do you think airplanes fly?
Why do you think we still celebrate the Wright brothers today?
In the 1920's why was it harder for a woman like Amelia Earhart
to become a pilot than a man?
What do you think really happened to Amelia Earhart?
Would you go to space on a space shuttle if you had the chance?
Why or why not?
If you were president of the United States, would you want to
send the first space shuttle to Mars? Why or why not?