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:

STEM Academy Provides Enriched Learning

Students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering have an integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum that not only interconnects the four classes that students take, but also enriches their learning with diverse activities and experiences. Here are examples of activities students have done over the past two weeks with photos:

The 8th grade academy students taught the 7th grade academy students how to use different tools in the makerspace safely. The 7th graders can now begin doing projects that require building prototypes by using the makerspace resources.

 

The 8th graders finished a major engineering design project where they worked to design, build, and launch the fastest possible model rocket. Launching over three days, they achieved 29 successful launches of their six rockets (one per crew). Student Vidhisha Thakkar was the launch control officer, managing all launch operations.

To learn more about cybersecurity and prepare for the CyberPatriot competition, both 7th and 8th graders listened to guest speaker and CyberPatriot mentor, Emily Failla, as she described the intricacies of Windows operating systems and the security features they have.

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As they continue to learn about aircraft and the science of flight, the 7th graders did a lab comparing the flight performance of two store-bought balsa gliders. Soon they will get an engineering project to design, build, and test an improved glider.

The 8th graders got an assignment to help NASA with their Asteroid Redirect Mission in case an asteroid comes hurtling towards Earth. Their project is to design a way to use rockets to push an asteroid far enough off course so that it misses Earth. This requires an application of the concept of impulse, or applied force over time, an extension of what they are learning in 8th Grade Science with Ms. Garavel.

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Finally, a few academy students took advantage of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) Young Eagles program where experienced pilots from EAA take up students on free flights. While this is not an official part of our program and not sponsored by our school district, we have had students participate in the Young Eagles program several times with EAA Chapter 27 at Meriden-Markham Airport.

Again, all these activities happened over the past two weeks, and this is only some of what we do in the academy. Enriched learning motivates students to do their best. One 7th grader was asked if the academy was what he thought it would be, and his response was, “Oh no, it is so much more than I imagined!”

Academy CyberPatriot Teams Place 1st and 2nd in State Middle School Division

Today we found out that the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering students on the two CyberPatriot teams we fielded placed first and second overall in the Middle School Division State Round. In other words, out of the Connecticut middle school teams competing in CyberPatriot, we were the best and second best overall. Our teams were named as those in a military exercise are named: Blue Team, which ended up being #1, and Red Team, which came in #2. Newington Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. William C. Collins, came and presented the award certificates to both teams. Here are photos:

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Superintendent Collins presents awards to Academy of Aerospace and Engineering CyberPatriot teams (Blue Team on left and Red Team on right)
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Blue Team Captain (left) and Red Team Captain (right) accept awards from Superintendent Collins

What is CyberPatriot?

“CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program. There are three main programs within CyberPatriot: the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, AFA CyberCamps and the Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative. CyberPatriot was conceived by the Air Force Association (AFA) to inspire students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation’s future.” (Source: http://uscyberpatriot.org)

For the Middle School Division of CyberPatriot, the teams competed in three rounds–Round One in November, Round Two in December, and the State Round in January. The top teams out of these three rounds advanced to the semifinals in February. We did not make this cut, but we still did very well overall. Considering this is our second season competing, we have grown considerably in knowledge and skill in cyber security, so we plan to do even better next year. As the leader of a STEM academy, I have found CyberPatriot to be an outstanding experience. The students not only learned about cyber security in-depth, but they also learned how to compete in an online setting with thousands of other competitors.

Here are the award certificates:

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Learning Cyber Security through CyberPatriot STEM Challenge

Yesterday, twelve students organized in two teams from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering competed in CyberPatriot, the nation’s largest cyber security contest for high school and middle school students. The contest, sponsored mainly by the Air Force Association and Northrop Grumman, is a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) challenge that requires students to study cyber security principles and apply them in a real-world environment. From the contest website, here is a more detailed explanation:

CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program. At the center of CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. The competition puts teams of high school and middle school students in the position of newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company. In the rounds of competition, teams are given a set of virtual images that represent operating systems and are tasked with finding cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images and hardening the system while maintaining critical services in a six hour period. Teams compete for the top placement within their state and region, and the top teams in the nation earn all-expenses paid trips to Baltimore, MD for the National Finals Competition where they can earn national recognition and scholarship money.

The competition yesterday was Round One, requiring students to compete during a six-hour window over this weekend. We chose to compete from 12:00 noon to 6:00 PM. Since it was a holiday, we could not use our school, so the local Newington Chamber of Commerce generously gave us their office and conference room instead. The students were in two teams, each of which had a competition laptop. Each team had three eighth graders, one of whom had competed last year and serves as team captain this year, and three seventh graders. They logged into the CyberPatriot site at 12:00 and became IT administrators for the next six hours. Whenever they did something that fixed a cyber vulnerability, “Mario” music from the video game would play, giving them immediate positive feedback. A siren sounded if a mistake was made. In the end, we did well with both teams earning almost 70 out of 100 possible points–we won’t learn our final official scores until this coming week. Nevertheless, it was a great learning experience for everyone. Here are a series of photos showing the teams–in the last photo, note the jubilation as one team earns points during the last 15 minutes of competition.

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Preparing for STEM Competitions

As we finish the second week of school at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School, students are learning the Engineering Design Process (borrowed from NASA), and how it compares to the Scientific Method (source: www.makeitsolar.com). Both of these are problem solving methods, but each is more appropriate in certain situations. We reviewed the scientific method first, since students have learned that in the past. We did a lab using a computer simulation to determine the density of water, and we practiced writing a full lab report. Today, we focused on the engineering design process, and the students had a couple of engineering design challenges. One involved making a FPG-9 (foam plate glider, 9-inch) and experimenting with its control surfaces. Here are some photos:

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These type of activities are a lot of fun for the students and me – but they also serve a purpose. Students learn to work in teams and quickly develop, test, and refine solutions. They also learn how to meet deadlines, as some design challenges have strict time constraints. Students must present their ideas, as well, and defend their choice of design. All of these are life skills.

We will be developing these life skills much more fully by participating in regional and state-level STEM competitions. Each competition will require the students to organize themselves, schedule practices, determine roles of team members, and then practice for the competition. Here are competitions I am planning to introduce to the students so that they can plan to compete:

I will be seeking mentors for many of these contests – please contact me if you can help. Practices will be every other Friday afternoon – see the Academy annual calendar for the dates.