K-12 Program at the National Museum of World War II Aviation

After School University is a proud operator of the K-12 STEM Programs at the National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs, CO. The programs are FREE to all Colorado students. 


Schedule YOUR Program

Interested in scheduling your program or know of a family, homeschool group, school, district, or an education organization who would benefit from this unique experience? There are still days available through June 2018. 

Programs consist of three short cool lessons to be reviewed prior to a visit at the Museum.  On the day of the Museum visit, students will be given a tour and will complete a hands-on mission that builds on the knowledge gained in the pre-work. View the brochure.

Our News

Studying the Past, Informing the Future

The National Museum of WWII Aviation K-12 program inspires students to rethink diversity and our impact on future generations.

June 22, 2018: Issue 5

Art on Aircraft and Fracture Mechanics

by Beth Rizzo, K-12 STEM Program Mission Leader


To name your plane became a grand tradition. Some painted super heroes or family members, while others painted only names. (Still others depicted scenes so lewd that they can only be viewed by an audience older than 16.) The one thing they have in common is that they were reminders of home and talismen to give strength and courage. These men were going to fight in theaters of war that would intimidate even the bravest soldier. To fight for “king and country” is all well and good until you are faced with the horror of combat. In the end, that is not what these men fought for: They fought for their families, their hometowns, their friends. 


When looking at examples of nose art, think of the story that it tells—think of the crew that decided on this name and what it meant to them. It can be so much more than a lady in her underthings. Let’s say that my plane has Captain America painted on the nose while the plane next to me has a bronco. Just by looking at that, I know who is in the plane next to me. They could be bunk mates and good friends. When I turn for home after my mission and don’t see that nose art, I already know who is not coming home. That is why this example of a cultural phenomenon is so important: It tells a story…it represents something of significance beyond the obvious. 

The picture to the top right depicts my favorite B-24 crew, significant among them Russell Alan Phillips (pilot) and Louie Zamperini (bombardier): if you recall my favorite book “Unbroken” about these men... Typically, planes and ships were called “she’s,” but they insisted that their plane was all man and gave it the name “Superman” with a painting of the superhero to accompany it.

We have a painting at the museum of a B-17 bomber with the name “Mary Ellen” painted on the nose. This is the name of a little girl born two days before her dad shipped out for Europe to fight the Nazis. When he was assigned his plane, he painted her name and flew with her baby shoes in the cockpit as reminders of why he needed to survive and make it home. These gave him courage. The tour of duty for a bomber pilot during WWII was 25 missions after which they could go home. They were expected to survive one. One out of 25. The odds were not great. This war was devastating and there are not many happy endings. Fortunately, I can relay that this story ends well. He survived to make it home to his family. We have the telegram he sent when he arrived in Los Angelos and it was Mary Ellen herself who brought in these amazing artifacts. This is a wonderful example of the sacrifice so many families gave to fight for freedom around the world. 

If you had a plane, what would have been its nose art? Draw a picture and email it to us (info@afterschooluniversity.com). We would love to share your creativity and vision with the rest of the world!

Sometimes, it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.
— Alan Turing

Fracture Mechanics
by Mary Webber, k-12 STEM Program Manager & Mission Leader

The study of fracture mechanics started back in World War I by an engineer by the name of A. A. Griffith. Fracture mechanics is what allows engineers to study how cracks are created and what makes them grow. These engineers need to know the different properties of a material to know how it will act. For example, if a material is brittle it means it will break easily like a potato chip. If the material is ductile it means it is flexible like a rubber band. A rubber band can be stretched and played with a lot before it breaks. 

Fracture mechanics is important today because it allows engineers to design safer parts and systems. The part is put through a test which will apply a force to it in one fashion or another over and over again to see how long it will take before the object will: get a small crack, how it grows, and when it breaks the object. 

The most common source of failure, or when it breaks, is from fatigue. Fatigue is when the object is used or tested repeatedly until it “gets tired”. One of the things tested on airplanes are the wings. They are flex, or bent, to their maximum limits to see when it cracks and how long it take to break. After doing the testing on the planes they add what is called a safety factor so the breaking point, is hopefully, never achieved. 

