Learning about the “T” in STEM

In the 2nd Newsletter – Academy of Aerospace and Engineering that I sent out by email this week to all of the academy’s parents and students, I mentioned how we are getting a variety of technology items to use in the classroom. In some previous posts, I had already described the HotSeat Chassis Edustation flight simulators and the UDI R/C 4-motor helicopters with cameras.

One more recent item is the Vernier LabQuest 2 handheld computers and sensors – the photo shows an anemometer, or windspeed gage:

Vernier LabQuest 2 handheld computer and anemometer
Vernier LabQuest 2 handheld computer and anemometer

Another new item is the Orion Observer 60mm diameter refractor telescopes, shown here:

Orion Observer 60mm refractor telescope
Orion Observer 60mm refractor telescope

What is the point of all this technology? How will the students and I use it? First, our academy is a STEM program, and the “T” in “STEM” stands for technology. The purpose of a STEM program is to integrate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics so that all of these subjects are covered in every class. Instead of the traditional sequestering of each subject with each taught and learned in isolation from the others, we will discuss and use topics, concepts, and skills from each class in every other class. Therefore, the students will use technology as an integral part of all their academy classes, just as math will be integrated into all of them, as will science and engineering. In other words, students will learn to use technology whenever and however they deem it to be appropriate. I will guide them to be comfortable using all of these items I have shown, and the students will have broad guidelines on how to use these items safely and appropriately. After that, they can choose to use any item at any time. This approach differs from a traditional approach where, for example, a teacher might set up a lab with all of the microscopes in place and tell the students exactly what to do, with little deviation or exploration allowed. This approach is appropriate if students rarely use an item of technology, and they need specific guidance. But in our STEM classroom, the students will become comfortable and skilled enough in the use of various technologies that they will eventually decide on what to use and how to use it, exploring various ways to use each item. I will just oversee their activities to ensure safety of the students and care of the equipment. The students will develop a lifelong skill to learn to use technology in innovative ways following their own ideas.

My next blog post will discuss our approach to learning math in the coming year. Have a great summer!

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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.