Academy Students Advance to State Finals in Connecticut Invention Convention

Eight students from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering who were selected as the best inventors at the Newington Invention Convention on March 1st competed in the Regional Connecticut Invention Conventions over the past two weekends. Out of these eight students, seven were selected to advance to the state finals at Connecticut Invention Convention. The state competition is Saturday, April 28, 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM in UCONN’s Gampel Pavilion. This is the second year in a row that seven out of eight academy students, or 88%, have advanced to state finals–the overall percentage of students who advance from the regionals to the state finals is less than 50%. I believe one reason for our high success rate is the academy’s integrated curriculum that includes quite a bit of engineering design, and another reason is that we just have great students!

These state finalists are:

7th graders:
Ryan Claffey – Field Tripper – organizes materials for students on a field trip.
Eli Johnson – Solar Water Purifier – purifies water using just sunlight.
Julia Remiszewski – Bungee Buckle – holds swim goggles in place better than a strap.
Jack Stair – EZ Jacket – allows people with disability to put on and fasten a jacket easily.

8th graders:
Jasmine Barber – EasyClean – uses safe chemicals to thoroughly clean dirty pots & pans.
Alyse Karanian – SolarShade – uses solar cells on window shades to generate electricity.
Vidhisha Thakkar – Flow Alert – provides a warning during a flood.

Here are photos of the state finalists just before they competed at the Regional Invention Convention:

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Integrating STEM Lessons

Students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering benefit from an integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculum everyday, but some days we are able to completely integrate these four disciplines. Today was such a day for the 7th graders. In 7th grade science, they have learned about simple machines, and compared the way an airplane climbs to an inclined plane. In aerospace science, they have learned how to fly an airplane and control it. In algebra they are learning how to find the line of best fit for a set of data points using linear regression, and to judge how well the data is correlated. They also have learned to use TI-84 graphing calculators and STEMPilot Edustation flight simulators, two pieces of learning technology we use weekly. Today’s assignment was for each crew (group of 4 students) to fly a flight simulator as if they were a flight test crew, carefully holding a steady airspeed as they climbed to an altitude of 3000 feet. On the way up, the crew members who were not flying were tasked with timing the climb and noting the elapsed time at every 500 feet of altitude. We got six sets of data from the six crews, then averaged the times to reach each 500-foot increment. Then we discussed how to do the linear regression, and the students computed a linear equation for the line of best fit and calculated the correlation coefficient, which was almost perfect. We discussed how the slope of this line was the climb rate, and we converted into units that pilots use, feet per minute. All this was done in about 40 minutes–an outstanding performance–and every student was involved. Here are photos of the students on the flight simulators and their data table with calculations:


IMG_4114 copyClimb Rate data

More on a Spiral Approach to STEM Learning

In a previous post, I discussed how our integrated curriculum in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering uses a spiral approach to learning. This means we revisit concepts in different classes and over time so that students repeatedly get a chance to solidify their learning. One recent example of this approach is in how the students are learning about aircraft propulsion.

In science and aerospace science, the 7th graders first learned about the forces of flight, including thrust, the force of propulsion. They also studied Newton’s Laws and learned that the Third Law explains how thrust works for both propellers and jet engines. Then they studied types of engines, including reciprocating (piston) engines and jet turbine engines. Finally, Ms. Garavel tasked them to do an engineering design project to redesign the propeller on a Guillow Strato Streak rubber band powered airplane. Each student crew (group of 4 students) is designing and 3D printing their propellers and will test them on the Guillow model airplane this week. In two weeks, the academy is going on a field trip to Pratt & Whitney and to the New England Air Museum to learn firsthand about jet engines and propulsion systems. Therefore, the 7th grade students have had repeated lessons where they learned about Newton’s Laws of motion, the forces of flight, and propulsion systems. Here is a photo of our two 3D printers with two different crews’ propeller designs on the build plates and a Guillow Strato Streak between them to show the original propeller that they are redesigning:


The 8th graders have spiraled back to learn more about aircraft propulsion systems in a two significant activities. First, I assigned a project where each 8th grade crew plays the role of an engineering team in an airline company in which the CEO has tasked them to re-engine the fleet with new Pratt & Whitney Pure Power geared turbofan engines, then to re-imagine a use for the old jet engines. For the first task, the students had to research and learn about the new Pure Power engines, then select the right model for each airliner and present their plan back to the CEO (played by Mr. Dias, our Principal). For the second task, the students used the engineering design process to research and brainstorm a new use for the old jet engines. The students will present their idea in the form of a business plan back to the CEO again this Tuesday. The 8th graders are also doing a more hands on project, as I assigned them the Electric Cargo Airplane Challenge developed for high school students by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). This is a tough challenge where students design and build a model airplane powered by one or two (their choice) 6-volt electric motors with propellers. The students must build the airplane from scratch, though they may use stock propellers and wheels. The electric motors are also provided to them. The electricity is supplied by a wire to the airplane that is connected to a heavy pole around which the airplane flies. The thrust is the same for every crew, since they all use the same power source, so the real challenge is to minimize weight and drag to effectively increase the net force (thrust) available.

I tried this project for the first time last year, and none of the six crews were able to really get their airplanes to fly, except for one crew that kept working on the airplane and finally got it flying after the project was officially finished. I shared this experience with my students this year, and they listened and improved on last year’s performance — so far, all three crews that have done the project have successfully flown their airplanes after some redesigning. The other three crews will start building their airplanes this week. We will have a fly off of all six crews in about three weeks. Here are photos of the first three crews with their airplanes, and some screen shots of a video of the first successful airplane to fly (the airplane of Crew 4, the second crew shown here):

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When we did the flight tests of these three aircraft this past week, we had some college engineering students from UCONN’s chapter of AIAA visiting us. They presented to the students about UCONN’s engineering program, and they observed and mentored the academy students. After they watched this flight test, and saw the 7th graders busily working on their 3D printed propeller project, one of the AIAA students told us, “I can’t believe how much these students know and what they are capable of doing here.” He was surprised that middle schoolers knew anything about aerodynamics or propulsion or that they could do engineering projects. The reason this is possible is because of our integrated curriculum and spiral approach to learning.

