Retrospective of STEM Activities

Students in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering have completed about half the school year, and as 2017 ends, here are some of the accomplishments and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) activities of these students so far this school year:

  • The 7th graders have achieved basic proficiency in science inquiry, engineering design, and researching and presenting topics, while the 8th graders have achieved advanced proficiency in these areas.
  • Here are the major engineering design projects the students have done so far:
    • 7th grade:
      • Rube Goldberg project – design and build a Rube Goldberg machine that demonstrates several simple machines.
      • Glider challenge – design, build, and fly a hand launched glider that flies the farthest.
      • Propeller challenge – design, 3D print, and fly an improved propeller to make a Guillow rubber band powered airplane fly the farthest.
      • Aerospace board game project – design, build, and play a board game that teaches and tests players in their aerospace knowledge.
    • 8th grade:
      • Model rocket challenge – design, build, and launch a model rocket that climbs the fastest and highest.
      • Re-engine/Re-imagine challenge – design and present a plan to re-engine a fleet of airliners with Pratt&Whitney geared turbofan engines, and a plan to re-imagine the use of the old jet engines — both plans were presented to and judged by Mr. Dias, school principal, in a business presentation format.
      • Electric cargo airplane challenge – based on a high school/college challenge sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) – design, build, and fly a model airplane powered by two 6-volt motors to lift the highest possible amount of cargo weight (in pennies).
      • Amusement park challenge – design and present an amusement park ride that demonstrates the principles of circular motion and accounts for centripetal acceleration.
      • Aerospace arcade game – design, build, and play an aerospace themed arcade game that teaches and tests knowledge of aerospace and physical science.
  • Academy students have taken three major field trips:
  • The academy has hosted a series of speakers and mentors:
    • Two computer science professionals, Ryan Darge and Emily Failla, have given a presentation on cyber security to all students and mentored our CyberPatriot teams.
    • Engineering professionals from GKN Aerospace and PCX Aerostructures have visited several times to mentor students in engineering projects, and Mr. Bruce Fiedorowicz of GKN gave a presentation on GKN and the aerospace industry.
    • UCONN Engineering Ambassadors, undergraduate students at UCONN who major in engineering and do outreach to middle and high schools, came and spoke to our students and did workshops with them.
    • UCONN students in AIAA came and mentored students in engineering projects and spoke about the engineering program, especially in aerospace.
    • Teenage inventor and entrepreneur, Ayana Klein of 3Dux/Design, gave a Skype presentation to our students about how she started her company.
    • Several former academy students have visited to share their experiences at Newington High School.
  • Our two CyberPatriot teams have completed two rounds of the competition and are currently #2 and #3 out of eight active middle school teams in Connecticut.

This is not a complete list, but it shows the depth and breadth of experiences our students have gotten so far. Ms. Garavel and I look forward to a productive spring semester with these students!

Here is a photo collage from the past semester:

Helping Students See Themselves in College STEM Programs

Students from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering visited the University of Connecticut (UCONN) campus at Storrs today. We were hosted by the UCONN Engineering Ambassadors, a service organization made up of undergraduate engineering majors who do outreach to middle and high school students to show them what it takes to succeed at college as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) major. The Ambassadors gave us an outstanding tour of the campus, they provided a panel discussion with a diverse group of engineering students, and they led us in some fun STEM challenges. The 8th grade academy students also got to tour UCONN’s cogeneration plant, a uniquely energy efficient power plant. This field trip gave the academy students a firsthand look at what it’s like to be an engineering major at a big university, and it taught them what it takes to succeed there.  Here are photos from the trip:


Helping Students See Themselves in STEM Careers

Students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering get many opportunities to see themselves pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers later on in life. I frequently let them know that a STEM career may not have the word “science,” “technology,” “engineering,” or “math” in the job title — any career can involve STEM skills if you have to explore new topics, think critically, or solve problems. Nevertheless, by majoring in one or more of the STEM disciplines in college, students are more likely to be able to use these skills in whatever career they choose. Additionally, employers are saying there are not enough STEM graduates to fill available positions, so students who major in STEM fields are much more likely to get multiple job offers.

One way we help academy students understand college STEM programs is by inviting in the UCONN Engineering Ambassadors. These are undergraduate engineering students at UCONN in Storrs, Connecticut, who volunteer to reach out to middle and high school students to explain what STEM is and what it’s like being a STEM major. They came to the academy two years ago, and we had three of them come to the academy this past week. One ambassador gave a presentation on how SpaceX is planning a massive worldwide internet service, then he explained how he had grown up in Haiti and New York City before coming to UCONN. The other two ambassadors explained how the Hubble Space Telescope works, and they also described their personal backgrounds. Our students were full of questions, and in the reflection afterwards, they showed they learned a lot about college STEM programs from the Engineering Ambassadors. Here are photos of the visit:


We have follow on activities with the Engineering Ambassadors when we go to UCONN on a field trip later this month. They will give us tours, have a panel of students with whom our students can talk, and have some fun STEM activities for us. Overall, the Engineering Ambassadors do an outstanding job in helping students have a vision for STEM in college and beyond.

