Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum


How Things Fly Online Gallery

In the process of renovating its highly-popular How Things Fly gallery at the Museum in Washington, DC, educators suggested a redesign of the exhibition’s companion website, which had become outdated and did not mirror the gallery’s action-packed atmosphere. Since the physical gallery is dominated by hands-on activities and live demonstrations, their goal was to achieve a similarly engaging online gallery. Advances in technology and online education techniques made this possible.

While geared primarily to middle-school students (grades 5-8), the site frames college-level physics in a way that is engaging for younger audiences while maintaining an authoritative voice that also speaks to adults. Focused on building a step-by-step understanding of the principles of flight such as lift, weight, drag, and thrust, the lessons are supplemented by imagery, short videos, interactive activities, and diagrams.

Among other interactive activities, visitors can create a virtual shockwave, design their own paper airplane, or explore the inner workings of engines. Social media devotees can launch a paper airplane into the world of Facebook or Twitter and watch how far it travels. Visitors can also submit questions to an “Explainer” — high school- and college-age staff who demonstrate scientific principles on-site and via webisodes (online videos).

The redesigned How Things Fly website, sponsored by the Gertrude E. Skelly Charitable Foundation and NASA, was launched in February 2012. More than 120,000 people have visited the online exhibition and more than 280 questions have been submitted to the Ask an Explainer activity.

Visit the How Things Fly online gallery.