First Day of School and Setting Goals

Today was the first day of school at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering. We welcomed a new class of 25 seventh graders, while welcoming back the class of 25 eighth graders who started the program last year. We did several introductory activities to get the students back in the school mode, and the central activity was to discuss and have them set their goals for the coming year. Goal setting sounds easy, but it takes some thought to do it right. Ask any student what his or her goals will be for the coming year, and you will likely hear things like, “Get good grades” or “do better in math.” These goals are too vague and lack any measurable way to assess them. What is a “good” grade, and how do you get it? What does “doing better” mean in any class? The eighth graders and I discussed these ideas, and then they set their goals. Both Ms. Garavel, the seventh grade Academy teacher, and I were impressed with the focus and maturity of the goals the eighth graders set. Two paraphrased examples are, “I plan to study at least 30 minutes per night on each class to improve my performance,” and “I want to learn and memorize the Engineering Design Process to do a better job on engineering projects.” No goal is perfect, but for new eighth graders, these goals were outstanding. The seventh graders are in the process of making and revising their goals, so the eighth graders gave them some exemplars they can use. All in all, an outstanding first day of school. Here are photos of each class:

Seventh Grade Academy Students with Ms. Garavel
Seventh Grade Academy Students with Ms. Garavel


Eighth Grade Academy Students with Mr. Holmes
Eighth Grade Academy Students with Mr. Holmes


What Is the Purpose of a STEM Academy?

Final flight test 2
Students flight test gliders they designed and built after weeks of studying aeronautics

Another school year is about to begin, and this is the second year of operation for the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School. This year, we add 25 new 7th graders to our program, while last year’s 7th graders advance to 8th grade, making for 50 total students. Students in both grades will take their science classes and two aerospace and engineering electives in the academy, and most 8th graders will also take math there. Nevertheless, math is integrated into all subjects, as all subjects are integrated together. But what is the purpose of an academy that stresses science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in its curriculum?

Academy students and Mr. Holmes at Connecticut Invention Convention

The purpose of a STEM academy is obviously to improve students’ perception and abilities in STEM. By becoming more adept at science, technology, engineering, and math through daily emphasis and practice, the students can begin to envision themselves in a STEM college program or a STEM career field. There are current and forecast shortages in STEM, so this helps society. STEM careers are challenging and rewarding, so this also helps the students.

Students design a seismograph after studying NASA’s use of seismographs on Mars

There is a more fundamental purpose of a STEM academy program – to prepare students for life, regardless of the college major or career path they choose. Students in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering learn to think critically and solve problems. They practice asking questions, then seeking answers in a scientific way. They find solutions to problems using an engineering design process. They support their conclusions or solutions with facts and mathematical reasoning, and they learn to explain them simply and clearly. All of these skills prepare students for life in a technical society. We also acknowledge that STEM skills alone are not always enough to solve all types of problems or answer all types of questions, so we discuss more holistic approaches whenever appropriate. The goal is that students are ready to succeed in their future education, including college, in their careers, and as informed citizens.

Group photo UCONN
Academy Students and Intern Kate Morehead on field trip to UCONN

For parents of the academy’s new 7th grade class, this year is going to be a big change from the past. Your students will go through an adjustment period, then take off in their learning as they realize what they can do. Here is advice from last year’s 7th graders:

“Welcome to the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering! You just got accepted into a great program.”

“You will find it much different than all the other classes you have. There will be more thinking and effort.”

“You are going to have more freedom, but with more freedom comes more responsibility.”

“Another tip is changing your mind from operating like a 6th grader to a much older high school student. I’m not telling you to grow up really quickly, I am just telling you to be more mature.”

“We get work done, but  ALWAYS HAVE FUN.”

“Over the year that I have been in the Academy, there have been so many interesting and exciting projects and labs (far more than the regular classes).”

“You don’t just learn academics. You learn many teamwork, leadership, cooperation, and responsibility skills.”

“The academy is a great opportunity and I would not back down from it. I hope that you and your new classmates have a fantastic year at this new academy and hope you enjoy the experience!”

Contact me anytime with questions. I look forward to another great school year!

CyberPatriot team fall 2015
Academy’s CyberPatriot team for 2015-2016