The Wright Brothers' 100th Anniversary

There was no instantaneous worldwide acclaim, no live radio or television coverage, hardly a mention in any newspaper. The only witnesses to mankind's first successful flight of a self-propelled heavier-than-air flying machine on December 17, 1903 were some men from the nearby life-saving station at Kitty Hawk. Indeed, it would take several years for those "two bicycle mechanic fellows" to gradually receive the honors they deserved.

But this year the world cannot possibly ignore the Wright Brothers. This December 17, when a replica Wright Flyer recreates the events of 100 years ago at Kill Devil Hill, there will be an outpouring of media coverage. Already there are countless Web sites honoring the brothers and celebrating their ingenuity and perseverance. Many of these sites are educator-friendly, offering lessons, posters, teaching guides, etc. for K-12. Below is a Web tour of those sites that include activities to help your students more fully appreciate just what it was that two previously anonymous bachelors from Dayton, Ohio accomplished on that historic day.

Wright Flyer Online
This NASA-created site offers a wealth of material for educators and students. On the homepage scroll down and click on "Teachers' Lounge" and then on "Lesson Plans" to find downloadable (PDF) lesson plans exploring lift, drag, pitch etc. in three levels of difficulty for grades 4-8, 6-8, or 9-12. The Teachers' Guide, available either in HTML or PDF, has a wealth of aviation-related materials in language arts (one example: a guide to creating ballads about epic flights), in math (one features graphing the four forces of flight), in science (such as using balloon thrust experiments to teach the scientific method), and in social studies (activities built around a timeline of technological progress from 1899 to 1914). The link labeled "Teacher Resources" accesses a PDF file with URLs for many fascinating aviation Web sites as well as a print-oriented bibliography and a list of useful organization addresses.

Re-Living the Wright Way
Another NASA effort, this content-rich site might just become your favorite. The home page offers five links: "Lesson Plans," "Simulations," "Presentations," "Activities," and "CD-Roms" and each is filled with more links for further browsing/learning. For example, under "Lesson Plans" is a link to a Kids' Page loaded with fun and educational aeronautics-related activities, including the colorful "Wright Brothers 2003 Game." Click on "Simulations" to access a series of Java simulations explaining the forces of flight and featuring the Wright's gliders and airplanes. Clicking on "Activities" brings up links to several sites that feature step-by-step instructions, plus in-progress construction photos, that will help students to construct models of the various Wright gliders and airplanes using nothing more than Styrofoam food trays and toothpicks. And this is just a brief summary of what's available. Although some of the NASA scientist-created activities may be a bit too advanced for some students, there is such a wealth of choices that every ability-level can be accommodated.

Centennial Feature: Across the Curriculum with the Wright Brothers
Also sponsored by NASA, this is a portal page with links to five "Across the Curriculum" pages focusing on either the Wrights or on aeronautics.
"A Little History"
Features links to seven sites focusing on the Wright Brothers and their era plus another seven on the history of flight. One is The Wright Brothers Times, a "newspaper" which includes other developments for a particular year, such as 1900's "The paper clip is invented." It could serve as an excellent model for a similar student-created project.
"Science, Math, and Technology"
The page offers an incredible number of links to Web sites such as "Wind Tunnels, How Do They Work?", to downloadable posters such as "Careers for Women in Aerospace," and even to television and Webcasts, such as "NASA Quest: Rediscovering the Challenges of Flight."
Also don't miss the links to downloadable educators' guides, such as the 129-page standards-driven "Aeronautics: an Educators' Guide with Activities in Science, Mathematics, and "Technology Education," which is filled with fascinating lesson ideas, or the "Electronic Toolkit," a PDF document focusing on Web-based activities.
"A Little Geography"
Links to sites featuring awe-inspiring photos of Planet Earth from space. "The Visible Earth" offers dozens of images from all 50 states, so perhaps your students will find their own particular environs. Teachers of social studies will want their students to follow the "Regions of the World" link to "The Red Sea" and its color photograph of the region superimposed with the names of all the countries that make up The Middle East.
"Some Language Arts"
Teachers of English/Language Arts will want to download the PDF "Science and Technology Journalism" booklet for a host of ideas on helping students to write interesting and creative science news reports, for either print or electronic media. Another activity sure to spark investigation and creativity is the Web-centered "Subject Samplers" on topics such as "From Pilots to Passengers" (Gr. 4-6) or "Wings and Things That Fly" (Gr. K-3).

"Some Career Information"
Click on the links to one or all of the four downloadable full-color PDF posters. "Superstars of Modern Aeronautics" and "Superstars of Space Flight" offer photos and bios of an assortment of men and women who have made significant contributions in their fields. Very useful for student-created "interviews." Also available is "Consider a Career in Aerospace," created to convince females to pursue a non-traditional career.

NASA Celebrates A Century of Powered Flight : WebQuest
Educators seeking ways to encourage inquiry, collaborative work, critical thinking, and many other 21st Century skills will appreciate these WebQuest ideas intended for students from Grades K-3 ("Famous Aviators") to high school ("Forces of Flight"). The extensive files, complete with URLs for research, are downloadable in either MS Word or Adobe Acrobat PDF format. Even if WebQuests are not a priority, these files are loaded with valuable information and ideas for lessons.

