The Ultimate Authentic Assessment: Air Navigation in Action

The 8th graders in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering are learning about air navigation as part of their aerospace elective, Principles of Aerospace Science II. Air navigation is a complex subject, so we started with the simplest form of navigation, pilotage, or navigating by landmarks and reading a chart. We then learned deductive (“dead”) reckoning, or plotting a course, figuring the distance and speed, then computing the time to travel each leg. We learned how latitude and longitude are measured, and how to find them using celestial references and time. Then we practiced fixing our position with very high frequency omnidirectional range (VOR) radio navigation aids and using celestial references. At each stage, the students started with a lecture or short exercise, then they flew whatever we were studying on the flight simulator. As we studied these topics, we also looked at historic events in navigation, such as how celestial navigation developed, how longitude was finally found using accurate clocks, and how Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic using only dead reckoning and pilotage. We also discussed modern navigation systems, primarily the flight management system (FMS) and GPS navigation. However, since the modern systems have essentially automated navigation, we practiced the old methods to understand the basics of air navigation. The entire unit blended well with our science unit on astronomy and our geometry unit on circles.

As a final assessment, rather than give the students a traditional test, I gave them a task to fly a 100-mile route that included three turn points of 45 degrees or more heading change. They had to create a flight plan, plot the entire route on an air chart, then fly the route in real time using pilotage and dead reckoning throughout the flight. They were also required to fix their position at each turn point using two VOR radials. The students flew in pairs (and one group of three), alternating who flew and who navigated. This task was what educators call an authentic assessment, as it required students to complete a real-world, or authentic, task. Our STEMPilot Edustation flight simulators were ideal for this unit, as the students got to fly what they were learning both during lessons and for the authentic assessment.

Here are photos of the students flying their assessment, and some quotes from students on the end of unit reflection:


To start off, this unit in particular was my favorite by far this whole year. It combined history and flying as well as math into this unit with the history of navigation as well as the flight planning and that’s what I liked about the project. Not to mention that we got to spend 2 class periods flying on the simulators and flying our planned routes. That experience is something that I had not experienced before with the other missions and assignments that we did on the simulators. Touching up on the history portion, I enjoyed learning about the hardships that people in the passed faced when trying to find longitude and latitude to navigate around the world. I thought that the way this unit was walked though, was excellent because it was easy to digest as a student, but also brought some challenges to test your knowledge on what you learned and prove what you learned. I would not change a thing about how this unit was taught and I’m glad that we ended our class’ experience with the principles of aerospace science class with such a great unit. Overall, this was a great unit.

This unit was one of the more favored among the students of the class from what I have heard, and I personally agree because of how interactive and intuitive the assignments were, how history developed technologies we were able to use to navigate, and how the assessment of what we learned was set up and done to be more interactive and timely than a written quiz. This unit was taught very well, starting with the basics of navigation (different forms, ig.) and then going to the history of those basics and the advances of them, along the way adding them to a flight plan like a real pilot would do. The way that we proved our knowledge about this unit was honestly fun and also took some skill that I never thought I’d need as a student or in a career, but really it may come in handy in the future if I look forward to flying for a career or even getting a license. This was a perfect application for aerospace science, and I do not believe a thing should be changed about the unit.

To begin I felt that this Principles of Aerospace Science II unit was my favorite. In the beginning I didn’t think that I would like it that much. But that changed quickly. I really liked how we went on the simulators almost every single day. Also I like how we didn’t do the same thing everyday. Some days were lectures, some were simulators, some were flight planning, also some days we used computer websites, and lastly other days we watched videos. My favorite assignment from this unit was by far the final one. In this we planned a 100 nautical mile route. Then from their we found VOR’s, latitude, longitude, time, distance, heading, and other stuff like that. Then when we flew it using VOR and Dead Reckoning it was really fun and I learned a lot from it. Something that made this class unique from others was that it also covered a history perspective of it. That was very interesting learning about Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic. Overall this was my favorite unit by far and there isn’t much to improve it.

Overall, I found this unit fun and interesting, mostly because of what we learned. In this unit, we learned about different types of navigation, including dead reckoning and NAVAIDS, as well as GPS and FMS. After learning about these ways of air navigation, went through a 100 nautical mile trip around New York State, where we had to plan it with the headings and lengths of the legs, then fly it on the flight simulators accordingly. I found this the most interesting (along with probably everyone else in the class) because we HAD to apply everything we learned throughout the unit to navigate around New York. This was one of the most fun units in the academy because we had to practice staying on route and keeping correct heading and altitudes in most weather conditions.

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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