Lesson Plan for "Reconstructing History: The Wright Brothers' First Flight"
In this lesson, your students will learn how historians reconstruct historical events. Your students will have an opportunity to examine and interpret primary and secondary source documents about the Wright brothers. Using these documents and working in groups, your students will write a historical narrative. Students will then apply the skills they learned from analyzing primary and secondary source documents to evaluating the reliability of websites.
In this activity your students will:
1. Evaluate Evidence-primary and secondary source documents-used by historians to reconstruct the history of the Wright brothers' historic flight.
2. Be a historian-Students will take the role of historian and use the evidence they've examined to construct a history of the Wright brothers' historic flights.
3. Compare Your Historical Narratives with Others in Your Class. Using the same facts, did your students come up with different narratives?
4. Evaluate Wright Websites for reliability.
Activity Grade Level: 8-12
National Educational Standards Addressed by This Activity
(From: National Center for History in the Schools, National Standards for History, Historical Thinking Standards, grades 5-12)
1. Evaluate Evidence-primary and secondary source documents
Students will examine online historical documents(primary and secondary sources). They will evaluate each piece of evidence for content, bias, and reliability. Students will complete an Evidence Evaluation Worksheet (PDF) for each document.
Guiding Your Students
Students will need guidance in distinguishing primary from secondary source material. These are the definitions of primary and secondary sources used by the Smithsonian Archives:
Primary sources are documents or objects created as part of daily life-birth certificates, photographs, diaries, letters, etc.-or reports from people directly involved in the subject.
Secondary sources are documents that interpret, analyze, or synthesize information, usually produced by someone not directly involved in the subject.
In reviewing the nine documents students will
Time and Place Rule
The closer in time and place a source and its creator were to an event in the past, the better the source will be. Based on this rule, better primary sources (starting with the most reliable) might include:
Every source is biased in some way. Documents tell us only what the creator of the document thought happened, or perhaps what the creator wants us to think happened. As a result:
2. Be a Historian
Working in groups, students will use the source documents and their Evidence Evaluation Worksheets to write a historical narrative of the Wright brothers' first flights at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903.
Guiding Your Students
Group members may have found factual differences in the source material (for example, the length of time of the Wrights' longest flight). Point out that professional historians also grapple with differences in "facts." When they find discrepancies, they look for other sources to validate disputed facts. But ultimately, they may never resolve these differences. For example, we may never know whether the Wrights' longest flight on December 17th was 57 seconds (Orville Wrights' telegram) or 59 seconds (his diary).
3. Compare Your Historical Narrative with Others in Your Class
Have each group share their history with the entire class. How did the narratives compare? Even if all of the groups used the same facts to create their historic narrative, their stories may still be different. Groups may have come to different conclusions about the reliability of different evidence. Or they may choose a particular point of view in telling their story (The Wrights' or a neutral observer, such as Daniels).
Historians bring their own bias and point of view to their evaluation of historical documents. That's why secondary source accounts of events-such as the Wright brother's first flight-may differ, and why dozens of books about the Wright brothers have been written.
4. Evaluating Wright Websites
Primary and secondary source documents are the building blocks historians used to reconstruct the history of the Wright brothers. But students more commonly get their information from the web. Literally hundreds of websites contain information about the Wright brothers. How can your students tell which sites are credible?
To guide your students in critically evaluating websites, your class will develop a Website Evaluation Worksheet, similar to the Evidence Evaluation Worksheet. Then, your class will use that worksheet to evaluate three Wright brothers-related websites.
To begin the process of developing a Website Evaluation Worksheet, ask your students: What have you learned from evaluating primary and secondary source material that is useful in evaluating websites?
Your students' responses may include:
These websites provide additional guidance on evaluating websites:
1. Heritage Collectors' Society
2. Franklin Institute
3. The Wright Experience
4. The Wright Brothers and The Invention of the Aerial Age
Which website did your students find most credible? Which was the least credible? Why? How would you go about "fact checking" a website where you questioned the credibility?
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