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That Thing Will Never Fly

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That Thing Will Never Fly
by Tim Griffin, copyright 2012

Since the days of Deadalus, some people had dreams
That if they tried they could fly like the birds
Always doodling and drawing and designing machines
But then their smarter friends would caution them and offer wiser words
Now the people of Cordoba knew that men would never fly
But Abbas bin Firnas claimed he could
He said he thought the secret was to start real high
And when he built himself a glider out of feathers, silk, and wood

They told him: that thing will never fly!
No, don’t try to do it, you’ll regret it if you try
You’re heading for disaster buddy, mark my words
Did you think that God intended men to fly like birds?
No, no, that thing will never fly!
You want to save a lot of trouble, kiss your dream goodbye
That crazy contraption’s gonna fall down flat
You’d better listen well when people tell you that thing will never fly!

In Berlin, Otto Lilienthal had courage and skill
And he learned from the mistakes of other men
He built a fancy glider and he ran downhill
And when he fell down on his face he got back up and tried again
The people all came walking out to see that crazy thing
And to give young Otto some advice
He listened to them talking while he patched one wing
They said, “Let us warn you clearly son, we’ll try to say it nicely:

Otto, that thing will never fly!
You’d better stop your obsession with the birds in the sky
Now go do something practical, that’s what you should do
Did you think that we would name an “airport” after you?
No, no, that thing will never fly!
You’ll never get it off the ground and if you do you’ll die
So please stop running round with wings like a bat
You’d better listen well when people tell you that thing will never fly!

Two brothers in Ohio read about that glider king
And decided they would like to have a try
They did hundreds of experiments on hundreds of wings
And then they took their work to Kitty Hawk to see if it would fly
They flew through the air and they had a lot fun
With no one to tell them what they couldn’t do
And when they told their friends and neighbors what they’d done
People smiled and then they said what everybody knew was true

They told them: that thing will never fly!
Guess you’ll never get it, Wright, we don’t know why!
Go back to building bicycles, you’re acting like fools
You know we’re satisfied ‘cause we can ride on horses and mules
No, no, that thing will never fly!
We all know it’s true and so should you, they said with a sigh
So unless you want to be the ones we’re laughing at
You’d better listen well when people tell you that thing will never, ever…

That thing will never fly!
While the pilots climbed aboard and waved the crowd goodbye
And as they flew off into history they showed us that
You never listen when the people tell you that thing will never fly.

Print Notes Notes

According to witnesses, the great inventor Abbas bin Firnas (also known as Abbas Quasim ibn Firnas) built for himself a functional pair of wings and successfully flew “faster than a phoenix” circa 880 CE. He was seventy years old at the time. Lacking a tail, his landing was less successful and left him with a severe back injury; he thereafter abandoned his experiments in flight. Firnas also invented a water clock, transparent glass, corrective lenses, a metronome, and an effective method for cutting quartz. Just for fun, he built a working planetarium in his house. All this during Europe’s “dark ages.”

A millennium later, Otto Lilienthal (a.k.a. The Glider King of Berlin) successfully flew various versions of his hang glider more than two thousand times before being fatally injured in a crash in 1896. He conducted detailed studies of birds to develop equations for airspeed and lift. The Wright brothers credited his designs as the basis for their own work in avionics. Oh, and Berlin’s Otto Lilienthal airport now serves more than fifteen million passengers each year.

The Wright brothers started with Lilienthal’s (and others’) designs but made many improvements in lift and control systems, testing their ideas in a home-made wind tunnel. When they finally got it right, they had to fly their amazing new machine again and again before everyone was convinced they weren’t faking it somehow.

Suggestions for the classroom:

Flight is a great way to introduce kids to engineering because the problem is very clear and there are many different ways to approach it. Folding paper airplanes can be a real challenge for young children but it lets you bring some important skills to the table: following multi-step instructions, fine motor coordination, symmetry, measuring, etc. Try using different kinds of paper (printer, notebook, toilet paper, etc.); discuss which works best and why. Graph results of test flights. Experiment with attaching a load (paper clips) to a plane. For kids who are not yet ready to fold their own planes, consider having available some demo planes made by a volunteer from the upper grades. And do keep band-aids handy for paper cuts!

Older kids can research (in print and online), develop, and evaluate designs for greater distance, flight time, stability, stunts, effects of wind (use an indoor fan to control this variable) and so on. If your hallway at school is floored with those ubiquitous 12” square linoleum tiles, you can use them for measuring how far the kids’ designs will fly. Don’t just measure for distance, though: challenge kids to build a plane for longer flight time, or a plane they can land on a desk from ten feet away, or a plane that can fly in a circle, or any other worthy challenge that occurs to you. If you get creative with the challenges you set, your kids will surprise you.

They will want to do this more than once, which is another good thing to know about engineering: you can go back and fiddle with designs to make them better! In fact, most engineers spend far more time improving old designs than inventing new ones. It’s a fine way to spend that last half hour on a Friday, and the kids probably won’t even realize how much they’re learning. Above all, remember that the main difference between engineering and just goofing off with paper planes is that an engineer designs and builds for a specific challenge, records her procedures and results, and considers how to do it better next time. If your kids are not already keeping some kind of science journal, this would be a great place to start; a basic composition book works fine.

