Academy Students Give Orientation Tours to 6th Graders

The students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School gave orientation tours to the Wallace 6th grade science classes on December 22nd and 23rd, the last two days of school prior to the winter break. While many students prior to the break are just putting in time, watching videos in class or doing some other light work, these students prepared and gave four 50-minute tours per day, plus completed two service projects during their after school periods. Right to the end, they performed professionally and with excellence. This performance showed me that these students have taken ownership of the academy, and they are proud to show it to others. For any school program, this is a valid indicator of success.

The purpose for giving tours to the 6th graders is that these younger students will be applying in a couple months for the twenty-five 7th grade positions in next year’s academy class. (For questions about the application process, contact Ms. Kim Davis, Director of Extended Learning at Newington Public Schools.) The 6th grade science teachers and I collaborated on a suitable schedule where each of their classes could visit the academy and benefit from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities. I gave my students a class period to plan the schedule and the activities. After I gave them an initial proposal, they discussed it, modified it, and rehearsed what they would do and say. The overall plan was that one or more academy students would accompany each group of three to four 6th graders on a tour of all of our facilities, then show the 6th graders the basics of flight on the flight simulators. I talked to the 6th graders less than five minutes on each tour–the rest of the time, the academy students did the talking. They gave the tours without any sort of script, and they did an outstanding job in guiding the 6th graders around and in presenting the academy’s academic and other activities. The following photos are from the two days of tours.

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Academy Students Transition from Physical Science Unit to Life Science Unit Using Systems Analysis

The students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School are transitioning to a new science unit, and my challenge was to make the transition smooth and coherent from a learner’s perspective. Our district’s 7th grade science curriculum follows the state standards and has three major units, each taking about three months: physical science, life science, and earth science. We just finished the physical science unit dealing with work, energy, and power. The life science unit covers cells and human body systems, while the earth science unit covers landforms and geology. At first, it appears these units have nothing in common in terms of content. We have separate texts and separate types of labs for each. I have tied these units together somewhat by integrating them with aerospace and engineering topics. Nevertheless, the transition from one to another could be abrupt. Abrupt transitions hamper learning, as students have difficulty connecting one topic with another. My solution was to examine things at the systems level to provide the students an overarching view transcending all the units.

In the previous science unit covering work, energy, and power, I had connected these science concepts with how an aircraft flies, how it is controlled, and how it is propelled. The students have learned all about aircraft, especially airplanes. Therefore, for this transition, we started by doing a capstone project where I had them look at aircraft at the systems level. Each crew (student group) was assigned a different system to research and explain to the class. These included airplane electrical, hydraulic, fuel, environmental, oxygen, fire protection, and landing gear systems. In previous units we had already covered the flight control and propulsion systems. As the students presented their topics, we discussed how each system was made up of parts that contributed to the system’s purpose, but how they also interacted with other systems. For example, the landing gear system uses hydraulic and electrical power to operate. We then had a discussion how all this related to the human body and its systems. The students realized that while the human body has separate systems that we study, they also interact and interconnect. The nervous system and circulatory system, for example, are intertwined with all of the other systems in our bodies. While the students’ presentations of aircraft systems showed them as separate entities, we also discussed how we had seen the aircraft systems on a C-130 transport airplane on a field trip as being all together in a space–all of the wires of the electrical system, the tubing of the hydraulic system, and the mechanisms of the flight control system were all visible in the cargo compartment, mashed together in tight spaces. We connected this picture to how the human body is not a series of neatly discrete systems like a textbook picture, but also seems to have everything wrapped together and stuffed into our bodies. In the end, the students concluded their look at airplanes at the systems level, and began the life science unit also at the systems level.

