Air & Aerodynamics: Flight of the Golden Eagles

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* The Path Less Taken offers a Golden Eagle Interpretive Guided Outdoor Experience for the Eco-Minded Educator. If you are in the Calgary area and would like to find out more please email or check out

25% from this purchase will be donated to the Rocky Mountain Golden Eagle Research Foundation**

Overall Objective:

Through the lens of the bi-annual Rocky Mountain Golden Eagle migration, students will explore the characteristics of air and the interaction between moving air and flying objects. They will learn that air is composed of many gases and that moving air can support solid materials in sustained flight. By studying Golden Eagles, students will consider the variety of avian adaptations and designs that make flight possible.

Introduction: The Golden Eagle Migration

An 11,000 year old migration happens bi-annually in the Albertan front ranges during the spring and fall. Each year hundreds of Golden Eagles follow the spine of the Rockies between their winter and summer habitats. To learn about this event, students will use a “KWL”chart and a Golden Eagle Travel Brochure to introduce them to this amazing migration.

Question of Inquiry: Golden Eagles use the Albertan airways as their migratory highway. What are the properties of air and how can we better understand this element that these magnificent birds travel through?

PART I: Properties of Air Explorations

Property 1: Air is made of gases

Students will learn about the three States of Matter and the different types of gases found in our atmosphere. They will also observe or participate in a mini-lab that looks at the presence of oxygen in our air.

Property 2: Air is Affected by Temperature

Air as a fluid reacts to changes in temperature. Golden Eagles use thermals created by these reactive properties to help soar and travel with ease. Students will observe a mini-lab that shows the effect of warm air. They will also learn why thermals make the Kananaskis Mount Lorette Viewing site worthwhile for raptor counting.

Property 3: Air Exerts Pressure

What part of the atmosphere does an Eagle migrate through? How does air pressure change as an Eagle changes elevation? Students will explore the idea of pressure through a mini-lab activity.

Property 4: Air has Weight

Not only does an air molecule exert pressure but it also has weight. When an object has weight it is subject to gravitational pull. Students will observe a mini-lab that shows this concept. Newton’s Third Law is introduced and the Four Forces of Flight.

PART II: Achieving Flight

Question of Inquiry: Now that we have a better understanding of air how does a Golden Eagle become airborne and achieve flight?

The Four Forces of Flight

Students will understand that for a bird or an airplane to achieve flight, they must have the ability to overcome their weight and gravity to achieve lift. They also must have propulsion or thrust forward to overcome drag. When this is achieved so is flight.

Achieving Lift

Flight occurs when there is enough lift to overcome gravity and thrust to overcome drag. Seems simple enough, right? Achieving “Lift” is harder than it looks! Students will be introduced to the Bernoulli Principle, the Airfoil design and Angle of Attack. This will be important information that they can use in the next segment . . .

PART III: Innovation & Wing Design Challenge

Question of Inquiry: Using your knowledge of air and aerodynamics, can you design and build a wing that would allow a Golden Eagle to fly its bi-annual migration route? 

This portion of the inquiry will encourage students to have an “Innovators Mindset” as they explore the Design Process. Here is a synopsis of the process the students will be working through . . .

Step 1: Defining the Problem

Can you build a wing that would allow a Golden Eagle to fly and carry out its bi-annual migration route?

Step 2: Collecting Information

Students will be provided with five informational posters that will help them better understand the Golden Eagle and avian adaptations for flight. The five posters cover Eagle behaviour, wing design, bone and feather structure. Students can use this knowledge to inform their wing design.

Step 3: Brainstorming Ideas

Students have four boxes to brainstorm different wing design ideas. They can show their ideas through sketches, explanations, or key words. Providing only a couple of minutes for this process will help to keep this task focused.

Step 4: Building a Model

Students will pick one of their brainstormed ideas and use the materials provided to build a model. Providing recycled materials for this task is cheap, easy and environmentally friendly. You may also want to gather straws, string, tape, glue, feathers and popsicle sticks for this activity.

Step 5: Peer Feedback

Students will present their model and ideas to another person or group for feedback. Feedback should include a positive (something you liked) about the model and then a question about the design.

Step 6: Defining the Problem

Peer feedback may have identified a new problem or a question that needs to be addressed with a design. Does the design process need to cycled through again to address the need or problem? Or do students feel that their creation would be suitable for a Golden Eagle to make the 5,000 km journey?

Summative: Show What You Know

Using the Properties of Air, Forces of Flight, and animal adaptations, students will describe how their wing design would achieve flight for a Golden Eagle. Students may choose the mode in which they present this knowledge (written word, slide show, video, etc.) however they must include concepts and vocabulary from a list of criteria.

Formative: Design Challenge Self-Reflection

As the design process draws to an end students can reflect back on the design challenge using the scientific attitudes outlined in the Alberta Education curriculum. They will choose one characteristic they felt they exhibited, explaining what that looked like. They will also identify one characteristic that they would like to improve upon.

Curricular Extensions

Students will use their journalistic skills to identify the 5W’s and an expert quote in an article that explains how the seasonal Eagle count came to be. Through this article they will also explore what it means to be a citizen scientist. Lastly students will analyze a snapshot of data collected from the Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation Spring 2019 Eagle Count, making connections to data management in Math

Total Pages
47 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
3 Weeks
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