Walter Schirra – Aviation Pioneer Lesson Plan

Grade Range: 6-8

Note: This lesson is designed to be part of a Social Studies unit. It could be included in an U.S. History class investigating the early 20th Century, or in the History of Flight.


The subject of this Aviation Pioneer lesson plan is Walter Schirra, 1923-2007. The web site sources for research contain a mix of comprehensive information regarding this famous astronaut’s early career and as a pioneer in the NASA space program. The activities for this lesson includes cooperative student learning teams investigating Schirra’s experience as the only astronaut to fly in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. The students will access this background information by logging on to the web site resources as listed in this lesson plan.


  • The students will learn the importance of Wally Schirra’s NASA career and his place in the history of space flight.
  • The Students will be expected to know detailed information about Schirra’s career as a result of their own research and information presented during the oral presentations. The students should understand the history and difficulty leading up to modern day space flight, realizing that space vehicles and technology did not have the level of development that it has today. The students will learn to investigate topics of interest through searches done on the Internet.
  • They will be learning interpersonal communication and teamwork skills in their cooperative learning teams. They will learn how to process and filter information in order to present only the information pertinent to their content category.

Teaching Strategy:

This interdisciplinary lesson involves both Social Studies and Language Arts. The students will be busy studying the history of Schirra, the spacecraft he flew and the NASA programs in which he participated, in cooperative learning teams and collecting information from the Internet. Each team will be assigned a content category, each covering a different aspect of Lindbergh. The students will also be required to write a short summary on their "facts" category that they investigated, which they will then make a presentation to the class.

The lesson should require five class periods in a block schedule of about forty minutes each day, and then one additional day. The 1st & 2nd class periods will be used to introduce the lesson and students will search the web and take notes. The 3rd & 4th class periods will be utilized to develop the summary and organize the oral presentation. The 5th class period will consist of students giving their presentations to the class. During the additional day, the students will take a field trip to the closest aviation museum or as an alternative, invite a local aviation historian to speak to the class on the subject.

Tools and Materials:

  • Library Learning Center computers. Enough for the class.
  • Internet Explorer or Netscape.
  • Word Processing Program (i.e., Word or Word Perfect).

Internet Aviation Pioneer Biography Sources:

Walter Schirra, 1923-2007:

Wally Schirra:

Walter M. Schirra (Captain, USN, Ret.) NASA Astronaut (deceased).

Beginning Skills & Knowledge:

The students will require the knowledge of what Walter Schirra accomplished and be aware of the significance of his NASA flight career. They will also need to know that Schirra was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts chosen for the Project Mercury, America’s first effort to put men into space and that he was the only man to fly in all of America’s first three space programs (Mercury, Gemini and Apollo). They will need to have computer skills and know search techniques in the Internet.

A classroom educator who is doing this lesson would also need to have basic knowledge of Walter Schirra, which can be accessed, on the Internet Aviation Pioneer Biography Sources, listed in the material above. It is assumed that the educator has computer and Internet skills to be able to assist students and guide them in their research process. A beginning teacher could accomplish teaching this lesson because it is designed to allow the students to learn who Walter Schirra was through their own research. The educator will be in effect, a classroom manager and facilitator, maintaining positive classroom behavior as the teams are conducting their research.

Completion Evaluation:

The lesson will be considered successful when the students have produced a comprehensive summary of their subject area during their oral presentations. Their success will be critiqued on the quality of the content as well as the quality of the presentation incorporating both Social Studies and Language Arts Standards. This lesson will also be considered successful if the students have manipulated the Internet in order to obtain the needed information. The presentation will be evaluated using a letter grade scale based on a scoring key that the educator designs for this lesson.

Alternative Variations:

The students may be allowed to search for web sites on the Internet on their own and not use the Internet Aviation Pioneer Biography Sources provided above. This lesson plan could also be redesigned by using the same process to research other historic figures and events.


This lesson plan places the responsibility of learning directly into the students’ hands. Bottom-line, this lesson will teach the students to value the importance of space flight and its significant impact upon our history.

National Curriculum Standards:

McRel Standards at,