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published: March 2004
analytic scripts updated:  October 28, 2010

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Museums and the Web 2003 Papers

One Wright Way: From Collections to Classrooms

Karen Elinich, The Franklin Institute Science Museum, USA



What are the right ways for museum educators to connect modern learning environments with historical collections? "One Wright Way: From Collections to Classrooms" suggests practical strategies and methodologies by which museum staff can develop innovative on-line presentations and programs that connect K-12 classrooms with the museum. As a particular case for consideration, The Franklin Institute's Wright Aeronautical Engineering Collection will be featured.

Keywords: teachers, classrooms, on-line access to primary sources


By studying the choices and decisions of the past, students can confront today's problems and choices with a deeper awareness of the alternatives before them and the likely consequences of each.

(National Standards for History, 1996)

In learning science, students need to understand that science reflects its history and is an ongoing, changing enterprise. The standards for the history and nature of science recommend the use of history in school science programs to clarify different aspects of scientific inquiry, the human aspects of science, and the role that science has played in the development of various cultures.

(National Science Education Standards, 1996)

The national call for standards-based education in both history and science has presented an exciting opportunity for museums to develop models that approach the history of science through the examination of primary sources and the use of on-line technology. The history of science exists at the crossroads of human curiosity, the physical world, the natural environment, and social interaction. All great scientific achievements reflect the limitless capacity of human imagination in the context of the contemporary conditions of national life. Students need to recognize science as a vital human pursuit that flows naturally from their innate curiosity and imagination. Through the Web, Museums can provide K-12 classroom teachers with access to resources they need to introduce students to the primary sources that document the history of science. In the process, students will discover their capacity to build upon the diverse heritage and traditions of science as a human pursuit.

Educational research has long supported the value of student access to and use of primary source documents for the study of history. "The Nation's Report Card: U.S. History 2001" (U.S. Department of Education, 2002) underscores the value of primary sources in history education. At all grade levels, teachers indicated the nature of their instructional activities, including the use of primary sources. Students whose teachers reported using primary historical documents once or twice per week had higher scores than those students whose teachers did not.

At the same time, the Internet provides unprecedented access to primary sources for student exploration. The same report indicates that 74% of fourth-graders, 64% of eighth-graders, and 42% of twelfth-graders said that they never or hardly ever used a computer in school to study history. However, when students did indicate that they had used computers for the purpose of historical research or instructional activities, they scored higher than their counterparts. While the report is careful to note that the "relationship between computer use and average U.S. history scores cannot…be interpreted causally," further investigation may find that creative computer use does support student learning in history. Museums can and should use on-line technology as a worldwide gateway for educational access to and exploration of rare primary historical documents.

According to the "The Internet and Education," (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2001), 95% of parents say it is important for children to learn about the Internet in order to be a success later in life. Teachers agree: 96% of teachers say that knowledge and use of the Internet is an essential aspect of communication today. Yet a need exists for standards-driven contextual frameworks in which on-line technology can have the greatest educational impact: "Educators need insight into how to maximize the positive impact of their technology." (Kelley, Ringstaff, 2002) The Franklin Institute has been addressing this need by developing new on-line educational materials that teachers and students can use to make the Internet an essential feature of their education.

In his foreword to "Technology in Industrial America," (McMahon, 1977), Bruce Sinclair of the University of Toronto's Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology writes that

A belief in Yankee ingenuity is so much a part of the national self-image that it would be difficult to say when it first appeared. And yet, while ‘know-how' has often been described in generic terms, the fact is that Americans have devoted a great deal of effort to stimulate and foster technical ability. Indeed, one of the best examples of their inventiveness is the variety of institutions devised over the years.

The Franklin Institute is one of the first of these institutions. Since 1824, when it was founded as "The Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts," the Institute has celebrated and collected the real evidence of American ingenuity and inventiveness.

The Internet has enabled The Franklin Institute to connect its historical collections with classrooms in imaginative new ways. For example, an on-line gallery of K-12 classroom resources suggests ways to use three-dimensional historical artifacts from the Institute's collections to spark student science inquiry. The gallery, known as "Pieces of Science," was developed with support from in-service teachers who provided invaluable perspective. Since its publication in 2001, "Pieces of Science" (http://www.fi.edu/pieces) has received worldwide notice and interest. The benefits of this technology-enabled distribution of primary objects are still being realized. Certainly, the teachers who participated in the development were prime beneficiaries; their experience was an exciting professional development opportunity that generated a new perspective on primary sources and a new interest in using them in their classrooms.

