It's Aviation Awareness Week!

There are easy ways to incorporate activities in your classroom related to Aviation History Month.

By Greg Harrison


Some of the most interesting teaching opportunities stem from taking advantage of the many "awareness" weeks and months which are built into each school year. In this article, I'd like to propose some activities for you to use during the upcoming National Aviation Awareness Week. 

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has many fantastic (and free!) lessons, online activities, printable worksheets, and educational resources. Since the definition of the word "aviation" is the operation of aircraft, it is fair to include aircraft that have travelled into outer space in your lessons, and to include some studies of space itself. The website has a great variety of standards-based lessons and activities.

How Things Fly

To get started, I would recommend checking out the online activities area in the education section. From there, scroll down to the three activities that are associated with Forces of Flight. These are online activities that middle elementary to high school students should enjoy. Click on "Forces of Flight," and have the students check out the excellent description of how aircraft are able to fly-something that has always mystified me! Students are invited to experiment with the forces of lift, drag, weight, and thrust to design aircraft that can fly faster and/or higher. After studying the basics of flight, have them click on "Controlled Flight." This is a wonderful flight simulation activity that is patterned after the training sessions that actual pilots engage in. Another fascinating resource in the online activities area is called Airplane Anatomy. When you click on this box, you will find many activities centered on the Wright Brothers and the construction of the very first airplane.

Paper Airplane Contest

Once your students have an idea of how aircraft fly, and have been introduced to the Wright Brothers and the very first airplane, I'd recommend having them design and create their own paper airplanes to be later used in a flight contest. It's best to have students work in pairs. This way, they can both contribute their ideas of how to design a paper airplane and take turns acting as the "launcher" and the "measurer" during the actual contest. The following website gives specific instructions on how to create different types of paper airplanes. The website was created by the man who holds the Guinness Book of World Records for both the longest distance paper airplane flight and for the longest time a paper airplane flew in the air. Students will also learn how to alter the airplane's design, it's thrust (how hard it is thrown), and the angle of launch in order to get the best results. Once all of the airplanes are constructed, the best place to have the contest is in a large room, such as your gymnasium or cafeteria, where there will be very little or no wind.

Enjoy Exploring the Website

After your paper airplane flight contest is complete, I'd recommend going back to the Teaching Resources area of the website to browse through the many lessons on space, flight, and the history of aviation. Of course, if your school is within a reasonable distance, taking a field trip to the museum itself would be a wonderful learning experience for your students. If a trip like that is not feasible, I hope you will consider visiting this website and utilizing some of these activities during Aviation Awareness Week. The activities I've chosen to write about are just a few of the many educational resources available on the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website. Below are descriptions of some other activities that caught my eye.

Further Activities:

Sky Quest

This lesson is designed for kindergarten through third grade students. It is an introduction to the wonders of the night sky, stars, and constellations. Students match patterns of dots that correspond to parts of constellations, create their own drawings based on patterns of stars, and compare how the moon and the stars appear to the naked eye versus looking through a telescope. This is a great way to augment any lesson about space.

How Things Fly

These activities enable fifth through eighth grade students to take a more detailed look into the principles of flight. Additionally, there are some excellent hands-on activities which demonstrate the principles of flight in fun, meaningful ways while cementing physics principles.

And a Star to Steer Her by Field Trip Guide

This packet of lessons and activities is designed for fifth through ninth grade students. It is loaded with high-level activities that introduce students to the tools and techniques used to navigate by the stars.

From Airmail to Airlines Teaching Guide

This teacher guide has lessons and activities designed for third through fifth grade students. The lessons explore the changes in transportation from the 1920's to the present. Students work together to design their own airline which allows them to practice a variety of skills, including writing.