Grades 6–8

This lesson can be taught in 5–8 class periods

Lesson Introduction:
The focus for students in this age group is on the ways pioneering pilots such as the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart, and the space shuttle astronauts have changed history and society. Students will practice their reading comprehension, note taking, and writing skills.

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 would the world be like if humans could not fly?" Students may want to take some time to write a fictional account of a world without human flight. Discuss their answers and then on the board write a list of ways in which flight affects our world, both positively and negatively. How does flying affect our relationship with other countries?

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 or have printouts available. As the students are reading, 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. Make sure to discuss the scientific method and how it affected their invention process.

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. Direct students to read the Physics facts and the Wright brothers facts, rather than guessing simply by trial and error

Once all students have completed the game, regroup to discuss what they have learned. Review each choice and why it worked or didn't, discussing the aeronautics and physics involved. Discuss how the Wright brothers made their choices. 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?

Amelia Earhart
Have small groups of students tour the timeline of Amelia Earhart's life. Ask students as they read to keep a running list comparing Amelia's life to the world events happening at the same time.

After reviewing the timeline, encourage students to discuss their impressions of Earhart's life and personality. Ask students to imagine the world of Amelia Earhart. What were some of the challenges that she faced as a pilot? How did her pioneering spirit change the role of women in society? You may wish to also read the interview with contemporary pilot Sylvia Barter.

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 of the events in their lives as well as contemporary world events.

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, the astronaut involved, and the results of the mission. Have the class discuss how each mission changed the world in which we live. Draw conclusions on how each mission impacted society.

Review Discussion
What were the challenges faced by these pioneers of flight? Were their challenges similar to one anther's? Did different challenges have different impacts on society? If they had not been pioneers, what kind of world would we live in today? You may want to chart this conversation on the Venn diagram graphic organizer (PDF).

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. 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 historical perspective of the time and how this event might have been viewed. Students should do additional research on the Internet on in the library as well as rereading the relevant articles. 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).

Unit Wrap-up
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.

Extend the Lesson with these activities:
Cross Curricular Extensions

Math (6–8)
Invite students to make several calculations based on Earhart's final trip. Visit a Web site for a list of the stops along her route as well as a world map of the route. Calculate
* the percentage of Earhart's planned flight she actually completed
* the time differences between your location and stopover points in different time zones along Earhart's last route
* the mileage difference between Earhart's journey and other world-famous aviators such as Charles Lindbergh

Physics/Science (Grades 6–8)
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 6–8)
Students can choose to dramatize a specific episode from the life of Orville and Wilbur Wright or Amelia Earhart. They should write the scene, rehearse the play, and then present it to the class.

Language Arts (6–8)
Write a story from the point of view of either Amelia Earhart or one of the Wright brothers. The story should describe the narrator's experiences as a pilot, including details from the web site articles. Focus student writing on character, plot, setting, and point of view.

Some of the resources on this page are in PDF format. To download them, you will need Adobe Adobe Acrobat Reader Software.

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