Educators' Flight Plan
Part of the U.S. Centennial Commission's site, this page has links to (1) downloadable PDF posters for classroom use, (2)a searchable timeline with categories including "The Wright Brothers," plus "Airpower, "Commercial Aviation," Social History," and ten more; (3) An essay, "Kitty Hawk by Rail" by Wright Brothers biographer Dr. Tom crouch, Senior Curator at the National Air & Space Museum; and even (4) a Wright Brothers word-search puzzle. There are also links to a "Kids" page and an "Enthusiasts" page which offers downloadable QuickTime movies entitled "The Aeroplane: a Chronicle of Flight," "The Air Mail Story," and "The Machines of the Wright Brothers."

Surfing the Net With Kids: Wright Brothers
This is a portal to an assortment of worthwhile "kid-safe" sites, including: How We Made the First Flight , the complete text of Orville Wright's own account of their efforts. For older students this is an excellent opportunity to understand the difference between a primary and a secondary source.

To Fly is Everything, a "virtual museum"" covering the invention of the airplane." Don't miss the Digital Library which offers reprints of period thinking, such as the 1901 "Is the Air Ship Coming?" article which suggested that before man could fly he would have to first "discover the nature of luminiferous ether and the cause of gravitation." There's also a gallery of period film footage and still photographs, including one of the "Philips 1904 "Multiplane," an unsuccessful design that resembles a venetian blind with wheels and propeller. Lots of resources here for the innovative/creative student.

National Air & Space Museum (NASM)
No discussion of flight can ignore the world's most visited museum, especially with its newest exhibit, The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age. Clicking its link on NASM's homepage offers some glimpses of the exhibit, links to downloadable drawings of the 1903 Wright Flyer, and links to two non-NASM sites: the official Centennial site (see above) and to The Wright Experience, whose homepage Education link offers an in-depth look at the various aspects of the Wrights' accomplishment (hand-carved propeller, wind tunnel, etc.). Back at the NASM homepage click on "Educational Services" and then on "Online Activities" to access the museum's trove of aviation-related teacher resources and lesson plans.

Aviation Education: The Wright Stuff
Part of the Federal Aviation Administration's Education Outreach efforts, this page offers links to several HTML-based timelines of aviation history plus plans for creating a Wright Flyer from Styrofoam. There are also links to a downloadable bilingual version of Orville Wright's "How We Made the First Flight," a Curriculum Guide and an Orville Activity Booklet. However, if your computer's anti-virus protection balks at .exe files you may want to skip these. Also, educators might want to bookmark the FAA Education Outreach homepage for its many links to other aviation-education matters.

Flights of Inspiration
The curators at Philadelphia's famed Franklin Institute have created a four-part look at the Wrights and at aviation. The home page offers links to "First Flight" (the story of the Wrights' accomplishment), "Long Flight" (Alcock and Brown's historic 1919 first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight), "Your Flight" (for students to explore the physics of flight), and "Teachers' Zone" (specifically for science teachers with hints for using the other three sections, lists of resources, etc.) Students are encouraged to compare the two "firsts" and draw conclusions, which makes this a good site for critical thinking activities.

The Wright Stuff
Part of the Public Broadcasting System's American Experience series, the program focused on the events leading up to the Wright's historic flight it as well as events following (it wasn't until 1908 that the magnitude of their accomplishment became widely appreciated). The site offers a full transcript of the program, which could serve as the basis for a student project. There are speaking parts for various "historians" and "museum curators." Older students might enjoy the challenge of re-creating the broadcast and perhaps enhancing their presentation with photos and other materials available at some of the other Web sites mentioned in this tour.

Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company
Although this busy site has no specific educator's segment, your students involved in research papers might find it a useful resource for information on the Wrights and their achievements. The many links provide solid information, timelines, drawings, and photographs. There's even a link to "Wright Trivia" where one can learn about "Old Mom," the Wright youngsters' pet cat. Other links allow students to hear music of the era, such as the 1903 hit "St. Louis Rag." The site, although a bit cluttered-seeming, offers a one-stop portal to all things Wright.

EAA's Countdown to Kitty Hawk
The Experimental Aircraft Association, along with Ford Motor Company, are the official sponsors of the official re-enactment flight to take place at The Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk, NC this December 17 100 years to the day that the Wrights first flew. The site offers a look at the 1903 machine as well as the 2003 recreation, making it an interesting place for students to do some investigating and speculating.

The Wright Brothers
Henry Ford acquired and had moved to his museum's "Greenfield Village" both the Wright's cycle shop and their Dayton home. The museum's Web site offers a simple but informative page on the Wrights and a link to a page listing Wright-related Books for Children, Books for Adults, and Places to Visit. Educators might also want to visit the museum homepage, click on "Explore & Learn" and then under "Smart Fun" click on "Your Place in Time" to access a fascinating timeline of 20th Century events. Although it is not specific to the Wright Brothers, it will help students place the Wrights in a historical perspective. There are also some excellent lesson activities dealing with life in America not only in that first decade of the century but in succeeding decades. Teachers of history may find this a valuable resource.

Email: Stan Solomon