Case Study: One Wright Way

On December 17, 1903, at 10:35AM EST, Orville and Wilbur Wright became the first human beings to achieve sustained, controlled, powered flight. As the Centennial of that event approached and worldwide interest in original Wright artifacts grew, The Franklin Institute recognized a unique opportunity to use the Wright Aeronautical Engineering Collection as a catalyst for new educational technology programs and partnerships.

The Franklin Institute acquired the Wright Aeronautical Engineering Collection in the late 1940s. Orville, who died in 1948, instructed that, upon his death, The Franklin Institute should receive his collection of airfoils and engineering devices because The Franklin Institute was the first scientific organization in the world to give the Wright Brothers credit and rank for their accomplishment. The collection, as described below, includes two- and three-dimensional artifacts.

Dr. Orville Wright deeded to The Franklin Institute in his will and through the Executors of his Estate all of his and his brother's, Wilbur Wright's, original wind tunnel apparatus, model airfoils, test data and drawings of their early airplanes. The collection also includes airfoil models tested at McCook Field during 1910, 1920, and 1921 as well as some of Orville Wright's experimental aviation devices with which he worked during his lifetime. These include a shaper and cutters to prepare wax airfoil models, a special scale, smoke apparatus for wind tunnel use, a bank indicator, an incidence indicator, automatic control devices for wind tunnel and airplane control, an automatic landing device and a cipher machine.

Among the original drawings the collection includes those of the first successful airplane—the 1903 biplane, and the 1904, 1905, 1907, and 1910 biplanes. Engine drawings include the 1910 motor and prints of the 1903 motor.

In addition to the intrinsic and irreplaceable value of the many items in the collection there exists within them a record of the logical, step-by-step program of engineering research and development by which the Wright Brothers enabled themselves to achieve success in flying their first powered airplane. Therein lies a record of their systematic wind tunnel tests conducted to give them reliable lift, drag, and L/D values to enable them to engineer the design of the first successful airplane. Test results were collaborated by building and test-flying gliders to determine the scale effects from wind tunnel data to full scale wings. It is no little wonder that by such scientific methods two men, then known better for their printing, publishing, and bicycle activities, were first to conquer the art of flight with a heavier than air machine. Journal of The Franklin Institute, August, 1951.

The Wright Collection seemed to have the perfect formula for educational technology success. Within the collection are primary source materials that tell an inspirational, standards-aligned story of human accomplishment. And national interest in the Centennial of Flight meant that the idea might attract grant funding. In fact, grant funding did materialize. The National Business Aviation Association supported the "Wright Again" program, and the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, through the Federal Aviation Administration, supported the "2003 Flight Forecast" program.

Wright Again

Fig. 1: The Home Page of "Wright Again." http://www.wrightagain.com

The "Wright Again" project enabled engineers from Cislunar Aerospace, an aerodynamic engineering firm located in San Francisco, to work with the Institute's educational technologists to develop an on-line educational resource (http://www.wrightagain.com) inspired by the Wright Aeronautical Engineering Collection. By illustrating how the Wrights' well-known scientific achievements developed over time, "Wright Again" provides teachers with resources to help students increase their knowledge, understanding, and capacity to reflect on the history of scientific achievement as a human pursuit. Students need to understand that the Wright Brothers did not wake up one day with a vision for the design of the 1903 Flyer. Their process began years earlier and included several unsuccessful designs. The project extrapolated an engineering timeline from the Wrights' personal journals. The journal entries, as authentic primary sources, offer an unrivaled accounting of the real process of scientific investigation that lifted humanity to its 20th Century heights.

The first documented evidence of Wilbur Wright's aviation intentions is from 1899. "Wright Again" began in 1999 so the project could follow a timeline that mirrored the Wright documentation to the date. For example, on October 8, 1902, Wilbur and Orville were in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, testing their gliders. On October 8, 2002, students were challenged to construct their own model glider and to test its performance to see if they could replicate the Wrights' data. All of the activities are considered in the context of the National Science Education Standards so that teachers can readily identify the pathways from the Collection to the classroom. There are over two hundred timeline entries drawn from the Wright journals.

Fig. 2: An image of an artifact from the Wright Aeronautical Engineering Collection is presented for consideration as part of a classroom activity.

Throughout the "Wright Again" Web site, artifacts from the Collection are presented in concert with classroom activities that present the same physical concepts. Fundamentally, the artifacts from the Wright Collection represent a portrait of the engineering process, like keys that unlocked the physical science of powered flight.

2003 Flight Forecast

Fig. 3: The Home Page of "2003 Flight Forecast." http://www.centennialofflight.gov/2003FF/

On December 17, 1903, conditions were right for flight on Kill Devil Hills. As December 17, 2003, approached and plans were underway for a celebratory re-creation, would the weather and atmospheric conditions be favorable? This question sparked the development of the "2003 Flight Forecast" educational program Web site and national competition.

