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Tips for Students: Why Can a Crow Fly, but You Can’t?

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.

Why can a crow fly, but you can’t? Is it because they have wings? Is it because feathers are… magic? This riddle seems simple, but it’s not: REALLY unraveling the mystery of bird flight requires understanding the mechanics of protein and the 250-million-year evolutionary history of sauropsids. To begin, students can gain an understanding of the evolutionary history of vertebrates, how “clades” and “types” offer two different ways of thinking about biology, and convergent evolution.

Highlights from This Expert Series Event

Feathers are the secret of flight: they’re incredibly strong yet incredibly light. How do they do it? You’re a giant: you can’t understand a feather unless you get small. We drew a picture in class, but if you have a microscope, you can do it for yourself.

Does it have to be an expensive microscope? Nope! Even a magnifying glass will do.

If you live in the United States, maybe you want to read the text of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Then again, maybe you don’t!

1. Find a feather

Take a trip to a park, or to your special, year-long place. Bring a Frisbee — that way, even if you don’t find a feather, it’ll have been time well spent!

2. Don’t be worried, but don’t be stupid!

When I was a kid, people warned me not to touch feathers — they could have disease! Looking into this now, that seems pretty unlikely. But: don’t touch it if it has poop on it. (Though were you going to do that anyway?) And after you touch it, don’t touch your face until you’ve washed your hands.

3. Draw the feather

Just draw the feather as it appears to your eyes. Use pencil, markers, charcoal, crayons — whatever’s most fun!

4. Draw what you think you’ll see, up close

Before you magnify it, draw what you think it’ll look like up-close. THIS IS VERY USEFUL.

5. Look under a magnifying glass or microscope

Take your time; maybe have some music on. Just poke around, and see what you can see. Imagine you’ve been shrunk to only 1 millimeter tall — how would you be experiencing this feather?

6. Draw it

Keep asking yourself, how is this feather so strong? Draw what you actually see. (If you’d like to show off your art on our Facebook page, feel free — people would love to see it!)

Things Students Can Do to Explore This Topic Further

Use this PDF to explore additional ideas and material on the topic of flight!

You can also check out our interactive classes at Science is WEIRD –  https://www.scienceisweird.com/  

Authored by: Brandon Hendrickson
Bio: Brandon helps kids fall in love with the world. He currently runs “Science is WEIRD”, an outfit that seeks to help kids (and especially 2e kids) fall in love with the sciences, but he’s also been an classroom teacher and curriculum architect at a startup Montessori-inspired school in Bellevue. Before that, he and his wife ran a homeschooling enrichment program in Kirkland that taught elementary kids history, philosophy, and cooking. In all this, he’s worked with the knowledge that the world is fascinating, and that kids are more clever than is commonly assumed. He has bachelor’s degrees in world religions and history, and a master’s in educational theory from the University of Washington.

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