Today’s airplanes go through routine inspections so that any problems are found before they become an issue. Composite materials are used to align with the forces computing techniques during several different stages of the flight as well as on the ground. Through modern computing techniques and extensive testing, it can constantly improve the designs and achieve optimum lightweight and flexible structures. Engineers and young people of today will continue to lead the way to better designs. 

 Here is a cool testing of the extension and flexibility of an Airbus A350. The wings are pushed to the limit by a mechanical loading device that forces them upwards and downwards, to simulate ‘critical situations’ and 12,000 sensors are installed to provide feedback of any signs of weakness to the engineers. The wing would be flexed up and down through many cycles to test the durability and failures of the wing. 

Here is a cool testing of the extension and flexibility of an Airbus A350. The wings are pushed to the limit by a mechanical loading device that forces them upwards and downwards, to simulate ‘critical situations’ and 12,000 sensors are installed to provide feedback of any signs of weakness to the engineers. The wing would be flexed up and down through many cycles to test the durability and failures of the wing. 

June 6, 2018: Issue 4


Join us on all day today on our Facebook page for video stories from the museum! There will be a new video out every hour exploring a number of different topics related to WWII.


The Real Rosie

Everyone knows Rosie. “We can do it!” This phrase and this woman is the symbol of the fight for equality. But that is only recently. During the war, this phrase and the appearance of this poster spoke to war production, the fact that we could win the war, and that we needed women to help. With millions of young men deployed to the front lines, the women, previously thought incapable of doing such demanding manual labor, needed to step up and prove their mettle. 

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the 20-year-old Naomi Fern Parker and her 18-year-old sister, Ada, went to work at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. They were assigned to the machine shop, where their duties included drilling, patching airplane wings and, fittingly, riveting. It was there that an ACME photographer captured Naomi Parker, her hair tied in a bandana for safety, at her lathe. She clipped the photo from the newspaper and kept it for decades. The photographer, Miller, used this image to then design and create the poster we all know and love. (Fox, 2018)

There is one front and one battle where everyone in the United States—every man, woman, and child—is in action, and will be privileged to remain in action throughout this war. That front is right here at home, in our daily lives, and in our daily tasks.

Miracle at Willow Run

In 1939, the U.S. Army ranked thirty-ninth in the world, possessing a cavalry force of fifty thousand, horses to pull artillery, and had a smaller standing army than Sweden or Norway. Many Americans—still trying to recover from the decade-long ordeal of the Great Depression—were reluctant to participate in the conflict that was spreading throughout Europe and Asia. President Roosevelt did what he could to coax a reluctant nation to focus its economic might on military preparedness. If the American military wasn’t yet equal to the Germans or the Japanese, American workers could at least build ships and planes faster than the enemy could sink them or shoot them down. “Powerful enemies must be out-fought and out-produced,” President FDR told Congress and his countrymen less than a month after Pearl Harbor. “It is not enough to turn out just a few more planes, a few more tanks, a few more guns, a few more ships than can be turned out by our enemies. We must out-produce them overwhelmingly, so that there can be no question of our ability to provide a crushing superiority of equipment in any theatre of the world war.” 

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the president set staggering goals for the nation’s factories: 60,000 aircraft in 1942 and 125,000 in 1943; 120,000 tanks in the same time period and 55,000 antiaircraft guns. War production profoundly changed American industry. Companies already engaged in defense work expanded. Others, like the automobile industry, were transformed completely. In 1941, more than three million cars were manufactured in the U.S. Only 139 more were made during the entire war. Instead, Chrysler made fuselages. General Motors made airplane engines, guns, trucks and tanks. Packard made Rolls-Royce engines for the British air force. And at its vast Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Ford Motor Company performed something like a miracle 24-hours a day. The average Ford car had some 15,000 parts. The B-24 Liberator long-range bomber had 1,550,000. One came off the line every 55 minutes (the actual product took several month, but once it was working like a clock - every 55 minutes the B-24 was coming off the line!). America launched more vessels in 1941 than Japan did in the entire war. Shipyards turned out tonnage so fast that by the autumn of 1943 all Allied shipping sunk since 1939 had been replaced. In 1944 alone, the United States built more planes than the Japanese did from 1939 to 1945. By the end of the war, more than half of all industrial production in the world would take place in the United States. While 16 million men and women marched to war, 24 million more moved in search of defense jobs, often for more pay than they previously had ever earned. Eight million women stepped into the work force and ethnic groups such as African Americans and Latinos found job opportunities as never before. (PBS, 2007)

