Teachers learn about STEM resources for the classroom

August 1, 2013

From organized volunteer programs to model airplanes to AOPA’s AV8RS, teachers have a variety of resources to help them integrate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) into their curriculum.

Educators who attended Teachers’ Day at EAA AirVenture on July 30 learned that STEM components can be as elaborate as bringing an airplane into a school to provide hands-on training in a shop class context, or as basic as having students watch an aviation film. The free half-day workshop was sponsored by Build a Plane, a nonprofit group that promotes aviation and aerospace education. Build a Plane solicits aircraft donations and places the airplanes free of charge so that students can repair or rebuild them. To date, 250 projects have been placed in schools around the nation. An Aeronca project is parked in front of the Build a Plane tent at AirVenture, Executive Director Katrina Bradshaw told the group. “If anyone is interested, it is looking for a home,” she said.

As the General Aviation Manufacturers Association searches for ways to help teachers facilitate the STEM education of the nation’s young people, “what we found is that as manufacturers we weren’t tapping into the whole spectrum of what we need to keep this industry going forward,” said GAMA President Pete Bunce. “That’s people to design, build, and maintain [aircraft].” It’s one of the reasons GAMA and Build a Plane teamed up to sponsor a nationwide competition in which teams of students used software to design an airplane. Two teams of students from high schools in Michigan and Minnesota won the grand prize, and were sent to the Glasair Aviation facility in Arlington, Wash., to build two airplanes via Glasair’s Two Weeks to Taxi program. The airplanes were completed and flown to AirVenture. A feature article on the contest is slated to run in the October 2013 AOPA Pilot.

The GAMA/Build a Plane project was “an incredible experience,” said Jeppesen CEO Mark Van Tine, who worked alongside the teenagers on one of the airplanes. “How do we make STEM real? How do we make it tangible for people? Building components for an airplane takes real precision, takes a lot of science and engineering and chemistry. This program was a chance to do that.” It was an experiment, he said, and added, “As we went through this process, on the second day we realized we had something really special.”

Youth Aviation Adventure “gets kids jazzed about aviation” through half-day programs typically run on Saturdays at airports, said Dan Kiser, who founded Youth Aviation Adventure in 1997 along with Steve Wathen. Aimed at children ages 12 to 18, YAA includes 10 learning modules on all facets of aviation using a curriculum designed with the assistance of The Ohio State University. More than 11,000 people have attended a Youth Aviation Adventure program, including children and adults, he said. “I think we do some good in that area in lighting some interest in some of the adults who go through the program,” he said. YAA has 26 partner programs in 13 states, with a goal to reach 50 states and 25,000 youths per year by 2017, he said.

Airplane models are a perfect means to engage young children in aviation and keep them interested until they’re old enough to begin formal flight training, said Bill Pritchett, education director with the Academy of Model Aeronautics. AMA offers free membership to people age 19 or younger, and an online activity center called AMA Flight School answers questions about how to build and learn to fly a model airplane, and also has information for teachers.

“You can help kids become pilots now,” AMA’s Gordon Schimmel said. “We don’t have to wait or defer gratification until they’re old enough to solo.”  There are more than 2,400 model airplane clubs that can provide many activities for children as they wait for Young Eagles rides, for example. “Aviators can get a feel for flight control before they take to the skies,” he said.

AOPA offers a wide selection of tools for teachers in its PATH (Pilots And Teachers Handbook) materials, said Katie Pribyl, vice president of communications. The free PATH Handbook includes 11 modules for middle-school-aged students, along with worksheets, exercises, quizzes, and learning objectives on topics such as weight and balance, flight controls, weather, and aviation history. It can be ordered from AOPA or downloaded free of charge. Pribyl said. Supplemental materials are available for other age groups, including connect-the-dots puzzles for kindergarten through third grade and an aviation career guide for those in grades 9 through 12.

AOPA’s youth membership program known as AV8RS launched one year ago and now has 4,500 participants, Pribyl said. Geared to ages 13 through 18, AV8RS is meant to be complementary to other programs, she said. The program includes a digital subscription to Flight Training magazine, a dedicated bimonthly newsletter, opportunities to win scholarships, and free access to AOPA’s toll-free Pilot Information Center help line. A social media component on Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, and a blog “really gets these kids into a community of like-minded kids who are going in the same direction,” Pribyl said.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman | AOPA Technical Editor, AOPA

AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.