Integrated STEM Project: Designing Sundials

The 8th grade students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering have just completed an integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) project where each crew (student groups of four to five students) designed a sundial, built a model of it, tested it, and presented it to Mr. Dias, our current Assistant Principal and next year’s Principal at John Wallace Middle School. The requirement given to the students was to design a sundial with an aerospace theme that could be built on the school grounds outside the academy. Mr. Dias saw all the designs presented, then he chose what he believed was the best design that would complement our school. The winning design, by Crew 4, uses a person as the gnomon (the part of the sundial that casts the shadow) and directs the person to stand on different places on the sundial, depending on the time of year, in order to accurately depict the time year-round.

So what makes this an “integrated project?” Integration means applying what is learned in one class to a problem in another class, or connecting concepts across two or more classes. We do this type of learning every day in the academy, and this project was especially integrated. The 8th graders have learned about the Solar System and how the Sun, Moon and planets move across the sky from an Earth observer’s point of view–they applied this knowledge to the sundial since the Sun changes its position in the sky not only hour to hour, but also day to day. The students used astronomy software to plot the Sun’s position every hour from 6:00AM to 6:00PM on both the summer and winter solstices and on the spring and fall equinoxes. They used this information to design the hour lines on their sundials. Drawing these lines required knowledge of circles, which is the unit in geometry we are studying–so students applied their knowledge of central angles and angular motion to design the sundial’s face with its hour lines. Half of the students are also studying air navigation, including latitude and longitude, so they applied that knowledge to the problem of designing the gnomon whose angle depends on latitude. Finally, the students applied what they have learned the past two years in the academy about the engineering design process and presentation skills. All of these connections made this a highly integrated project.

Here are photos of each crew with models of their sundials:

Crew 1’s design would be on a pillar and is based on the academy logo with the gear as the sundial’s base and the red arrow as  the gnomon.
Crew 2’s design would be on a pillar and has an aerospace theme with celestial objects marking each hour.
Crew 3’s design uses the current academy sign, shaped like an aircraft tail, as the gnomon, then rocks in the ground would mark the hour lines.
WINNING DESIGN – Crew 4’s design would be laid out in the ground with pavers and requires a person to stand as gnomon on the appropriate month to cast a shadow and give the time.
Crew 5’s design is a large cement slab sundial in the ground with a gnomon shaped like an aircraft wing.
Crew 6’s design would be on a pillar and has interchangeable disks for each season  so that the sundial is accurate year round.

What is a STEM Academy? It’s an Integrated Approach to Learning–and Busy!

The Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School in Newington, Connecticut is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) academy – but what does that mean? There are different ways that question can be answered, depending on how the academy is set up. For me, in setting up this academy, it means that students have an integrated learning experience throughout their classes in the academy so that regardless of the class title, e.g., “Geometry” or “8th Grade Science,” the students are using and referring to science, technology, engineering, and math in every class. More specifically, whatever we discuss in one class, we try to use as a reference in the other classes. Not everything carries over every day, but the main topics do. We also emphasize how these subjects integrate more broadly with society and periodically discuss the ramifications of various STEM initiatives on society. For example, the 8th graders are about to learn about genetics and heredity, and we had a preliminary discussion about some ethical considerations of genetic engineering.

Integration of the various subjects also means we have a lot going on in our classes, and every day is different. In the last week of classes before winter break, we were especially busy. The 7th graders were finishing up an engineering project to design and test a propeller on a rubber band powered model airplane. The 8th graders all worked on improving the designs of their electrically powered model airplanes, a project developed by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). This project has been very challenging. When the first crews (groups of 4 students) designed and tested their airplanes, they didn’t even move. Now most crews have airplanes that are on the verge of taking off as they speed along the ground. Both projects have required students to use math and science as the basis of their designs, and good engineering practices to build and refine their designs. On top of all this, we hosted all of the 6th grade science classes in our school in a series of orientation visits, as these students will have the opportunity to apply to the academy in a couple months. On these visits, the 7th and 8th grade academy students gave a complete tour of the academy facility, then the 7th graders showed the 6th graders how to fly our STEMPilot flight simulators. We also did service projects in spirit with the holidays. The 8th graders collected items for the John Wallace Middle School Wish Club, and the 7th graders did a variety of collections and fundraisers for the Wish Club. It was a very busy week exemplifying an integrated approach to STEM.

Here are photos of the 8th grade crews with their electrically powered model airplanes:

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Here are photos of the 6th grade orientation visits:

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Here are some photos of the 7th graders working on their service projects:

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New Academy Facility Up and Running

The Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School moved into its new facility this week. After years of planning and budgeting, Newington Public Schools has constructed a world-class science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) wing for the school that opened on Monday, October 5th. The Academy students, who had been in a temporary science room for the first several weeks of school, were elated to move into a spacious, new suite of rooms. The following photos show the students working on lessons over the past week. In the first several photos,  they are following a NASA engineering design process to design and build Rube Goldberg machines. This project is the culmination of their jointly studying simple machines and an aerospace application of simple machines, airplane flight controls. The Rube Goldberg machines they build will use simple machines and have the theme of airplane flight controls. In the last two photos, students are seeing firsthand how secondary flight controls work and how they affect flight. This integrated approach to learning is the fundamental strategy for the Academy.

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