After this transition, I explained that we would start by looking at the human body systems at their smallest component level, cells. We will then see how these connect as tissue, and how the tissue makes up organs and other parts of our human body systems. The students in their discussions have managed to make this transition and these connections, so I feel it was an effective approach. We finally started our exploration of cells with a lesson on microscope use. As I do with all equipment or technology that we use in the classroom, I started by posting the microscope operating manual online as a homework assignment to read and study. The next day, we had a “quiz” where each crew explained part of the manual to the class. Therefore, before we touched a microscope, we had reviewed how it was constructed, how it operated, and how to use it properly. Next, I assigned an inquiry lab where students used microscopes to examine a piece of paper with print on it, then a leaf and some grass. They sketched the microscope and labeled its parts, and they sketched each object they examined under the microscope. Our next lessons will begin to focus on cells as the students understand what the microscope is showing them. The photos here are from the first microscope lesson.

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Academy Students Learning through an Integrated Curriculum

At the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School, students are learning through an “integrated curriculum.” An integrated curriculum can take many forms, but they all integrate the traditional disciplines, such as science and math, into a more coherent approach. Instead of teaching these subjects in isolation, where each class has no relation to the next, in an integrated curriculum the students experience the same theme or broad topic throughout all of their classes. My approach has been to plan the four academy courses (Algebra I, 7th Grade Science, Principles of Aerospace Science, and Innovations in Aerospace) together and in synchronization. I planned the major units around a theme, and I plan my weekly lessons so that the topics have as much commonality as possible. The three science courses have been fairly easy to integrate. The challenge has been to integrate the Algebra I topics, as that course has a strict curricular flow. Nevertheless, we use the Algebra topics continually in the science classes, so I have been able to integrate the math into the science more than I initially expected.

Crew 1 winning prop redesign
Crew 1 with Best Redesigned Propeller

A typical example of this integrated curriculum is the most recent unit we covered: power and propulsion. We started with some initial lectures and discussion in 7th Grade Science following up on earlier work on energy and work. The students learned the concept of power, then tried to measure power in a lab experiment using rubber band powered model airplanes. In Principles of Aerospace Science they learned about various aircraft propulsion systems, the source of power in an airplane. They also flew several different aircraft on the flight simulator and compared their engine power in Innovations in Aerospace. Next we focused on propellers. The students learned how to reverse engineer something in Innovations in Aerospace, then applied this knowledge by reverse engineering the propeller on the rubber band powered model airplane. In combined sessions of all three science classes, the students put the propeller design into a computer aided design (CAD) program, researched and brainstormed ways to improve it, redesigned the propeller to provide more thrust, printed the new design on the 3D printer and flight tested it. Throughout the project, we were studying mathematical functions in Algebra I, so wherever possible, we looked at how functional relationships existed in our science work. At the end of this project, Crew 1, which happens to be all girls this quarter, had the best propeller design as seen in the photo above. During their last flight test, the girls launched this model airplane, and it flew level and straight for a considerable distance–very impressive. In a follow on theme-based project looking at jet engines, the students had a similar progression of integrated lessons, ending with our current project building models of jet engines, seen in the photos below. The hands on assembly of a jet engine kit presented challenges in following directions and tool usage, but the students have done well.

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However, another aspect of an integrated curriculum is to have learning experiences beyond the classroom. Some things we are doing in this regard are to have quarterly service projects and to compete in STEM competitions. For the service projects, I told the students to plan what they wanted to do–I only gave them a timeframe and general theme to follow. Our first project was in November with the theme of Veterans Day. On their own, the students came up with the idea of selling hand-made bracelets at lunch in the cafeteria and donating the money earned to the Connecticut Veterans Hospital in Newington. Additionally, the students made a large card dedicated to veterans and asked the bracelet customers to sign it. We presented the funds, $171 in total, and the card to Mr. Joe Canzanella of the Connecticut Veterans Hospital Voluntary Services this past week, as seen in the photo below. He spoke to our students afterwards and thanked them and Mr. Milardo, our principal.

Service project 1st qtr

Finally, our current STEM competition is CyberPatriot, a cyber security competition sponsored by the Air Force Association and Northrup Grumman. Here is our team, along with our intern, Kate Morehead, at the start of the six-hour round of the competition yesterday.

CyberPatriot team fall 2015

Using an integrated curriculum, we are breaking new ground and giving our students a holistic learning experience that should prove to be far more effective than traditional classes.