The Franklin Institute developed the Web site that included student activities, a program registration application, and the forecast submission system. The educational activities were presented in the historical context of the Wright Aeronautical Engineering Collection and the narrative timeline of the Wright Flyer development. The Web site's resources were informal learning resources, but were presented in the context of the National Science Education Standards. The entire program was organized around three grade groupings: K–5, 6-8, and 9-12.

The educational activities provided the background information that students needed to make their own forecasts. As a celebratory feature, the Web site included a national competition to determine the most accurate student forecast for the weather on December 17, 2003, at the Memorial site in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. The complexity of the forecast varied according to the grade level grouping. Winners were determined within each grade level grouping.

The "2003 Flight Forecast" Web site activities were developed around an exploration of the Wright Collection and historical weather data from the Outer Banks, North Carolina area. Multiple data sources exist, each offering different glimpses of the weather over the years. Students were encouraged to study the trends over the past ten years as the primary basis for formulating their predictions.

Teacher participation in the program was invited via The Franklin Institute On-line and the Centennial of Flight Commission Web sites, encouraging the registration of teachers who wanted to participate in the forecasting competition. All resources were available freely for use by any interested learners. Registration was required only as a mechanism for managing the forecasting competition. If teachers preferred not to include the competitive element, they could still make good educational use of the content and activities. Registration was limited to the United States. In total, 460 teachers registered, representing 25,000 students in grades K-12. Their schools were located in forty-seven states, plus the District of Columbia. Three teachers in the US Department of Defense Agency's school system also participated from their schools on military bases in England, Germany, and Japan.

To encourage repeat visitation, a new "Daily Detail" was placed on the site on every school day. The "Daily Details" were a mix of brief information nuggets related either to the Wright Brothers or to meteorology.

The competitive forecast submission process took place between November 3 and November 17. Today's professional weather forecasting services are routinely publishing twenty-one day extended weather forecasts which are available freely on-line. In order to maintain the integrity of the competition, and to make sure the forecasts were amateur, the forecast submission phase needed to close on November 17.

Between November 18 and December 17, staff selected a sampling of the variety of submitted forecasts, showcasing them daily. This activity encouraged students to return to the site every day to see if their forecast had been showcased and to compare predictions.

On December 17, the most accurate forecasts were determined by comparing the predictions to the actual recorded conditions. The winning student forecasts were remarkably precise. Within each grade grouping, one forecast was selected as the "grand prize." The next three most accurate were selected as "first prize" winners. The next seven forecasts received "second prize" status, for a total of the top eleven forecasts in each grade grouping receiving recognition.

Amazingly, the geographic distribution of schools with winning students ranged from Germany to Hawaii, with fourteen states in between. The Franklin Institute's capacity to manage a national, competitive, educational program like "2003 Flight Forecast" exists only because of its on-line presence.

After December 17, the Web site resources were packaged so that the ideas and activities continue to have value for classroom use. The Web pages were adjusted to reflect that the competition happened in the past, but the resources are timeless, and teachers can continue to engage students with the practice of weather forecasting, particularly for December 17th each year.


The on-line resources created around the Wright Aeronautical Engineering Collection have a lasting value that extends beyond the interest in the Centennial of Flight. The connections between the collection, the classroom, and the national standards make these resources evergreen. Perhaps more important, the programmatic models developed around the Wright Collection can now be used to inform future efforts. For example, January 17, 2006, marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin. In anticipation of that event, efforts are already underway to begin bringing Franklin-related artifacts to the Web for use in classrooms around the world and to seek grant funding from interested sources. The Wright program models are proving to be quite useful to the effort. As Benjamin Franklin might say, a program model saved is a program model earned.


Unisys Corporation deserves special acknowledgement for their generous support of The Franklin Institute Online and of the Institute's educational technology programs. As The Franklin Institute's Corporate Partner, Unisys has championed the educational application of technology resources. Special thanks to Carol A. Parssinen, Senior Vice-President at The Franklin Institute for the Center for Innovation in Science Learning. Thanks also to staff members who make these projects succeed: John Alviti, Barbara Holberg, Margaret Ennis, and Jay Treat.

Special thanks to the teachers who continue to take an educational leap of faith with us. Currently, the courageous volunteers are: Paulette Dukerich in Texas, Terry Hongell in New York, Steve Hughes in Pennsylvania, Patricia Knox in Ohio, Janice MacKinnon in DC, Stephanie Stevenson in Florida, Carla Schutte in Florida, and Ken Wester in Mississippi.


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