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 with Gliders

Experiential learning continues this month as the 7th graders in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering completed an engineering design project with gliders. Students followed the engineering design process (EDP) to research, brainstorm, design, build and test a glider made from various materials in our makerspace. Working with their crew members students followed the EDP steps to bring their glider to life. All research and brainstorming ideas are documented in the engineering notebook, along with a detailed sketch of the final design with dimensions. The students also document the testing phase and any resulting refinements to their design. An exciting end to their four days of designing, building, and testing was the “Fly Off” challenge. Each crew was given two attempts to fly their glider to determine which one could fly the farthest.

During this process students were encouraged to not only document these steps in writing, but also to assign one crew member as the photographer to capture the highlights. The following week students worked with Mr. Vallera, Technology Integration Teacher, to learn the basics of WeVideo. While learning the tools of this program they were challenged to incorporate their learning into a two-minute video about their glider project. They met this challenge and produced relevant, creative and informative videos capturing their collaborative efforts and hard work. They shared links of their individual videos and were assigned to watch at least three of those done by other students and to give feedback to the producers. Many of the students watched all of them because the videos were each so unique and showcased each person’s exceptional creative style. Some of the students’ comments are listed below as well as links to a few of the videos.

“Right off the bat, it was great how you not only said your crew name, but you gave us the name of your glider. Your text was great, you didn’t just say you were sanding or cutting, you told us exactly what you were doing. I also liked that you told us where you messed up, and what you did to fix the error. Your pictures were in an order that made sense. There were some spelling mistakes, but no big deal. It was great how you included a few different views of the final glider.”

“ I really liked how you included all of the parts of the EDP process. It made it really good, because you then related it with pictures. One thing I would have done was added more pictures to show how you were using the EDP process in your building of the glider.”

“It was great how you had the intro kinda of zoom out! I loved how you put steps for all the different parts of your video. Also, like what M mentioned, your captions for each slide helped me better understand what was happening. I thought your pictures were the perfect length of time! It was great how you included parts such as research and brainstorming in as steps, I just included the actual glider parts, and I thought it added a nice touch. It was nice that you added multiple examples of the notebook entries from people in your crew. Your music was a good choice because it made it better than just being silent, but it wasn’t distracting. I liked how you put indoor/outdoor testing as separate things, and the videos from that added a good thing. It was awesome how you put the distance it went after each test too.”

“I really like how you had multiple pictures for every part and had a brief explanation of what was happening. It was cool to see how every part was being made. It was a good idea to start with a picture of your crew and then have every part that went in making your plane. It was also awesome how you ended with videos of your plane fly and images of your final product. I especially like the videos from the final fly off, good job!”

Crew 1

Crew 2

Crew 3

Crew 4

Crew 5

Crew 6

Here are samples of a reflection essay about the engineering design process. Each student completed this after their glider was finished.

Glider project (what I learned)

            While building my crews glider, I learned a lot about gliders and the way they worked. I also learned some things about EDP and ways I can properly execute it. One of the things I learned about gliders was the types of gliders that there are. Believe it or not, a paper airplane is a type of glider, which i did not know before. There is also balsa wood and Styrofoam gliders which are better for models and student labs. Some of the more complex gliders are hang gliders and piloted gliders. Hang gliders look kind of like kites except there is a human controlling it. A piloted glider has all of the standard flight controls and parts of a plane, except for the engines.  A great example of a piloted glider would be the space shuttles in the space shuttle program. Their rockets come off in one of the stages of takeoff so they have to come back down to earth as a glider.

Another thing I learned about gliders was how they are made and used. They do not have engines and their fuselages made to be as aerodynamic as possible. This is why most gliders have reclined seats which allow the person in the glider (unless it is a model) to lean back and the fuselage will go over them. So basically, aerodynamics is a huge part of a glider since it can’t gain anymore thrust after take-off.

I also learned about the two main types of takeoff for larger gliders. For both of them, the glider is attached to something, but for one it is another plane and for the other it is something on the ground. When a glider is launched using a plane, the plane tows the glider behind it until the glider is at the desired altitude and then lets go of the glider. They both then turn in opposite directions so they don’t hit each other. For the other one, the glider is towed along the ground at a rather fast speed which gives it lift. The glider will get into the air and rise until it is at the desired altitude. Then the cable will let go and the glider will glide.

            During the actual creation of the glider, I learned how important EDP is. When you have a plan, it is going to be changed a lot. The original plan is almost never what you actually end up with so you have to keep a running record of you past designs and what worked and what didn’t. You should also keep a log of any changes you made so if the change doesn’t work, maybe you can find a way to put it back the way it was before. The last important thing I learned about EDP is how important it is to share any possible solutions you may come up with. If you don’t share your ideas, they will not be implemented and who knows, your idea might actually make the glider or whatever you are working on work.

What I learned about E.D.P and Gliders

       While doing the glider project we went through all the steps of the engineering design process, but for this project I feel we went more in depth than we did for the previous E.D.P project. We better followed the process and better followed the steps, including more research.

                        While doing the assignment we began with two days devoted to research and brainstorming, which I feel really helped us. In the Rube Goldberg project we kind of rushed the first step of the process trying to finish the research and brainstorming so we could build.  I learned how much the research can truly help you. A lot of our aircraft was inspired by our research. For example the weight added to the nose, the size of the wing vs. the size of our fuselage, and the way the things were placed. The brainstorm part was also very important because it gave us a plan to follow that we actually stuck with.

                        We also focused more on the testing part of E.D.P. We not only learned about what flight testing is, but we talked about how to test and even came up with a test on our own.  Again referring to our Rube Goldberg, we didn’t have a final test till about 10 minutes before presenting, and we didn’t even test for a certain thing, as scientific test usually do.

We learned a lot about gliders from this, as well. Not only did we learn about how they are designed, but we learned about how they fly and how to make them fly further. First of all I learned that there are different types of gliders used for different things, and for each one the design is very different.

One very cool fact in my opinion is how gliders take off they are usually towed behind another vehicle and then dropped into the air, and then it’s just a matter of getting enough lift to keep flying and not just drop down.

We learned how for model glider as we are making, it is best for the wing to be a length of 50-60- cm and the length of the fuselage should be 70% of that food a better lift to drag ratio. We also read on the slides we were shown in class that having a rounded nose with weight at the end minimized drag.

So by doing this not only fun but informative project, we further learned the process of E.D.P, more closely following its steps but we also learned about gliders and how they work. It was cool to compare the flight and design of an airplane to a glider which doesn’t have an engine so it doesn’t have lift.

All in all this is a very cool project that I know my group and I enjoyed doing. It taught us a lot more about E.D.P and definitely helped us better understand gliders.

Post by Ms. Garavel.