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Inquiry Question

Historical Context




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Putting It All Together

The freedom offered to humanity through the ability to fly was accomplished through a long process marked by advances and setbacks, accomplishments and failures, multiple attempts, and finally, success. The Wright brothers' ingenuity, insight, and intelligence made it possible for them to invent the first successful airplane and provide the world with one of the most significant advances in history. However, these two men offered the world something far greater, they offered the world hope, and the ability to take a dream and make it a reality. The following activities are designed to encourage students to understand the process undertaken by the Wrights in the development of the first successful airplane.

Activity 1: Advertising for Business
Orville and Wilbur Wright needed a wide range of resources and talents to succeed in developing a high quality line of bicycles as well as to meet with success in developing their flying machines. Among these talents was the ability to convince others that their products were needed and practical. Assign each student in the class with the task of conducting further research on one of the Wright brothers' printing businesses or bicycle shops. Learn more about the products they produced there and how they related to the community. Then, have the students design an advertisement about one of the Wright brothers' businesses and/or products keeping in mind that the ad may be for a newspaper or to post on the door. The advertisement can consist primarily of text if the student so chooses, or if they choose to be more artistic, they can design a graphic display.

Activity 2: Learning from Experience
Three prominent inventors and aviation enthusiasts, Otto Lilienthal, Dr. Samuel Langley, and Octave Chanute, influenced the Wright brothers' pursuit of powered, heavier-than-air flight. Lilienthal was a German glider expert known as the "father of gliding." His 1896 death in a gliding accident prompted the brothers to examine the issue of flight in an in-depth manner. Langley, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, was successful in constructing and flying steam power-driven models known as aerodromes. However, he was never able to build full-sized machines capable of carrying a pilot in flight. Chanute was both a mentor and advisor to the brothers as well as being an experimenter himself. Have each student research the work of one of these men and then imagine that they are in the position of the Wright brothers about to embark on their quest for powered flight. Students should write a letter to one of the men about their ideas concerning aviation, being certain to ask for advice about conducting experiments, identifying problems or concerns, and building models.

Activity 3: The Roots of Invention
The Wright brothers have been widely celebrated as being capable inventors who were able to take bicycle technology and apply it to their flying machine. This is exhibited on their early airplanes in items like the oversized bicycle chains, which transferred the power of the engine to spin the propellers, the wheel hub used to transport the plane down the track, and the ball bearings in the engine. Even the first airplane engine planned out by the brothers followed their earlier engine designs developed to power the tools in their bicycle shops. This process of developing one invention from another is not an isolated occurrence; other inventions have been brought about through a similar process. Have each student research an invention that has some root in another, existing invention or device. Students should give oral reports to the class on their findings.

This activity could be expanded by having each student think creatively to develop their own invention that utilizes some aspect or aspects of existing inventions or technology. Emphasis should be placed upon an invention which will alleviate some problem in existence today in America involving the transport of goods or people from place to place, or the invention of some form of transportation which is not currently available. Have students create detailed drawings or build a model of their invention and then make a presentation to "sell" the idea to a group of "investors" (the class).

Activity 4: Mentors
Just like Otto Lilienthal, Dr. Samuel Langley, and Octave Chanute, influenced the Wright brothers in their work, we all have people in our community with whom we identify that have either inspired us or provided guidance when most needed. Have students identify several people who have influenced them and choose one on which they would like to write a paper. In their paper they need to include a short biography on that person and explain why that person has had such an important impact on their life.

Activity 5: Inventions and the Community
The Wright Brothers were constantly attempting to invent new things which eventually led to the successful first flight.  Have the students break into small groups and brainstorm:  What invention do they think had the greatest effect on their local community?  Have students research the history of the invention of their choice.  What problem was the inventor attempting to solve?  Has it evolved since its first production? How many attempts did it take to create the final product?  Was the final product the invention the inventor was attempting to create in the beginning?  What was the invention’s influence on the local community?  The national community?  International community?  Have students give oral reports to the class.  As an extension activity, have the class try to discover whether their community or state has any famous inventors or inventions.  If so, what was their effect on the local community?  Have the students come together for a class discussion on important inventions.  Did they come up with different inventions?  Why? 



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