The purpose of this report is to present a proposal on how kites could be used within the classroom as an educational resource.I will argue that kites allow a range of subject matter to be covered in an integrated manner, rather than as discrete, separate bodies of knowledge, in a manner that is consistent with the constructivist model of science education.
Projects using kites could be undertaken which would require students to develop problem-solving skills, based upon the knowledge they already have, as well as the knowledge they would acquire during the course of their studies.
This could be seen as a synthesis of several subjects, with knowledge acquired about one subject leading to further knowledge in other subjects.
This report will be divided into four chapters.
The remaining portion of this chapter will discuss a rationale for using kites in the classroom, and will also explain my philosophical position.
Chapter two presents an historical introduction on the use of the kite as a tool, and will discuss the evolution of the kite as a technology that has not only been used in attempts to further our knowledge of the physical world but has also acted as a stimulus for further research.
The third chapter is intended for use by teachers in senior Primary grades and junior Secondary classes. It will deal with how kites could be incorporated in a number of subjects, with examples of work that could be undertaken in each subject.
This chapter will also give an example of a kite project based on constructivist principles.
This chapter will include material intended to explain to teachers the constructivist model of the learning process.
The fourth chapter consists of a kit to be used by teachers and students, putting into practice the suggestions given in the third chapter. It includes a comprehensive history of kites, giving teachers and students sufficient information to be reasonably informed when discussing possible contemporary uses of kites.
Also included are a number of reproducible sheets, giving concrete ways of using kites in classrooms, and a list of resources. This section contains a number of plans for kites and instructions on how to construct these kites.
There are also suggestions on projects involving kites that the students and teachers may care to consider undertaking. A short video on how to make the kites in the plans has been included in order to further explain the intricacies of making these kites.
The proposal to use kites in the curriculum is based on some of my views about both how we learn, and how science should be taught.
I see science as much more than a collection of facts and formulae, and I feel that students need to learn about scientific principles in a manner that allows them to review and refine their view of the world as they are exposed to new experiences.
White (1988) suggests that science texts that teach “facts” establish a way of viewing the world where the student does not have to make any contribution to the process, and that teaching science is frequently seen as a process of simply giving students the appropriate knowledge.
Yet learning should not be simply about assimilating the information the teacher wishes the student to know. It is more than just the transmission of knowledge. It should also be about the student constructing a view of the mechanics of the world.
He states that in current educational practice there is often little thought given to the perceptions the student already has, and how these perceptions may affect the interpretation of the facts being presented.
These perceptions can be deeply rooted in students’ interpretation of previous experiences and may be very difficult to dispel. He cites examples of students still exhibiting an Aristotelian view (such as velocity being proportional to force) even after intensive workshops aimed at teaching a Newtonian understanding of the world.
All people construct their own view of the world, based upon their experiences, and their hypotheses about what happens to cause the effects they observe.
This view can be influenced by information received from other people, especially teachers, but frequently this new knowledge does not replace the previous view. It is simply grafted onto the top of their existing beliefs, even if these views are in discord with one another.
As an example of this, White (1988) cites medical students who had learned about natural selection but seemed to believe that the skin color of a family would change in a few generations if they moved to a different climate.
Knowledge and beliefs based upon suntanning made it difficult to remove their previous misconceptions.
In teaching, we need to have a very clear idea of what the students know and believe, before we start imparting any new knowledge. If the students are the ones asking the questions, they can be encouraged to understand the processes involved, rather than simply accept them.
The questions that students ask also indicate the beliefs they hold, which further aids our attempts to determine the best methods of teaching a topic. Using kites as a science project gives the teacher a very good opportunity to explore what conceptions students hold about the atmosphere, and the forces at work in it.
White advocates using science projects that have practical applications as a way of linking science and intellectual skills with the student’s real world, and he gives as examples problems such as designing door bells for the deaf, measuring the strength of glues, and building a device that determines how full a hot saucepan is for someone who is blind.
The model of learning in science suggested by Appleton (1990), based on constructivist ideas about learning, and using Piaget’s terms of assimilation, accommodation, equilibrium and disequilibrium, could serve as a basis for introducing kites into the science curriculum.
