Gamification in the Classroom Using Flight Simulators

Students Fly an Edustation Flight Simulator

At the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School, we have seven STEMPilot Edustation flight simulators that we use every week in class. Generally, we use them during our last elective period as flight training devices to explore some aspect of aviation. Lately, I am beginning to plan more uses of these simulators in science and math lessons. For example, this week I plan to use the simulators in Algebra to gather data on aircraft climb performance, then plot a “best fit” line. The simulators give students a hands on way to explore a topic, gather data, analyze trends, and do many other STEM related tasks. Students tend to associate flight simulators with video gaming, and while we treat the simulator lessons as seriously as other lessons, there is definitely an element of fun involved when you get to fly. This use of gaming technology in learning is part of a general trend called gamification.

Gamification is not just a trend in education. It actually started in marketing, as companies realized they could attract customers more readily by enticing them with a game or competition, such as McDonalds’ McVideogames. Businesses today also are looking at gamification in the workplace as a way to boost employee morale, as discussed in this Forbes magazine article. Making learning fun, especially in elementary and middle school, is crucial to keep students engaged. Gamification helps do that.

For teachers or others looking to use flight simulators in creative ways to teach science or math, feel free to look at this set of Flight Simulator STEM Lessons I wrote. This is a work in progress, and I welcome comments.

Flight Simulators for Creative Learning

Edustation Flight Simulator, made by Hotseat Chassis
Edustation Flight Simulator, made by Hotseat Chassis

Last week I accepted delivery of the flight simulators we will use in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering: seven Edustation flight simulators, made in Waterbury, Connecticut by a company called Hotseat Chassis, Inc. The Edustation is made for the classroom and offers tutorial lessons along with a realistic simulation of about 50 different aircraft, including helicopters, fighter jets, airliners, as well as simple single engine airplanes. We purchased seven of them so that all six of our student crews (groups of four students), plus the teacher, can fly.

Mr. Holmes tests an Edustation
Mr. Holmes tests an Edustation

How will we use these simulators? The main way will be to teach the students the fundamentals of flight. Students will learn to fly, and in doing so, will learn how aircraft fly. They will also explore how the controls and power systems work on different aircraft. But the simulators offer much more–they give us a virtual way to test ideas of what happens in different situations in an airplane. For example, in studying how winds affect an airplane, rather than just reading about it, we will program various wind conditions in the simulator and study the effects firsthand.

Another potential aspect of using the flight simulators is gamification, the process of making learning activities into a game. This is a relatively new concept in education, though gamification has been a marketing technique for years. The idea is to make something more engaging by turning it into a game. The flight simulators provide a platform on which students can compete in various challenges. For instance, students might be asked to figure out how to search an area of the ocean for a missing sailboat, or to fly the most precise traffic pattern they can around an airport. In each case, they will have rules to follow, points to earn, and a chance to win.

No matter what way we use the flight simulators, we will be learning. They are a superb educational tool, and we are fortunate to have them. We will also share them with the rest of John Wallace Middle School once my students are comfortable with them and able to teach others how to use them.