Lesson The Crash Scene

Quick Look

Grade Level: 5

Time Required: 15 minutes

Lesson Dependency:

Subject Areas: Earth and Space

A top view of the Amazon Rainforest north of Manaus in Brazil.
The location of the plane crash, the Amazon Rainforest.
Copyright © Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amazon_Manaus_forest.jpg


The associated activity introduces students to the (hypothetical) scenario in which they are a team of EnviroTech engineers returning to the U.S. from a conference in Brasilia, Brazil. When their plane crashes deep in the Amazon forest, they work in groups to overcome various obstacles in their quest to reach help as quickly and safely as possible. They learn about the Amazon rainforest: location, climate, population, unique plants and animals, and threats to its existence.

Engineering Connection

Engineers work in teams to develop solutions to problems. Following the steps of the engineering design process, engineers first identify and define the problem or challenge. They gather information and conduct research to learn about the topics related to the problem, and they brainstorm and propose multiple possible solutions. They make calculations and evaluate various potential solutions, selecting and acting on the one that best meets the criteria for success.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Work as a team to overcome various obstacles in a given scenario.
  • Communicate effectively with a team.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Identify the resources needed to get a technical job done, such as people, materials, capital, tools, machines, energy, and time. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Design solutions by safely using tools, materials, and skills. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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(Introductory Scene: Read aloud the following storyline introduction to the class and follow along with the Assessing the Situation associated activity.)

"Thank you for flying with Air-Brazil. Please buckle your seatbelts and turn off any electrical devices while we prepare for departure. We are expecting some bad weather as we fly over the Amazon rainforest area, so please remain in your seats at all times. If you need any assistance, press the button over your head to call the flight attendant. Thank you and have a pleasant flight."

Finally, it is time to go home! You and your friends have just spent the past week in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, studying the importance of plants and animals of the Amazon rainforest and ways to improve the relationship between technology and nature.

You remember the colorful plants and the beautiful animals you learned about, like the anacondas, jaguars, parrots and tarantulas. It was a lot of fun, but it will be nice to get home, see your family and sleep in your own bed.

As you fly over Brasilia towards the rainforest, you look out the plane window and see the negative effects of pollution and farming on the rainforest. The edge of the rainforest closest to the city is less green and not as thick as the rest of the rainforest.

You look through one of your pamphlets about animals in the Amazon and wonder which of those animals might be looking up as you fly overhead. Wouldn't it be neat to see a real live jaguar up close? Or go up in the Amazon rainforest canopy—the dense cover created by the tree tops—where so many bromeliads are found? Oh well, right now it is just good to sit back and relax for the long flight home.

Suddenly, the plane starts to wobble and you feel your stomach sink. With a calm voice the pilot says: "Please remain calm! Remain in your seats and fasten your seatbelts. One of our engines has gone out and we are going to make an emergency landing in the middle of the rainforest! Now, cover your head with your arms. Please, try to remain calm. This may be a VERY bumpy landing!"

Everyone is frantically fastening their seatbelts and protecting their heads with their arms. Your heart is beating so fast you feel like you are going to explode! The plane drops furiously from the sky—shaking like a leaf in the wind. You grip your head even tighter. You feel your stomach squirming and your muscles tense up. Then you hear a loud ripping, feel a blast of wind and see darkness...

"Ow..." you say as you open your eyes. You feel a bump on your head the size of a golf ball and you have a terrible headache. "What happened? Where am I? ..."

As you look around it all comes flashing back—the trip to Brasilia, the plane crash... something must have hit you on the head when you crashed and knocked you unconscious. You notice others starting to move out of their seats and you hear a few of your friends talking outside. The only way out is to go down the yellow emergency slide which brings you safely to the ground. You survey the crash scene and notice some broken windows and scraps of metal. You join your worried-looking friends as they huddle around a man on the ground and hear Peter exclaim, "Oh no! The pilot is hurt! How are we ever going to get home?"

(Proceed to share with students the fascinating information on the Amazon rainforest, as provided in the Lesson Background section.)

Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers

Tropical rainforests are located around the equator—generally between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Rainforests are forests that receive more than 78 inches of rain per year. They are found in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. The Amazon region of South America has a great rainforest that represents the largest bio-diversity in the world. It covers 5.5 million square kilometers in parts of Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela—an area greater than half of the European continent. However, these rainforests are disappearing at the rate of 3,800 acres a day (almost a quarter of a square mile an hour!) causing the extinction of vital plant and animal species. In fact, new species are discovered each year in the rainforest and scientists estimate that less than half of the existing species in the rainforests have been described.

The rainforest lands are being destroyed due to harvesting of resources in a manner that does not allow the forest to recover. This detrimental forest clearing is called deforestation. Lumber, oil and gold are three primary exports that contribute to deforestation, although farmers who are simply trying to make a living also clear the land. Many organizations are trying to educate the native population on how to farm or mine in a way that does not completely destroy the land and the forests.

About 50,000 native tribal people live in the Amazon rainforest—completely in tune with this natural and primitive world. They are struggling to protect their culture and way of life from being destroyed by deforestation. However, their numbers are dwindling as their grown children move to the cities. These peoples know the most about the animals and plants in the Amazon and without them, essential knowledge will be lost.

Much of the native peoples' knowledge is that of the healing properties of native plants. Plants are used for simple benefits, such as healing the itch of mosquito bites, to much more complicated purposes, such as treating fevers, diabetes, tumors and ulcers. The forest provides edible food, too, and many plants are rich in vitamins and minerals. Yet other plants can be extremely toxic. Certain plants can suffocate fish when ground up and sprinkled on the water, and others can be deadly when digested by humans and animals.

The animals of the Amazon are very diverse. The birds, insects and fish create a beautiful tapestry of color and sound. The forest is home to such notorious animals as the piranha, jaguar and anaconda. Other animals include the giant otter, various species of monkeys, the margay (type of large cat), tree frogs, salamanders, jewel scarabs, electric eels, macaws, woodpeckers, parrots, owls and eagles.

The Amazon rainforest climate is very wet and warm. For example, while a rainforest might receive more than 78 inches of rain per year, Denver, Colorado, receives about 16 inches per year. (Personalize this with your local climate data, found at the National Weather Service website: http://www.nws.noaa.gov.) The average temperature in Manaus, Brazil, located on the Amazon River and one of the largest cities in the middle of the rainforest, varies only from 81 °F (27 °C) to 84 °F (29 °C). Rainfalls from December to March are at least 8 inches per month. In the dry season, June to September, it only rains 5-10 days in the month.

Associated Activities

  • Assessing the Situation - After crashing in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, students use map scales, keys, and longitude and latitude coordinates to figure out their location and then decide where they should go, the distance to that location, the route to take, and estimate the walking travel time.

Lesson Closure

What are some methods of travel that you use in your daily lives? (Listen to student responses.) What are some of the reasons you choose one method instead of another for particular needs? (Listen to student answers. Possible examples: Taking an airplane to travel to a distant state or country, taking a car or bus to travel locally, and riding a bike or walking when the travel distance is fairly short.) What kinds of situations might you encounter in real life when your map reading skills and ability to choose the most efficient route come in handy? (Listen to student stories.)


GPS: Acronym for global positioning system, which is a system that uses satellite signals to determine the latitude and longitude of a location via triangulation.

key: A description of the meaning of symbols on a map.

latitude: Location lines on maps of the Earth; they run east - west.

longitude: Location lines on maps of the Earth; they run north - south.

scale: The ratio of actual distance to the distance measured on a map.


Written Recap: Evaluate what students have learned about the Amazon rainforest by assigning them to write half-page summaries that describe its location, climate, population, unique plants and animals and threats to its existence.


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© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Colorado School of Mines

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Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines


Adventure Engineering was supported by National Science Foundation grant nos. DUE 9950660 and GK-12 0086457. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: December 12, 2022

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