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.


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.


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!”

Experiential Learning By Providing Relevant STEM Experiences to Students

At the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, experiential learning is a big part of the curriculum. Experiential learning is based on giving students relevant experiences that help them understand and learn new concepts. It also requires we provide time for thoughtful reflection after these experiences. Typical learning experiences we do on a weekly basis are to use the flight simulators to experience what an aircraft actually does in flight, after we have studied a topic about flight in the classroom. Bringing in guest speakers who share their experiences in college STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs or in STEM careers is another form of experiential learning. Field trips, such as the one we are doing to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum this Thursday, are great experiential learning opportunities. The STEM competitions we do provides invaluable experiences. In all these cases, we reflect on what we learn, usually with a class discussion at a minimum, and often with a written reflection.

This past week, we had a couple instances of experiential learning. First, the eighth graders taught the seventh graders how to operate the tools and use the supplies in the makerspace safely and efficiently. This was a good review for the eighth graders, and it was a very relevant experience for the seventh graders since they are now using the makerspace to do a Rube Goldberg project demonstrating a sequence of simple machines. Another experience a few academy students had this weekend was to fly with the Meriden chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association in their Young Eagles Day. This was not a school sponsored event, but I had publicized it to the students a few weeks ago, and I went out to the Meriden Markham Airport where it was held this Saturday to watch them fly. Today, these students shared their experience flying in a real, small airplane with the rest of the class. Such experiences can often be life-changing for a young person.

Here are photos of the eighth graders teaching the seventh graders in the makerspace:


Here are photos from the Young Eagles Day:


New Academy Facility Almost Ready–Plus Other News

Artist Rendering of Academy of Aerospace and Engineering
Artist Rendering of Academy of Aerospace and Engineering

The Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School is about to begin its next phase when we move into our new facility. The contractors are working hard so that we have our last day in our temporary classroom on Friday, October 2nd and begin teaching and learning in our new rooms on Monday, October 5th. We will go from operating in a crowded science lab room to having a dedicated science classroom and lab, a math classroom, and an aerospace lab. The aerospace lab area will include a whole wall of flight simulators with study tables nearby, a collaboration area for brainstorming and discussion, and a makerspace for creative engineering design. The artist’s rendering gives a good idea what it will be like. We will take several days to fully settle in, then on October 22nd, 6:00 to 8:00 PM, the Superintendent of Newington Public Schools is hosting a grand opening ceremony and open house at the new facility for students, their families, teachers and mentors, and local dignitaries.

Academy Induction Ceremony
Academy Induction Ceremony

In other news, we had an outstanding Academy Induction Ceremony on the night of the Wallace School open house. Almost all students and their families were able to attend. This ceremony signified that the new students were truly members now of a new, dynamic learning community. To prove the point, they showed their families how to fly the flight simulators.

Finally, we had another guest speaker on September 18th, Mr. Bob Spaulding, President of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 27 from Meriden-Markham Airport. He explained to the students what the EAA does and what it offers to youth. The students were interested in the Young Eagles program where EAA pilots take up youth for free flights. The next local Young Eagles event is on Saturday, October 17, 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM at Meriden-Markham Airport, 213 Evansville Avenue, Meriden, CT 06451. Students interested in flying should show up at the airport at 9:00 AM with their parents/guardians–parents/guardians must sign permission forms on the day of the event before a student is allowed to fly. Happy flying!