They could be used as a tool that has practical use in the “real world”, which could lead towards a more complete understanding of the scientific principles involved. In this model, the teacher must identify the ideas already held by the students, and then develop situations that challenge the validity of these preconceptions so that the students need to propose new hypotheses that explain the disequilibrium between their current beliefs and these new experiences.
These hypotheses should then be tested for their validity, and further modified if necessary. Appleton recommends that once a new idea has been accommodated, opportunities should be provided to use this new-found knowledge, preferably in a problem-solving situation, addressing issues that are real to students and their world, as a way of emphasizing this new information.
His model seems very similar to the steps in a design process and is a very good way of describing the steps that students might follow when undertaking a kite design project.
That science should be taught in schools is rarely questioned, but a justification for teaching any subject is needed, and as society changes, this justification needs to be reexamined and the curriculum adjusted to suit changing needs.
In 1979 the Association for Science Education in Great Britain published a consultative document entitled Alternatives for Science Education, with the intention of presenting the various options open to science teachers, and offering a justification for the teaching of science in primary and secondary schools.
In it they stated that;
In short, the primary justification, and therefore purpose, of science education is to foster and develop, as part of the general education of the individual, a scientific way of thinking, a basic knowledge of scientific ideas and an ability to communicate with others…
Therefore a good science education should seek to develop a range of intellectual skills and cognitive patterns that would help youngsters growing up in, and integrating with, a society that is heavily dependent on scientific and technological knowledge and its utilization.
Finally it can be argued that science studies that include the history, philosophy and social studies of science provide opportunities for explaining, and therefore understanding, the nature of advanced technological societies, the complex interaction between science and society, and the contribution science makes to our cultural heritage. (A.S.E, 1979, pp. 37-38)
Technology versus Science
Although the educational aims espoused in the A.S.E. report are laudable, it appears that technology is considered to be a subordinate part of science. It implies that all technology is science, yet in the main, technologies rely very little on new scientific thought.
There are many examples of technologies that make little, if any, use of science. If the word “technology” were substituted for “science” in the A.S.E. statement, we would have a very good argument for the inclusion of technological studies in the curriculum.
For a number of years there has been a growing awareness that students and teachers have a poor understanding of what it is that constitutes “science” and “technology”. Many people confuse the two, and this spills over into how we approach science in the classroom.
Historically, it is common to describe scientific progress in terms of physical advances, such as the development of the aeroplane or the steam engine. But these are not so much scientific breakthroughs as advances in a particular technology.
Science is concerned with concepts and with our perception of the universe. New technology is most frequently based upon existing technologies, with innovation based upon a perceived practical need, or a process that can be made more efficient, in order to produce particular goods or services.
The development of a new technological device can lead to new ways of seeing the world, and whilst it is this alteration of perception that can cause advances in science, this is not necessarily the intent of the developers of that tool. Technology is not concerned with science per se.
It is concerned with efficiency and perceived need, with doing a set task better than it has been performed before. That it might alter our perception of the universe is not of primary consideration (Grove, 1989).
An example of this is the public clock, placed in and on town halls and other buildings throughout Europe.
In the fourteenth century the development of the weight driven clock changed a number of our perceptions about the universe. Until this time, it was common for daylight and darkness to each be divided into the same number of hours, regardless of the season.
This meant that in the summer, the individual daylight hours were much longer than the individual hours of darkness. Time had been regarded as an arbitrary device, a convenience rather than an absolute concept.
With the development of the public clock, with fixed, regular hours, and later, minutes and seconds, the perception of time changed. Its rate of passage was now perceived as being constant. The universe was considered to be a gigantic mechanism, of which the clockwork mechanism was but a metaphor.
Philosophers and scientists such as Nicholas Oresmes, Bishop of Lisieux, saw the universe as a giant clock set running by the hand of God.
The movement of the planets and the moon could be explained in a mechanistic way as if they were parts in a giant machine (Ihde, 1991). Technology is not primarily concerned with scientific ends.