During World War II, as an alternative to rationing, Americans planted “victory gardens,” in which they grew their own food. By 1945, some 20 million such gardens were in use and accounted for about 40 percent of all vegetables consumed by the U.S. (Staff, 2010)

May 25, 2018: Issue 3


This memorial day, as you celebrate with family and friends, take a moment - go outside, look up at the sky, and think about all the brave men and women who have given up there lives in order for all Americans to live. Then, make the most of their sacrifice.

Have a great memorial weekend!

Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by navel and air forces of the Empire of Japan.


One battleship remains beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor and is a name that everyone has heard: The USS Arizona. Leading up to this attack, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, decided that the best way to defend our naval fleet from attack, should it happen, was to group them together so we could have more concentrated weapons to defend one area of the harbor. To the Japanese, however, this was just one enormous target. They were able to wreak damage on a scale that staggers the mind. The second bomb that dropped through the USS Arizona went straight through the deck and into our own munition storage where we kept our own bombs, bullets, and missiles. The following explosion was so massive that it blew the ship nearly in half. The ship sank so quickly that every man on board went down with it: 1,177 men.

One man made it off. He was standing at his gun turret and dove off into the water. However, the water was not safe at this time. It was covered in so much fuel that it was on fire. He burned 60% of his body swimming to a rescue ship. He was medically discharged, but re-enlisted a year later. A different time. This man was so dedicated to serving his country…he is a true American hero. Amazingly, he not only survived Pearl Harbor, but he survived the war and came to the museum a month ago. His name is Don Stratton and we got to meet him at the National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs. He is truly an amazing man. He is now 96 years old. 

Question: What situation in your life required you to be courages? Is there anything from your experience that you could lean on during your times of hesitation, self-judgement, or low self-esteem?

The Day That Will Live in Infamy

It was a typical Sunday morning. Many families were getting ready for church and sailors that had been awoken by the trumpet had begun their morning chores and exercises. At 8:00 am, the world was shattered. Pearl Harbor erupted into chaos. The sky was filled with over one hundred planes painted with the red circle of Japan. The Pacific Fleet was under attack and the bombing of Pearl Harbor was underway. It would last for nearly two hours with catastrophic damage. Some today call this a surprise attack, and they are not wrong, however, our nation at the time knew that we would be at war with Japan eventually after all the political unrest, they just didn’t know when or where the hammer would drop. It could have been anywhere, but it was Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941.

For America, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This was the catalyst that got us involved in, and would thus change the course of, the war. Great Britain had been fighting the Nazi’s for almost two years at this point and, as allies, had been begging for us to join and help. China had been invaded by Japan in 1937. Another ally of ours, they begged us to help.

WWI had ended a mere twenty years previously and we were still struggling after a decade long depression. We did not want to get involved. And then, Pearl Harbor was attacked. It was the first time since the Revolutionary War that we had been attacked on our own soil and the last time until the September 11 attacks in New York and Pennsylvania. 


In a day of breathtaking violence, the Japanese attacked Thailand, Shanghai, Malaya, Midway, Wake, Guam, and the Philippines. Upon learning of the success of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the leader behind the attack, said, “I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” This is truly the war that changed the world.

At the museum, we endeavor to teach you why it had to be fought, how it was won, and what it means today. We do this so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. These men shaped the world we live in today. Their stories matter.

Our total losses on December 7, 1941:
  • 5 battleships sunk
  • 4 battleships damaged
  • 3 cruisers and 3 destroyers damaged
  • 1 harbor tug sunk
  • 188 aircraft destroyed
  • 159 aircraft damaged
  • 2,335 killed
  • 1,143 wounded

  • May 17: Issue 2

    We, and all others who believe in freedom as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.
    — FDR

