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.

Crew 1 jet kitCrew 2 jet kit.JPGCrew 3 jet kitCrew 4 jet kitCrew 5 jet kitCrew 6 jet kit

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.

Author: Bryan Holmes, Physics & Math Teacher, STEM Competition Mentor

Starting at Thomaston High School in Thomaston, Connecticut, in fall of 2018.

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