Retrospective of STEM Activities

Students in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering have completed about half the school year, and as 2017 ends, here are some of the accomplishments and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) activities of these students so far this school year:

  • The 7th graders have achieved basic proficiency in science inquiry, engineering design, and researching and presenting topics, while the 8th graders have achieved advanced proficiency in these areas.
  • Here are the major engineering design projects the students have done so far:
    • 7th grade:
      • Rube Goldberg project – design and build a Rube Goldberg machine that demonstrates several simple machines.
      • Glider challenge – design, build, and fly a hand launched glider that flies the farthest.
      • Propeller challenge – design, 3D print, and fly an improved propeller to make a Guillow rubber band powered airplane fly the farthest.
      • Aerospace board game project – design, build, and play a board game that teaches and tests players in their aerospace knowledge.
    • 8th grade:
      • Model rocket challenge – design, build, and launch a model rocket that climbs the fastest and highest.
      • Re-engine/Re-imagine challenge – design and present a plan to re-engine a fleet of airliners with Pratt&Whitney geared turbofan engines, and a plan to re-imagine the use of the old jet engines — both plans were presented to and judged by Mr. Dias, school principal, in a business presentation format.
      • Electric cargo airplane challenge – based on a high school/college challenge sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) – design, build, and fly a model airplane powered by two 6-volt motors to lift the highest possible amount of cargo weight (in pennies).
      • Amusement park challenge – design and present an amusement park ride that demonstrates the principles of circular motion and accounts for centripetal acceleration.
      • Aerospace arcade game – design, build, and play an aerospace themed arcade game that teaches and tests knowledge of aerospace and physical science.
  • Academy students have taken three major field trips:
  • The academy has hosted a series of speakers and mentors:
    • Two computer science professionals, Ryan Darge and Emily Failla, have given a presentation on cyber security to all students and mentored our CyberPatriot teams.
    • Engineering professionals from GKN Aerospace and PCX Aerostructures have visited several times to mentor students in engineering projects, and Mr. Bruce Fiedorowicz of GKN gave a presentation on GKN and the aerospace industry.
    • UCONN Engineering Ambassadors, undergraduate students at UCONN who major in engineering and do outreach to middle and high schools, came and spoke to our students and did workshops with them.
    • UCONN students in AIAA came and mentored students in engineering projects and spoke about the engineering program, especially in aerospace.
    • Teenage inventor and entrepreneur, Ayana Klein of 3Dux/Design, gave a Skype presentation to our students about how she started her company.
    • Several former academy students have visited to share their experiences at Newington High School.
  • Our two CyberPatriot teams have completed two rounds of the competition and are currently #2 and #3 out of eight active middle school teams in Connecticut.

This is not a complete list, but it shows the depth and breadth of experiences our students have gotten so far. Ms. Garavel and I look forward to a productive spring semester with these students!

Here is a photo collage from the past semester:

Encouraging Creative Tinkering in a Makerspace

When I was hired to plan out the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School, one aspect I built in was a makerspace. According to Open Education Database, makerspaces are “DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn” and “often have 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools, and more.” It is more than a workshop. The ultimate makerspace can be an entrepreneurial incubator – a perfect example is the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy, New York, which started as a humble makerspace in a basement and has mushroomed to fill a multi-story building housing a large makerspace, plus financial and legal advisors for new entrepreneurs and inventors. If you want to learn more about makerspaces and how to use them in school, I will be giving a workshop along with some of my students at the Tech2Learn conference on April 23rd at Quinnipiac University’s School of Education – this event will also have many other workshops to incorporate technology in the classroom.

For our middle school academy, the makerspace is a place where students can learn and practice various types of creative design. Examples include computer aided design (CAD) and 3D printing, wood working, arts and crafts, and basic reverse engineering, taking things apart to see how they work. Over the past several months since school started, I have given the students different design challenges and activities to learn all of these types of design. We are now focused on preparing for the Connecticut Invention Convention, and the makerspace is the perfect venue to design and build our inventions. I also have begun giving the students one day per week, “Free Fridays,” where they can design however and whatever they like. They have the freedom to tinker, build,  and experiment. To keep them somewhat focused, I only require that they set a goal and track their progress in meeting it. The students love this opportunity and have taken full advantage of it. The following photos give some idea of their activities:

Reverse Engineering in Makerspace
Brainstorming & Collaborating in Makerspace

Using CAD to 3D Print in the Makerspace:


Woodworking in the Makerspace:


School Starts Tomorrow! Here’s Some Information…

Makerbot Replicator 3D Printers
Makerbot Replicator 3D Printers

School starts tomorrow (August 26) at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School. We are ready for students and can’t wait to start the school year inaugurating our new program. This week, I finished setting up two new Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation 3D printers–students will be able to print from their laptops using two free computer-aided design (CAD) programs, Sketchup or TinkerCad, that I will teach them.

Mr. Gilbert of GDJ, Inc. with Wind Tunnel
Mr. Gilbert of GDJ, Inc. with Wind Tunnel

I also accepted delivery of our wind tunnel from Mr. Jack Gilbert, president of GDJ, Inc., and a former educator, engineer, and collaborator with NASA in aerospace education. His Flotek 250 wind tunnel is a beautiful piece of equipment which offers many different experiments with wind speed and aerodynamics.

As students come in tomorrow, they will be organized in “crews,” student groups modeled on a NASA space crew. Each crew member will have specific duties, depending on their activity. For the first few weeks of school, up through September 16th, students will be learning about all the aspects of the Academy program. Then on September 16th, we will host an induction ceremony from 5:00 to 6:00PM with food at the Academy classroom one hour prior to the Wallace school open house–students and their families are invited.

For parents, here are a few administrative notes as the year begins.

  • PowerSchool is the best source to see upcoming assignments and grades. I will post grades within one week of an assignment, usually updating all grades each weekend. I will update more frequently at the end of the term or after a major assignment. You will also be able to go to one location on the Wallace school website and see all of your son’s/daughter’s homework assignments–stand by for more information on that.
  • I will be using Google Classroom to assign as much work as possible to students, but when that is not appropriate, I may assign work using a different computer platform, or even on old fashioned paper. The goal is to use Google Classroom whenever feasible.
  • Students should bring in their summer work, especially math, and be prepared to ask questions tomorrow. I will give them one more day, till August 27th, before I collect it and grade it, though they may turn it in early. Several students told me they had trouble doing the Algebra I problems in–that’s okay, as you have not had Algebra I yet, so these were just a warmup–don’t be concerned with your score.
  • **IMPORTANT** I am sending home a letter tomorrow explaining that parents and students are required to attend a laptop orientation session in order to receive and take home a Lenovo laptop that all Academy students will get issued. This orientation will take place on Wednesday, September 2nd at 6 pm in the Martin Kellogg Middle School Auditorium. At this meeting, you will also receive the NPS 1-1 Technology Initiative Procedures (click to read) with consent forms and an optional laptop insurance application (click to read). We will review these documents in detail at the orientation on September 2nd.

As always, contact me with any questions. I am looking forward to a great school year with an outstanding group of students!