Kites in a Middle School Science Classroom

Christopher Skinner
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I grew up on a kite field. Several days, weeks, and even months of my childhood were spent with Eddys, edos, box kites, rokkakus, stunt kites, Chinese dragons, and sode-dakos (to name a few). Kites have taken me to locations across the United States and beyond; I’ve flown a kite above the Great Wall of China, among the hustle and bustle of London, and on a cow pasture in Thailand. These kite excursions with my father have given me a world of cultural knowledge, a lifetime of fun experiences and memories, and colorful acquaintances such as Dave Gomberg, Peter Lynn, and Modegi-san. Every year from kindergarten through high school, one of my teachers would discover that my father was a kiteflier, and he would be invited to spend a few hours or more teaching my classes about kites: kite flying, kites as sport, kites as art, kites in history, kites in physics, and the geometry of kites. Sometimes he’d even return to my former teachers’ classrooms, several years after I’d left, to open the world of kites to new eyes. By now, he probably has spent more time teaching about kites in elementary schools than I did attending.

Perhaps I should back up and explain that my father is Scott Skinner of the Drachen Foundation. I have known him to be a kiteflier, a kitemaker, a kite educator, a kite philanthropist, and a kite historian, but I am sure that in the world of kites he may be many more things. After he retired from the Air Force, I suppose kites kept him connected to the world of aeronautics. I know that my love of science began at the end of a kite string. My father and his kites taught me from a very young age about Bernoulli’s principle, Newton’s laws, and even the sun’s role in atmospheric heat causing winds. Not surprisingly, when I left for college, he gave me a beautiful red sode-dako-shaped kite, in my father’s American patchwork quilting style, that resembles a bright red bird. I flew it during the first week of classes at University of California in Santa Barbara (UCSB) each of my four years as an undergraduate. It may still be a bit salt-encrusted after its last flight landed it in the Pacific Ocean.

This year kites have returned to my life. I am now 37 years old, with a Master’s of Education from UCSB, and for the past 12 years I have been an 8th grade science teacher, currently at Escalante Middle School in Durango, Colorado. Over my 12 years as an educator, kites have found a few niches in my curriculum. While teaching students about physics, lift, drag, and even gravity, kites would make cameo appearances in the form of examples, images, and short demonstrations. Kites had roles during interdisciplinary studies when my colleagues and I taught about symmetry, kinetic art, Asian history, or measurements.

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