Though an advance in technology can lead to an immediate revision in scientific understanding, this is not necessarily always the case. Technology is teleological in nature; that is, the designer has a particular purpose in mind whilst developing the technology.
Barbed wire, developed to replace the thorn bush as a method of fencing cattle pastures, was designed to imitate nature, not to further our understanding of it. The terracing of sloping land, in order to use it for farming, was not of any immediate scientific benefit, though of enormous social consequence.
This improvement in farming practice was concerned with efficiency, and with producing more food from the same area. It was a way of improving the lifestyle of the farmers, and perhaps allowing more people to be supported in a particular region. Over a long period of time, technological advances can force further alterations to other technologies, and eventually lead to new scientific knowledge.
Terracing led to the need for better irrigation techniques, and because of improvements in irrigation there was a further need to combat erosion and salinity problems, which led to the beginnings of studies now labeled “earth sciences”, which is not a pure science at all, but a body of knowledge very much concerned with practicalities.
Science is most concerned with concepts, and not with how these concepts are applied. Technology, on the other hand, is very much concerned with the application of knowledge and innovation and could be said to be design-oriented.
A technologist looks for a solution to a particular problem, not necessarily based on the best or latest theories, but simply for an effective way of meeting a perceived need. Bunge points out that we do not need the modern refinements that have been made to optics theory in order to construct optical telescopes or microscopes; the theories developed in the sixteenth century are more than adequate (in Gardner, 1992).
NASA planetary scientist, Alan Binder reports that a replica he built of a seventeenth-century telescope, using the techniques and theoretical knowledge of that era, performs much better than he had expected, and is quite comparable to instruments available to amateur astronomers today (Binder, 1992).
Technological progress is not measured in terms of new knowledge, but rather in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. J. W. Grove claims that:
Technology…is in no way inferior to science in ingenuity, creativity, or intellectual challenge; but in science these qualities are directed towards a deeper understanding of the nature of things, whereas in technology they are directed towards turning known facts to positive advantage (Grove, 1989).
We can use a technology as a tool, or an instrument, in order to find out more about the physical world. The development of a better tool is not a scientific breakthrough, though it may well be instrumental in the discovery being made. We need to leave behind the view that technology is science in order not to pass this idea on to our students.
Gardner argues that the view that technology is nothing more than applied science has a number of consequences.
Firstly, whilst technology is regarded as subordinate to science, instead of being a study in its own right, science will be regarded as a more valuable area of study (Grove suggests that this view is based upon the historical origins of technology in the crafts, rather than in the sciences).
Secondly, students not wishing to pursue technological studies will have a distorted view of technology and science. He also claims that the students who pursue further studies in technological fields such as engineering because of academic excellence in mathematics and science are not necessarily predisposed to becoming good technologists, because of their distorted view of the combined and separate ends of science and technology (Gardner, 1992).
We need to teach students about technology, and how to intelligently make use of it. Students should know that a technology is a tool to be used, not regarded as a scientific achievement in its own right. Rather than teaching it as science, a separate subject such as technology studies could be used to show how advances in technology have shaped the way we look at the world.
This would lend itself much more to historical, sociological, and engineering disciplines than to science, and could go some distance towards addressing the concerns raised by Gardner, because the relationship between science and technology could perhaps be more faithfully portrayed in this context.
Most people think of kites as toys, and as such, quite trivial. They are nonetheless a well developed technology. “Toys” have frequently played major roles in the further development of a technology and our understanding of the world.
A toy was eventually developed into the helicopter, and a toy that flew by flapping its wings prompted the Wright brothers to investigate the possibility of powered flight. The history of kites can be used as an example of how improvements in technology led to changes in how we viewed the world, and our theories about how it works.
The new theories can in turn lead to further improvements in that technology. The “science” of aeronautics was at first purely empirical. Without the actual experiences of kite fliers and early aeroplane designers, the first tentative aeronautical theories could not have been put forward.
It is important to note that with kites and early aircraft the improvements in technology led to theories of aeronautics, which were then tested, still using empirical methods. Rather than a science, aeronautics was a practical enterprise, with improvements being made on a “trial and error” basis.
