The Legendary Raptors


The envy of many pilots, raptors have unparalled maneuverability and acute senses. In this activity students will create and fine tune an aircraft that will compete to fly the fastest and farthest, glide the longest or be the most maneuverable. Students will also create a fictional writing piece that tells a legend or myth of a raptor.

Grade level: Grades 9 – 12

Subject areas: Science, Language Arts

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to do the following:

  • use experimentation to create an aircraft
  • write a technical news report
  • relate Newton’s laws of motion to flight
  • read and interpret a Greek myth
  • create a myth/legend


Bookmark the following sites:

The Peregrine Fund: World Center for Birds of Prey

This website contains a wealth of information relating to raptors.

Raptor Information System

Raptor Information System (RIS) is a keyworded catalog of over 33,000 references about the biology and management of birds of prey. It includes books, articles, theses, government reports, and other gray literature regarding raptors worldwide.

The Raptor Center

The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine specializes in the medical care, rehabilitation, conservation, and study of eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons

US Dept of Interior: Bureau of Land Management

Raptor Force Web site
The online companion to the NATURE’s Raptor Force


Level III [Grade 9-12]

Language Arts


Standard 1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

5. Uses strategies to address writing to different audiences (e.g., includes explanations and definitions according to the audience’s background, age, or knowledge of the topic, adjusts formality of style, considers interests of potential readers)

6. Uses strategies to adapt writing for different purposes (e.g., to explain, inform, analyze, entertain, reflect, persuade)

7. Writes expository compositions (e.g., synthesizes and organizes information from first- and second-hand sources, including books, magazines, computer data banks, and the community; uses a variety of techniques to develop the main idea [names, describes, or differentiates parts; compares or contrasts; examines the history of a subject; cites an anecdote to provide an example; illustrates through a scenario; provides interesting facts about the subject]; distinguishes relative importance of facts, data, and ideas; uses appropriate technical terms and notations)

Nature of Science

Standard 12. Understands the nature of scientific inquiry

Benchmark 4. Uses technology (e.g., hand tools, measuring instruments, calculators, computers) and mathematics (e.g., measurement, formulas, charts, graphs) to perform accurate scientific investigations and communications

Benchmark 6. Knows that scientists conduct investigations for a variety of reasons (e.g., to discover new aspects of the natural world, to explain recently observed phenomena, to test the conclusions of prior investigations, to test the predictions of current theories)

Physical Science

Standard 10. Understands forces and motion

Benchmark 8. Knows that laws of motion can be used to determine the effects of forces on the motion of objects (e.g., objects change their motion only when a net force is applied; whenever one object exerts force on another, a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction is exerted on the first object; the magnitude of the change in motion can be calculated using the relationship F=ma, which is independent of the nature of the force)


Introductory Activity: Comparisons

Time for completion: Fifteen minutes for initial discussion. Twenty to thirty minutes for watching Raptor Force

The purpose of this activity is to activate background information about raptors and show students how raptors have helped to create a blueprint for aircraft manufacturers.

Show two pictures, one of an airplane and another of a raptor in flight. You may use the photographs on the PBS Nature website for examples.

Ask students to create a list of similarities between the bird and the airplane. Students should explain the purpose of the different parts of the bird, and find the corresponding part on the airplane.

Ask students to think about what traits raptors have that are desirable to pilots (e.g., speed, quietness, sight).

Discuss how each of these traits is important to the raptor. Then discuss how copying these traits may be helpful to aircraft designers.

Create a class list of these traits on the board or overhead projector.

Watch the following sections of the “Raptor Force” program: 0:00 to 2:36, 6:09 to 10:12, 17:41 to 24:54, and 28:10 to 32:26. Then ask students to look for traits of specific raptors that have been used by the military or other airplane manufacturers.


Activity One

The purpose of this activity is to create an aircraft that will be flown in a competition. Students may create an airplane, glider or other aircraft using paper, wood, foam and/or other products. Students will then make adjustments to their aircraft and enter their aircraft in a contest.

Time for completion: Fifteen minutes for class discussion and assignment. Two to three days for working and testing the object. One class period to hold the contest.