    How Reading Changed My Life 

    When I was young, all I was interested in reading was fantasy; particularly Harry Potter, which is understandable enough. Nonfiction did not hold my attention and felt more like reading a text book. Then, in 2014, a movie came out that I was interested in, but knew nothing about. I'd been told it was an amazing story, so I rented it. It was the movie "Unbroken” based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand. I was completely floored when I saw it and simply had to get my hands on more. I wanted to know more about this man, Louie Zamperini, and what he'd been through. I bought the book and haven't put it down since. I'll be re-reading it for the eighth time next month. (As is normal, the book is one hundred times better than the movie and I always advocate for reading the book first.) When I love something, I have the tendency to read it over and over again, recommend it to everyone, and quite literally never stop talking about it. This book changed my life, not only because of Louie’s incredible redemption story, but because of the love and fascination that grew in my heart and mind for the forgotten men and theatre of WWII: the Pacific, the airmen, and the POWs of the Japanese. The European theatre is so well studied that most people have forgotten we fought another enemy. Most people have only heard of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima... possibly Iwo Jima, but surprisingly, not many people have heard that name that I've come across. My pursuits, while staying grounded in pursuing a biology degree—at the time and since pursuing my work as a zoo keeper—shifted toward reading and watching all I could get my hands on for WWII. Fantasy holds no fascination for me now when there are incredible stories like Louie's to be found in the real world. My book shelf is covered in books on the Pacific theatre and I've watched every documentary and movie I can find. I cannot recommend reading strongly enough, especially to a generation growing up with so much technology. Reading has the capacity to and will change your life and ground your future pursuits. 

    -Elizabeth Rizzo


    Inspired Students

    I love the reactions I get from my students when I share a particularly interesting piece of trivia. Just a couple weeks ago, I had a group from Wildflower Elementary School. They were so intrigued by what I was saying that I had every kid’s attention with wide eyes and “wows” on their lips. They were interested and engaged. We wound up running over, because the kids had such great questions and were so involved!


    Heroes on the Home Front

    The term “home front” is a fairly recent saying. During WWI, 1914-1918, this term came about in response to the Germans using airplanes to bomb cities for the first time. Airplanes were just starting to become a part of war and the idea that your cities were no longer safe was a brand new concept. The Germans were actually criticized for not fighting fair because they were the first to use their planes and, at that time, Zeppelins to bomb cities. Nothing like the scale or damage that happened in WWII during bombing runs, however, a mere twenty years later. But it was the first time it ever happened. Because the war ended up lasting for so many years, the nations involved had to get everybody immersed on all levels to maintain the pace of the war. So the idea of the home front being your factories, the morale of everyone concerned, and the general engine behind the war became a concept. WWI had the Western Front, the Eastern Front, and now the “Home Front.” People treated it with the same level of seriousness as any other aspect of the war. This idea proceeded into the next war. The nations had seen just how effective a backbone the home front could be. 

    When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, England was thrust on to the front line. Now most of America’s allies were involved in the war, however, all we could commit to do was help from a distance. WWI had ended only twenty years previously and our country was still spirling from the Depression. Our allies in China had been invaded by Japan in 1937, which arguably was the true beginning of WWII, when the nations started moving against each other. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and Hitler took the Rhineland in 1936. After the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the American navel fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S. was finally thrust into World War II. Everyday life across the country was dramatically altered. Food, gas, and clothing were rationed. Communities conducted scrap metal drives. To help build the armaments necessary to win the war, women found employment in many different areas they would normally never have been considered. In the earliest days of America’s involvement in the war, panic gripped the country. If the Japanese military could successfully attack Pearl Harbor and inflict catastrophic damage on the naval fleet and casualties among innocent civilians, many people wondered what was to prevent a similar assault on the U.S. mainland, particularly along the Pacific coast. Less than an hour after the Japanese bombed Hawaii, mines were being laid in San Francisco Bay. In coming days, trenches were dug along the California coast and from New Jersey to Alaska, reservoirs, bridges, tunnels, factories, and waterfronts were put under guard. Blackout curtains were hung in windows all across America. 

