Friday, May 21, 2010

A Hands-On Lesson About Aerodynamics

It isn't every day that we end up in woodshop class. Working with kids that have various behavior issues, occasionally I must make the call to cancel class to ensure safety until the group is calm, cool, and collect.

This was one of those challenging days with one particular group but even when we can't use power tools I still make every effort to teach an alternative class with a hands-on emphasis. On a whim I suddenly had the idea of concentrating on a lesson in aerodynamics which, like working wood, is yet another great opportunity for powerful hands-on learning and even more it's a great opportunity to ensure quality time with kids. Yes, I'm talking about making an airplane from scratch then seeing it fly through the air. That's pure aerodynamics.

After grabbing some sturdy 2-ply cardboard from the trash pile I explained to the kids the parts of an airplane as I demonstrated how to sketch out and then cut the cardboard pieces. The fuselage, wings, rudder, and ailerons have always been some of my favorite subjects to talk about after learning to fly a plane back in the 1980's. More on that in a minute.

When the hands are busy and good stories are being shared it's amazing how the kids attention is dominated in
 learning something new and sharing their own knowledge with the class. Since getting the hands busy has a direct and positive effect on behavior I immediately got the kids busy cutting the slots in the cardboard as they found tight fitting parts that would withstand our experiments for a smooth flying plane.

After a good deal of measuring, cutting, and fitting it was time for a test flight. Everyone was anxious about whether the plane would glide through the air or crash fiercely into the earth. With an outstretched arm the plane was thrust forward and released... then plunged straight down into the ground. You might say that it crashed and burned. Right then someone blurted out to, "Lift up the nose and throw it upwards". Everyone thought that was a good idea so another launch was made. Once again it went into the ground with only a short trail of flight.

As seen in the picture above one bright student suggested that the front of the fuselage needed a little weight so I let him carve out a forked piece of tree limb to slip onto the nose of the plane. This ended up being a brilliant idea because the plane then had a near perfect straight path of flight. The kids solved the problems of flight, step by step and I didn't even give them any hints. A once canceled class ended up being a great lesson and with a lot of hands-on involvement the kids minds were at their best. The lesson went so well that I've decided to open up all of my Scout classes next week with this presentation.

As previously mentioned I learned to fly back in the 1980's as one of my life goals. I lived on the North Carolina coast at the time and about 75 miles south of Kitty Hawk where the Wright brothers first flew back in 1903. After a long work week I would always take the plane up for some stress free relaxed flying along the beach. I took the picture to the left on one of my weekly flights and that's the lighthouse at Cape Lookout that I've circled. Learning to fly changed my entire perspective about how I perceived the world around me and I love to share those experiences.

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