Sunday, October 12, 2008

Another Trip to the Museum of Flight

Our first trip to the Museum of Flight was a hit so when I had the chance to take the kids back up there for free, I jumped at it. They were having an Educator Open House and they extended their invitation to home educators and their families. I'm grateful they included homeschoolers. We had a great time and I learned about some educational programs that I didn't know they had.

During our last trip, we focused on the space exhibits and great gallery. This time I tried to steer the kids towards the exhibits we missed last time and found that the museum has more than enough to do for two visits. Between the two trips, we spent 9-10 hours at the museum and I feel like we didn't spend the kind of time exploring each area like we could have. There are areas that I'd love to go back to without the kids so I can take the time to read all the explanatory signs.

The museum had special educational classrooms open, special seminars to attend, and various kid-friendly activities going on as part of the open house. We started out heading for a planetarium show; it was inside an inflatable planetarium. We never made it. Instead, we were distracted by a robotics activity for the kids. There were a variety of parts, motors, and controllers available. I know nothing about robotics so we needed help getting started but once we got started, the kids enjoyed the VERY simple robots we created.

Here are the kids playing with the sample that the volunteer used to show us how things worked.
Next we headed to the red barn which told the history of Boeing. This was probably the least interesting exhibit in the museum but it did have these cool wax (I think) men demonstrating old machinery. This one was working on an old wood lathe.

At this time, the museum has no facilities for those bringing their own lunch. Fortunately, it was a sunny day and not too cold so we were able to eat lunch outside without being uncomfortable. Notice Josh holding his lunch in both hands. He ate two bananas and a cookie but refused his sandwich, as usual.

Of course, we had to make a stop at Mika's favorite section of the museum...the air park. You can walk through an old Airforce One. Everything is protected by Plexiglas so you can't sit or touch, but it is still interesting to walk through. One interesting artifact is President Kennedy's pipe rack. Another interesting area is the now very antiquated "state of the art communication center".

They also have a concord you can walk through. The Plexiglas domes that protect the fine leather seats leave very little room to walk through. As we walked along the aisle, we found little snippets of information about the concord.

Finally, we visited the Wings of Courage exhibit. The first floor was all about World War II. For the WWII buff, there were probably a dozen different restored aircraft and other flight-related artifacts. There was also a section devoted to the women of WWII.

We found this scene of three soldiers playing cards and discussing war trophies. We like these kinds of scenes where you can be a fly on the wall in a moment of history. A nearby sign told how pilots liked to collect war trophies. The trophies also lent credibility to their conquests. After shooting down an enemy airplane, they would often land, borrow a vehicle, and rush to the crash site to collect trophies before others got to it first. (The Washington State History Museum has several of these types of scenes, only their people are three dimensional statues rather than the cardboard cutouts seen here. It's one of our favorite things about that museum.)

Another fun find in this section of the museum was a flight simulator. There were five or six choices of simulations. The one we chose was a landing simulation. After attempting to land the aircraft, we got to watch what our flight and landing looked like. Sammy's plane was made of rubber as it bounced multiple times before finally crashing. Mika successfully landed the plane but forgot to brake and ran into a tree. We had fun laughing at our flying abilities, or lack of, that is.

Upstairs we found the World War I exhibit. Again, this exhibit was focused on flight and how it affected the war. We found restored aircraft and other artifacts. In the middle of the room, we found a mock trench, complete with a plane crash. Here the kids are pretending that their hands are gas masks.

Each World War exhibit had a theater playing a three film loop. The first film for each war gave a fifteen minute overview of the war. The second film discussed the pilots of the war and the third discussed the aftermath of the wars.

We watched the overview films for each war. These films were both interesting and disappointing. The interesting part of the films were some of the statistics about some of the battles that I had not learned in school. It really gave me a sense of perspective about the wars. For example, the Battle of Verdun was ten months long, during which there were almost a million casualties (about half of those were fatalities) and neither side gained anything. Another statistic mentioned was the loss of 58,000 people in a single day of battle. I don't remember which war that was, though. Finally, the thought that roughly 72 million people died in World War II is staggering.

I was a bit surprised to find that the WWII overview barely mentioned the Holocaust and atomic bomb. It was mentioned that Hitler played the race card to unite the Germans under the idea that they were the superior race destined to rule the world. At the end of the film, it mentioned remembering the war so we don't repeat the Holocaust. But that was the extent of it; the word Jew wasn't used once and there wasn't a single photo or mention of the concentration camps. It did not tell the viewer about the 6.8 million Jews killed at all. The atomic bomb was mentioned as the "secret weapon" used reluctantly in an attempt to shorten the war and reduce casualties. There was footage of mushroom clouds but that is it. There were no photos or mention of the effects of the bomb upon the people on the ground when it hit and weeks later as radiation poisoning took affect. Someone viewing this film without prior knowledge would leave the film with no clue as to the horror of the Holocaust or the devastation of the atomic bomb. I think that the growing trend to ignore certain significant historical events when teaching history, including the Holocaust and the effects of the atomic bomb, is a dangerous one.

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