    “All over the Pacific that morning, the story was the same. In less than two hours over Pearl Harbor, Japan badly wounded the American navy and killed more than 2,400 people. Almost simultaneously, it attacked Thailand, Shanghai, Malaya, the Philippines, Guam, Midway, and Wake. In one day of breathtaking violence, a new Japanese onslaught had begun.” (Hillenbrand, 2010)

    This fear of attack translated into a ready acceptance by a majority of Americans of the need to sacrifice in order to achieve victory. During the spring of 1942, a rationing program was established that set limits on the amount of gas, food, and clothing consumers could purchase. Gas rations in Colorado went down to three gallons a week. Families were issued ration booklets with stamps that were used to buy their allotment of everything from meat, sugar, fat, butter, vegetables, and fruit to gas, tires, and clothing. Many children from that generation still have a taste for meat items like tongue, liver, and sweet breads (all leftovers inside the animals mashed into a meatloaf), because that’s what they were raised on. The United States Office of War Information released posters in which Americans were urged to “Do with less so they’ll have enough” (“they” referred to the U.S. troops). Meanwhile, individuals and communities conducted drives for the collection of scrap metal, aluminum cans, and rubber, all of which were recycled and used to produce armaments. Individuals purchased war bonds to help pay for the high cost of armed conflict. From the outset of the war, it was clear that enormous quantities of airplanes, tanks, warships, rifles and other armaments would be essential to beating America’s aggressors. U.S. workers played a vital role in the production of such war-related materials. Many of these workers were women. Indeed, with tens of thousands of American men joining the armed forces and heading into training and into battle, women began securing jobs as welders, electricians and riveters in defense plants. Until that time, such positions had been strictly for men only. During the war years, the decrease in the availability of men in the work force also led to an upsurge in the number of women holding non-war-related factory jobs. By the mid-1940s, the percentage of women in the American work force had expanded from 25 percent to 36 percent. Until 1943, women were wearing men’s clothing as denom and jeans had not yet been fit and made for women. The home front was brought into the Second World War, and it would change the outcome. (Staff, 2010)

    May 10, 2018: Issue 1

    Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.
    — Winston Churchill

    The Greatest Generation

    Imagine a time when millions of people were out of jobs…your parents paychecks didn’t stretch the week…storms raged across the midwest, destroying crops and ruining lives. In the midst of this, a war is waged that staggers the mind; fought on a scale never seen before or since. An unprecedented attack throws our country onto the front lines. While the world is crashing into chaos, every citizen in the United States, with what little they have, throw everything behind the war effort. The men volunteer to become soldiers. Many that were denied were so distraught and humiliated, to not be able to fight for their country and their families, that they committed suicide.

    With the men away, the women were left on the home-front to pick up the slack and work in the factories. They took dangerous jobs building bombs, planes, ammunition, and so much more. Many others took up jobs on the farms and generally kept the economy rolling during the war. Even the children helped with the war effort. They were called “nine to five orphans,” because their father was at war and their mother was in the factory. They had to get up, make breakfast and lunch for their siblings, get to school on time, start their homework, and help their mother make dinner.

    In between all that, they found time to collect tins and rubbish to be recycled and used in war manufacturing. Neighborhoods held competitions to see which teams could get the most usable material. Women were giving away silk stockings to be turned into parachutes and melting down jewelry to become bullets. Everyone was behind the war effort for nearly five years in America and longer in other countries. We saw the merest hint of this kind of camaraderie after the September 11 attacks.

    Imagine the selflessness of this WWII generation to pour everything into the hopes of making the world a better place. To fight and endure unimaginable horror

    …No wonder they are called the Greatest Generation. 


    Why Do the K-12 STEM Program at the National Museum of World War II Aviation?

    Some students live for the museum. Others live for the field trip. How can we reach out and inspire both? I am the type of person who could spend hours even days at a museum reading every plaque and soaking in everything the guides and docents have to say. As a teacher at the National Museum of WWII Aviation, I am always thrilled to receive students who are just as passionate about learning. But others wonder why they are here? What does this have to do with me? This happened so long ago…why should I care? I strive to draw these students in and help them to think critically about these questions, relating this history back to their life. World War II history, I would argue, is the most important history anyone can learn and it didn’t happen that long ago. This coming December will be only the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many people alive still remember that day and where they were and some, not as many as we’d like, are veterans of the war and still carry the scars of their experiences. Each month, I hope to share with you a little bit more about my story and why I am so passionate about this history and these people and how you can find hope and inspiration in their stories as well. 

    - Elizabeth Rizzo,

    Mission Leader, K-12 Programs