Another group that helps our students envision themselves in STEM careers are the UCONN engineering students in the local chapter of AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). These students came to the academy last year, and they will come later this month to help mentor the 8th graders who are doing an AIAA engineering challenge and to speak to all our students about engineering at UCONN.

Finally, we have mentors and speakers come from various aerospace firms to the academy. This year so far, we have had mentors from PCX Aerostructures come in and mentor the 8th graders in the AIAA engineering challenge, and we will have a guest speaker for all students come from PCX, GKN Aerospace, and Sikorsky Aircraft. Additionally, we plan to visit Pratt & Whitney in December on a field trip, and the students will get to learn about careers there. All of these companies demonstrate how STEM graduates can have challenging and fulfilling careers.


Academy Students Learn from UCONN Engineering Ambassadors

The students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School have had two outstanding learning opportunities with the UCONN Engineering Ambassadors this month. The Engineering Ambassadors is a club at the University of Connecticut at Storrs composed of undergraduate students majoring in engineering. Their mission statement says: “Engineering Ambassadors engage a diverse student population, our university and the greater community in activities that inspire them to explore a variety of creative solutions to the problems facing humanity. We develop ourselves as passionate engineers of the future with the power to express engineering concepts through fundamentals of science and mathematics.” I contacted the Ambassadors last spring, and they were very accommodating and helpful in setting up a visit to our school and a field trip to UCONN’s Storrs campus.

During the visit to our school on November 2nd, two different teams presented topics relating to aerospace, then led a hands-on challenge for the students to carry out. In the first presentation, we learned about the Hubble Space Telescope, then the students tried to align several mirrors to reflect a laser beam onto a target, imitating the process used to direct and focus a telescope image. In the second presentation, students learned about rocket propulsion, then made paper rockets launched from a straw to demonstrate Newton’s Third Law of motion. In both cases, the presenters also took time to explain their backgrounds, how they liked being engineering students at UCONN, and what it took to major in this demanding field. These photos are from their visit:


On November 20th, all of the academy students went on a field trip to UCONN Storrs where the Engineering Ambassadors gave us a series of presentations, a panel discussion with several engineering students, a tour of the engineering facilities, and a hands-on challenge activity. Additionally, our intern, Kate Morehead, also a student at UCONN, led a tour of the business school buildings, library, student union, Gampel Pavilion, and Co-Op bookstore and gift shop. We also did a photo stop at the statue of Jonathan, the Husky, UCONN’s mascot, where students rubbed his nose for good luck. Here are some photos from the field trip:

Academy Students and Intern Kate Morehead by Jonathan Husky Statue
Academy Students and Intern Kate Morehead by Jonathan Husky Statue
Engineering Presentation
Engineering Presentation
Discussion with Engineering Student Panel
Discussion with Engineering Student Panel
Working on Egg Drop Challenge (3 photos)
Working on Egg Drop Challenge (3 photos)

Eggdrop UCONN 2Eggdrop UCONN 3

Fun at Lunch (2 photos)
Fun at Lunch (2 photos)

Lunch UCONN 2

The best testimony on how the students liked the trip comes from them, so here are some quotes I have gotten in the post-field trip reflections I assigned:

“The UCONN field trip was awesome, especially when we learned about the

different engineering concentrations. One of the concentrations I enjoyed

learning about was the Civil Engineering concentration because  it was cool

to see the shapes they used in order to  build modern day bridges and

stuff. Another concentration that I liked learning about was mechanical

engineering. This interest me because one of the concentrations was

aerospace engineering which I would like to do in the future. Lastly, I

enjoyed learning about the chemical engineer concentration because that is

what my uncle does, so it was cool to see what he studied when he went to


“The UCONN field trip was very fun, we toured the campus and learned about

all kind of different clubs. UCONN is one college I might consider going to

because they have such a huge variety of things to do. You could play

sports, join the engineering school, and many more. With the engineering

ambassadors we learned about the different kind of engineering. My

favorites were the Civil and Mechanical engineering. Overall I think that

UCONN is a great school.”

“The trip to UCONN was so fun. I believe that was the BEST field trip I

ever went on. But one thing I learned was how important time management is

in college. Like I didn’t realize that no one will tell you when to eat.

You need to balance your free time and school work. Also your homework

could last up to an entire week, but still be somewhat easy. Which is cool

because you could have so much free time and still do your homework. Also I

learned that you have so many resources to help you with anything. Its

ridiculous  how much help you can get there. I think UCONN is a great

school in a whole. You have a great education, sport teams, and a great

community of people to stand by you.”