Flight Simulators for Creative Learning

Edustation Flight Simulator, made by Hotseat Chassis
Edustation Flight Simulator, made by Hotseat Chassis

Last week I accepted delivery of the flight simulators we will use in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering: seven Edustation flight simulators, made in Waterbury, Connecticut by a company called Hotseat Chassis, Inc. The Edustation is made for the classroom and offers tutorial lessons along with a realistic simulation of about 50 different aircraft, including helicopters, fighter jets, airliners, as well as simple single engine airplanes. We purchased seven of them so that all six of our student crews (groups of four students), plus the teacher, can fly.

Mr. Holmes tests an Edustation
Mr. Holmes tests an Edustation

How will we use these simulators? The main way will be to teach the students the fundamentals of flight. Students will learn to fly, and in doing so, will learn how aircraft fly. They will also explore how the controls and power systems work on different aircraft. But the simulators offer much more–they give us a virtual way to test ideas of what happens in different situations in an airplane. For example, in studying how winds affect an airplane, rather than just reading about it, we will program various wind conditions in the simulator and study the effects firsthand.

Another potential aspect of using the flight simulators is gamification, the process of making learning activities into a game. This is a relatively new concept in education, though gamification has been a marketing technique for years. The idea is to make something more engaging by turning it into a game. The flight simulators provide a platform on which students can compete in various challenges. For instance, students might be asked to figure out how to search an area of the ocean for a missing sailboat, or to fly the most precise traffic pattern they can around an airport. In each case, they will have rules to follow, points to earn, and a chance to win.

No matter what way we use the flight simulators, we will be learning. They are a superb educational tool, and we are fortunate to have them. We will also share them with the rest of John Wallace Middle School once my students are comfortable with them and able to teach others how to use them.

Learning about Drones, RPAs, and R/C Aircraft

Over the past couple weeks, I have wanted to learn more about “drones,” a term that I found out is incorrect – the proper term is remotely piloted aircraft, or RPAs. Before these modern aircraft were in the news, they used to be just radio controlled aircraft, or R/C aircraft. What’s the difference? Drones are unmanned aircraft typically used for target practice. RPA’s are sophisticated aircraft used for many different missions and piloted by a crew on the ground using satellite signals. R/C aircraft are simply model aircraft flown using a remote control system that transmits the control signal from a handheld controller to the aircraft using a radio signal. For the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, flying small scale R/C aircraft will be part of the curriculum. Initially students will fly store bought models, then they will design and fly their own creations. To teach all this, I am getting proficient in R/C aircraft operations so we have a safe and instructive program.

Mr. Holmes in his backyard, taken with UDI R/C aircraft
Mr. Holmes in his backyard, taken with UDI R/C aircraft

The first thing I am doing is getting proficient with the R/C aircraft I got for the Academy: UDI R/C four-motor helicopters with cameras. These are sometimes called “quadcopters,” another incorrect term–quadrotor helicopter would be more correct. They have a simple onboard camera that takes photos and videos that can be downloaded after flight. They are simple to fly, and they give us a great way to learn about remote sensing, a major unit we will study in the spring. This photo of me in my backyard was taken using one of these aircraft.

The other thing I am doing to ensure we have a safe and effective R/C aircraft program is to join the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and to partner with a local chapter, the Central Connecticut R/C Club. Today, I went to the club’s “Fun Fly Day” at their field at 100 Meadow Road, Farmington, Connecticut. I met the club president, Damon Rosenthal, and watched club members, including several youth members, fly their aircraft–everything from 1/4 scale replicas of old warbirds to small, simple airplanes made from foam board. The flying is done following AMA’s safety rules. Beginners take lessons and get checked out by an instructor before they can operate their aircraft on the field. For anyone who has always wanted to fly, this is an alternative way to do it. The following photos are from today’s event. The club is also hosting another big event on National Model Aviation Day on August 15, 2015–any one is welcome to stop in and observe the flying and learn more about this sport. I also invited Mr. Rosenthal to give a talk at the Academy this fall to help our students learn about R/C aircraft flying and the club.

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Academy Floor is Poured

The new Academy of Aerospace and Engineering wing at John Wallace Middle School had its concrete slab floor poured on Friday, June 12th. In a few weeks, the walls will go up, then the interior work will start. Supplies and equipment are arriving daily. We will have a fully functional program on the first day of school in room 525 (science lab), and we should move into our facility by early October. Here are photos of the floor being poured:

Cement truck and pump truck
Cement truck and pump truck
Cement being pumped and poured
Cement being pumped and poured
Smoothing cement as it is poured
Smoothing cement as it is poured
Academy floor pour4
Final smoothing of poured floor

Summer Math Assignment

Dear Parents/Guardians,
We had a great orientation night on May 28th with all students and their parents/guardians in attendance. Here is an update since then, with the main point being summer math work:

Summer Work: All students should do the summer math assignment, IXL summer prep for Algebra I (H) in Academy of Aerospace & Engineering. Math work is the only summer assignment I am giving. It involves a few exercises in the online program, http://IXL.com . Students already have accounts in IXL, but I will follow up and have IXL email you your son’s/daughter’s username and password in case they do not have it. Please have your son/daughter begin this math assignment after July 31st and complete it before the start of school on August 26th. I don’t want them to finish it early in the summer, as then it will not be fresh on their minds when school starts. For students that have any problems, I will be available in the JWMS Library/Media Center on August 19, 20, and 21, from 8:00AM to 12:00Noon. Just email me a day or so prior to arrange to meet, and we can sit down and go over any items where you need help.

Academy Preparations: I have been writing the curriculum, coordinating with outside agencies, and ordering supplies, plus doing the many tasks needed to begin a new program. Everything is on track to start the year with an outstanding program. The new facility will likely be finished about one month after school starts, and once we move in and get it ready, we will have an opening ceremony to which you will be invited. Remember to mark our Academy Induction Ceremony on your calendar – it is September 16, 5:00 to 6:00 PM, right before the JWMS Open House – we will have food and drinks, then induct your sons and daughters into the Academy and have them show you what they have learned so far.

I will send out new blog posts about every 2 weeks, and a monthly email newsletter – but email me through my JWMS website if you have any questions. Have a great summer!