The Wright brothers found that much of the body of knowledge that had been previously amassed was either incorrect or misleading, and eventually had to go back to basics and develop their own tables of pressures in order to determine the best shape for the wings of their aircraft.
In order to do this, the Wrights set up wind tunnels and experimented with models of wings, with and without curved surfaces, and varying in thickness from one quarter to one eighth of the span of the wing.
This practical experimentation allowed them to discover a wealth of information about aspect ratios (the relation between the span of a wing and its thickness) and the camber (amount of curvature) of wings, and how both affect the amount of lift developed by a wing of a given surface area (Wright, 1953).
The improvements being made to the technology made necessary frequent revision of the theories they were developing. This illustrates Ihde’s argument that technological capability leads to scientific conceptualization.
Historically, it is common for the technology to come first, and then science explains the how and why. Our understanding of thermodynamics owes much to technologies such as steam engines and the casting of cannon.
Techniques for dealing with excess heat, and for preventing flaws when casting large pieces of metal were developed long before we had formulated the laws of thermodynamics. It has been asserted that technology is the tool of the scientist, and as such is subordinate to science, but in a hierarchy of knowledge technology surely takes precedence over science, for without the technology, progress in science is minimal.
Ihde argues that the instrumentation we use predisposes us to making certain discoveries; not only does a developing technology sometimes lead to “new” science, it also tends to determine the sort of discoveries we can make (Ihde, 1991). A philosophy of science that asks what do we know, and how do we know it? must take into account that the “how” depends upon the instrumentation we use.
We “know” about microscopic life because of microscopes. Perhaps a better question to ask would be “what are we able to do with the technology available, and what does this imply for our understanding of scientific theory?” The tools we use shape the way we see the world.
Advances in technology are based more upon previous technologies than upon new scientific thought. More often, the technological advance leads to a revision or refinement of our scientific knowledge.
Students can also learn more about their world by using the technology available to them. Gardner (1990, p 130) states that when teaching about technology, we need to emphasize the process the designer goes through in order to arrive at a particular solution.
Learners can be helped to understand the process of technological development, through direct involvement, or vicariously…the emphasis is upon confronting problems, upon using whatever resources are available to attain an adequate solution. Scientific knowledge may be important, but it does not have privileged status: any knowledge, any skill or resource is relevant if it contributes to a solution of the problem at hand.
The purpose of the study of kites is not to teach students simply how to make a kite that flies, but rather to enable the student to synthesize knowledge from a number of subjects. There are a number of matters that must be given consideration when building a kite; it is not simply a matter of tying two sticks to a cover and adding a tail.
There is the question of the design of the kite; what sort of wind is the kite expected to fly in, and what sort of weight is it going to have to lift? How high is the kite to fly? What sorts of materials are to be used? How durable should it be? Will constructing the kite require any special skills?
For example, if a kite is to be made with a nylon sail, it is necessary to be able to use a sewing machine, whilst if the frame is to be made of bamboo then a good deal of time would need to be allocated to gaining the skills required to splitting and shaping bamboo.
The research and development work that would go into producing a single kite that met a particular set of design parameters is quite a large and complex task, and could take a considerable amount of time.
This task is central to my argument, as it is the synthesis of knowledge and skills from several disciplines that I wish to encourage. Inviting students to draw on information from several subjects may encourage them to see relationships between what are normally regarded as separate bodies of knowledge.
I feel that it is important for students to gain experience in making use of knowledge from several disciplines in pursuit of a solution to one task. Whilst there are distinct bodies of knowledge such as history, physics, and music, which are frequently taught as such in classrooms, when students enter the world at large they are required to make use of not just one body of knowledge at a time, but several.
There are very few jobs for pure mathematicians or historians. Most people exist in a world where they will be required to draw upon knowledge from several disciplines.
By creating situations where students find it necessary to develop and use problem solving skills in order to find a solution to a particular problem, we are requiring them to make use of the knowledge they already have, in different ways, to form links between aspects of that knowledge that they may have not been aware of before.
This flexibility is what Edward de Bono calls operacy, the ability to assess, make decisions, take initiatives, develop priorities, and solve problems (de Bono, 1990).