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Lesson Overview

The story begins with a view of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk (a popular training plane) on the runway -- the student/pilot and a friend have just won free air time, plus $500 for outstanding work during flight training, and now are preparing for a flight. Before taking off, they must figure out how much fuel is already in the tank, how much more the Cessna can take on, where they might like to fly to, and what it'll cost.

For the group activity, students team up in groups of 3 or 4 to plan trips around their own state, with each team choosing a different point in history (or the future) to plan their trip. Student teams address distances and destinations, time needed, supplies, and places, people and events encountered. Each team can then make a presentation to the class about their own trip.

Time Allotment

20-30 minutes

NCTM Process Standards

NCTM Content Standards

Aeronautics Content


Prerequisite Skills



Pencil, paper, calculator, MathPad by IntelliTools

Class Organization Suggestions

Collaborative groups help with classroom and student management and assist student learning. Optimally, in computer lab settings 2-4 students at one computer support each other and learn effectively. Groups of students can be organized with four students to a computer with each student taking a role: Reader, Navigator, Reporter, Captain.

For example, the Reader reads what is on the screen to the group. The Navigator maneuvers the mouse. The Reporter reports back to class. The Captain keeps track of time and monitors group interaction. Three-student and two-student groups can be assigned a combination of these roles. For instance, Reader and Navigator roles can be assigned to one student while the other student can be the Reporter and Captain.

Teacher Tips

PlaneMath provides a means to accommodate students with physical and learning disabilities as well as to enhance math learning for all students. Thoughtful planning and management strategies are effective methods to accomplish these goals. Grouping, functional roles, access to well-designed lessons, learning styles along with student interactions are considerations for management of students. For more information for students with disabilities, contact the Alliance for Technology Access. For additional information, go to the main Teacher's Page for PlaneMath.

Additional Activities

  1. Have students compare different planes. Which plane consumes the most fuel? the least? Which plane holds the most fuel? the least? Which plane has the farthest range? the shortest range? This would be an excellent graphing activity if each group researched a different plane then added their data to class graphs -- linear graphs of flight ranges, for instance, with 100 miles per inch. Kids could also brainstorm other types of stats for planes as well (e.g. year first built, passenger and weight capacity, runway length needed for take off & for landing, etc.) To find helpful web sites, see below, or do searches for aircraft companies such as Boeing, Cessna, Piper and others. NOTE: for a simpler activity, just compare one or two statistics, e.g. flight range and/or fuel capacity.
  2. Divide the class into "flight teams" of 3 or 4 students each. All teams have the same starting point, destination, and budget, but different airplanes. Each team has to plan their flight stopovers, fueling needs and overall budget. Students will write up flight logs and create maps to show how they reached the destination. After presenting, the class can compare stopovers, mileage and expenses, and count the number of ways people chose to go. Students will need to justify their decisions.
  3. Visit the FAA web site to learn more about flight planning and flight safety.
  4. Visit various aviation web sites (below) to learn how much it costs to train to become a pilot, to buy or rent a plane, etc. Have students graph these costs using units related to other expenses with which they are more familiar (e.g. cost of a car, bicycle, video, candy bar, etc. How many sneakers could you buy for the cost of flight training?)
  5. For math practice, have students create a chart of fuel costs, given different gallon amounts and changing prices per gallon. Students can also look for patterns in the chart. See below for helpful fuel price web sites.

We encourage teachers to send us examples of additional problems or activities that they have found useful; we will then post these on this page. E-mail us with your suggestions at planemath@infouse.com.

Online Resources

There are many helpful on-line resources listed in our Aeronautics Links page. Some other sites directly applicable to the Fill 'Er Up activity are:

AirNav: Aviation Fuel
Look for fuel in your area, plan a flight with fuel stops, or check on local fuel prices.

SSEC Real Time Data
Geostationary satellite data provided in real time.

Virtual Tourist II World Map
Use this handy site to browse Web sites around the world. Just click on any location on the world map and a list of Web servers in that region of the world (or country) is displayed.


Parker, Steve. Inventions in Science: Flying Machines.
New York: Shooting Star Press, 1993.


Dreams of Flight: A Comprehensive History of Flight
CD-ROM by Creative Multimedia/Smithsonian)

Imagination Express: Time Trip, USA (CD-ROM by Edmark)

Real Math: Adventures in Flight (CD-ROM by Addison-Wesley)

The Way Things Work (CD-ROM by Dorling Kindersley)

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