Discuss forces and motion with the class. Review Newton’s three laws of motion:

An object in motion will remain in motion, unless acted on by an unbalanced force, and an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force (inertia). Force is equal to mass times acceleration (F = ma). For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.

As a class, discuss how Newton’s laws of motion act on an aircraft in flight. Discuss how they also apply to raptors in flight. Send students to view the raptor and aircraft photographs on the Nature website. Discuss how the differences in the aircraft and the raptors result in changes. (Use Newton’s laws of motion as a guide.)

Tell students that they will be creating an aircraft that will compete in at least one competition.

Suggested materials for aircraft construction include paper, wood, cloth, plastic, and foam.

Teacher Note: this list may be edited based on supplies available.

Ask students to choose which contest they will participate in. Contests include fastest, farthest, longest glider, and most maneuverable.

Explain to students that they are going to create and fine tune an aircraft. Students should keep Newton’s laws of motion in mind when designing their aircraft. Remind students that an examination of the traits of raptors as discussed in the introductory activity might also be helpful in designing the aircraft.

After students have completed their airplanes, hold an aircraft competition. Students will enter their aircraft in one (or more) of the following contests:

Fastest: aircraft are launched from a given location (by the teacher or third party) and the time required to pass a set point is recorded.

Farthest: aircraft are launched from a given location and the distance traveled is recorded.

Longest glider: glider is launched from a given height and the time before reaching the ground is recorded.

Most Maneuverable: Create a simple one turn course by taping a yard/meter stick to a desk perpendicular to the floor. The course should be set up while students are creating their aircraft so they can test the maneuverability of their aircraft.

After the competition, have students write an article or technical report that describes their aircraft, its materials, how it was designed, why it was designed as it was, and how it fared in the contest.

Discuss the parts of a technical report. These may include items such as these:

  • Title page – Must include the title of the report.
  • Summary – A summary of the whole report including important features, results and conclusions Contents – Numbers and lists all section and subsection headings with page numbers
  • Introduction – States the objectives of the report and comments on the way the topic of the report is to be treated.
  • Report – The sections which make-up the body of the report divided into numbered and headed sections. These sections separate the different main ideas in a logical order
  • Conclusions – A short, logical summing up of the theme(s) developed in the main text

Activity Two

In this activity students will create a myth or legend about raptors. As a class, students will read the story of Icarus. In Greek mythology, Icarus fell into the sea when he flew too close to the sun, melting the wax holding his artificial wings together. After reading Icarus, students will individually read and summarize another myth or legend, and then write a legend or myth of their own about raptors. Students will study the special characteristics of raptors and include this in their work.

Time for completion: One class period for explanation, discussion and research; allow 3-5 days for outside research and writing.

Ask students to use the Internet, media center or other resources, to find and read a tale of Icarus.

The following are possible web sources:;=icarus

This is a child’s version of the story:

Ask students to find another myth or legend using the Internet, media center or other resource. Each student should share a short summary of the myth or legend with the class.

As a class, discuss the difference between myths and legends. Students may use the Internet, dictionary or other resources to locate definitions. Definitions according to are as follows:

A myth is a story that is linked to the spiritual or religious life in the oral tradition of a particular culture, which often involves supernatural events or characters to explain the nature of the universe and humanity.

A legend (Latin, legenda, “things to be read”) is a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude. Legend, for its active and passive participants, includes no happenings that are outside the realm of “possibility,” defined by a highly flexible set of parameters, which may include miracles that are perceived as actually having happened, within the specific tradition of indoctrination where the legend arises, and within which it may be transformed over time, in order to keep it fresh and vital, and realistic.

Ask students to identify a raptor and its specific skills and/or traits that make it unique.

Ask student to create a legend or a myth about a raptor. The written work should include factual information about the particular rapture.

If time allows, students may share their myths with each other.

Assessment Suggestions

The “Article Rubric” can be used to assess the aircraft activity. The myth/legend can be assessed using the “Myth/Legend Rubric.”

Extension Activity

Students may research volunteer opportunities in habitat restoration projects taking place in their community.

About the Author

This lesson was prepared by Rebecca Walters, an associate of Digital Narratives llc. Rebecca is a graduate of Northern Michigan University and holds a degree in chemistry and math. Rebecca has worked as both a public school educator and an education consultant over the past fifteen years.

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