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Can birds help us fly better?

Suitable age range: 11 - 14 yrs

Curriculum topics: Structure and function of living organisms - the skeletal and muscular systems, energy + motion and forces.

Specific workshop information

Planning and preparation

Equipment per student – A4 paper, scissors and rulers.

The instructions to make the gliders can be seen here (PDF) and teacher may wish to create a template for their students.

Session details

  • Discover how studying bird flight could be the solution to more environmentally friendly types of plane. Students will be introduced to some of the researchers involved in analysing the science of how birds fly and will be able to watch footage of some of the lab tests they have conducted to help them answer the big question ‘Would planes be better if they were more like birds?‘
  • Talk - part 1 with lots of videos (15 minutes)
    - amazing flight abilities of birds,
    - future aircraft – manned and unmanned,
    - what is bio-inspiration?,
    - how we found out birds use their tails differently from aircraft.
  • Hands on exercise - Build a paper bird glider (10-15 minutes)
    Each student makes a simple glider which consists of folding and cutting a single sheet of A4 paper – see instruction sheet above.
  • Students will then gently hand launch gliders to see how they fly and make small modifications/adjustments to show how the tail of a bird/aircraft effects its stability (these gliders fly very slowly – they will not fly if thrown like a paper dart).
  • Talk - part 2 with lots more videos (15 minutes)
    - how we found out that birds wings act as a suspension system,
    - live demonstration of suspension system.
  • Summary
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