Want to try a really worthwhile cross-grade collaboration? Have upper-grade kids teach younger kids (through writing or in-class presentation) how to build a paper plane; you won’t believe how much both groups will learn about the importance of clarity and sequence in descriptive writing and speech.

For printable airplane designs, videos, and templates, I suggest you check out www.funpaperairplanes.com.

Here are some standards from the NGSS, the NRC’s Framework for K-12 Science Instruction, the Common Core, and the state of California addressed by this song and the activities described above:

Kindergarten
K-2-ETS1-1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
ETS1.A. A situation that people want to change or create can be approached as a problem to be solved through engineering. Such problems may have many acceptable solutions.
K-2-ETS1-3. Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.
K-PS2-A. Pushes and pulls can have different strengths and directions. Pushing or pulling on an object can change the speed or direction of its motion and can start or stop it.
K-PS2-1. Simple tests can be designed to gather evidence to support or refute student ideas about causes.
K-PS2-2. Analyze data from tests of an object or tool to determine if it works as intended.
SL.K.3. Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.
K-PS3-2. Use tools and materials provided to design and build a device that solves a specific problem or a solution to a specific problem.
K.MD.A.1. Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight. Describe several measurable attributes of a single object.
K.MD.A.2. Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common, to see which object has “more of”/”less of” the attribute, and describe the difference.
CA.HSS.K.6. Students understand that history relates to events, people, and places of other times.
CA.HSS.K.6.1. Identify the purposes of, and the people and events honored in, commemorative holidays, including the human struggles that were the basis for the events.
CA.HSS.K.6.2. Know the triumphs in American legends and historical accounts through the stories of such people as Pocahontas, George Washington, Booker T. Washington, Daniel Boone, and Benjamin Franklin.

First Grade
K-2-ETS1-1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
K-2-ETS1-3. Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.
1-PS4-1. Simple tests can be designed to gather evidence to support or refute student ideas about causes.
1-PS4-4. Use tools and materials provided to design a device that solves a specific problem.
1-LS1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs. The shape and stability of structures of natural and designed objects are related to their function(s). Every human-made product is designed by applying some knowledge of the natural world and is built using materials derived from the natural world.
W.1.2. Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure.
W.1.7. Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., explore a number of “how-to” books on a given topic and use them to write a sequence of instructions).
MP.4. Model with mathematics.
MP.5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
1.MD.C.4. Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and
how many more or less are in one category than in another.
CA.HSS.1.4: Students compare and contrast everyday life in different times and places around the world and recognize that some aspects of people, places, and things change over time while others stay the same.
CA.HSS.1.4.2: Study transportation methods of earlier days.

Second Grade
K-2-ETS1-1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
K-2-ETS1-3. Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.
2-PS1-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to describe and classify different kinds of materials by their observable properties.
2-PS1-2. Analyze data obtained from testing different materials to determine which materials have the properties that are best suited for an intended purpose. Different properties are suited to different purposes. Every human-made product is designed by applying some knowledge of the natural world and is built using materials derived from the natural world.
2-PS1-4. Scientists search for cause and effect relationships to explain natural events.
MP.4. Model with mathematics.
MP.5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
2.MD.D.10. Draw a picture graph and a bar graph (with single-unit scale) to represent a data set with up to four categories. Solve simple put-together, take-apart, and compare
problems using information presented in a bar graph.
RI.2.3. Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.
W.2.7. Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).
W.2.8. Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
CA.HSS.2.1. Students differentiate between things that happened long ago and things that happened yesterday.
CA.HSS.2.5. Students understand the importance of individual action and character and explain how heroes from long ago and the recent past have made a difference in others’ lives.

Third Grade
3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
3-PS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.
3-PS2-2. Make observations and/or measurements of an object’s motion to provide evidence that a pattern can be used to predict future motion.
3-ESS3-1. Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of a weather-related hazard.
RI.3.3. Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to
time, sequence, and cause/effect.
SL.3.3 Ask and answer questions about information from a speaker, offering appropriate elaboration and detail.
MP.2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
MP.4. Model with mathematics.
MP.5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
W.3.8 Recall information from experiences or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories.

Fourth Grade
3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
MP.2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
MP.4. Model with mathematics.
MP.5. Use appropriate tools strategically.

Fifth Grade
3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
5-PS1-1. Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen.
5-PS2-1. Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.
MP.2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
MP.4. Model with mathematics.
MP.5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
5.MD.A.1 Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving
multi-step, real world problems.
W.5.8. Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished
work, and provide a list of sources.

Middle School
MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
MS-ETS1-3. Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
RST-6-8.3. Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
RST.6-8.7. Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
6.SP.B.4. Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots.
6.SP.B.5. Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context.
MP.2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
MP.4. Model with mathematics.
MP.5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
CA.HSS.7.2.6: Understand the intellectual exchanges among Muslim scholars of Eurasia and Africa and the contributions Muslim scholars made to later civilizations in the areas of science, geography, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, art, and literature.

This song may also be useful for your history lessons, particularly if you are studying Islamic civilization or the scientific revolution.

GUITAR CHORDS: D7, E, G, A7, G7. I play the G7 as a bar chord.