Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

An education initiative involving aviation

STEM--A plan for helping teachers and school counselors to teach students about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-using aviation


Jim Hanson

"The early risers get the pancakes!" Two days of learning and fun flying started out with breakfast for the students, teachers, and volunteers--courtesy of Lakes Area Technical Institute. This is a cut line and a photo credit in 8 point gill sans type face to use as a sample.

The Problem

Like so many things that we "know" to be true today, facts are fungible. What may have been good advice 20 years ago is not good advice today-yet these false "facts" remain in place until proven on longer to be true. Aviation is no different in this regard-"hangar tales" and hoary old myths are slow to change. As an FBO operator, I can't tell you how many people have told me "I always wanted to fly, but my teacher told me that I had to have 20/20 vision"-or "My teacher told me that if I wanted a career in aviation, I had to join the Air Force-and give them 8 years of my life."

Guidance counselors also seem to be unaware of aviation educational opportunities-often limiting the choice of aviation careers to "you could be a pilot, a mechanic, or a 'stewardess"-unaware of all of the other aviation jobs available in this field. When asked about wherea student could look for an aviation education in an area of interest-most teachers and counselors can't name an aviation specialty school-and of those who can name one, they usually name the "Big Name" schools-as pilots and people in the aviation industry, you've seen it before. Try asking a non-aviation person to name schools for flight, mechanics, aerial application, aviation electronics, or Air Traffic Control. Most are unable, and that's my point.

In the industry, we've tried many ways to reach out to youth-to get them excited about our industry-to instill the passion that most of us have developed for what we do for a career or for fun. The common lament of most youth outreach program chairmen is "we often have more pilots and workers than students-we can't get the word out to schools." What a shame-Young Eagles will give free airplane rides to youth-Ace Camp will do several days of total aviation immersion (including experiences that most pilots will never be able to do!) for little or no money-Sporty's Pilot Shop will provide a free Private Pilot Ground School (and a chance to earn college credit while still in high school), CAP will give an aviation education and flight time for free to high school students. There are aviation scholarships available that have few applicants-what a shame!Why is getting aviation information into schools so difficult? (I'd like to emphasize right away that I am not blaming teachers-I married one!). I've talked to "my teacher"-and several other teachers about the problem of getting good aviation information to teachers to help them do their job.

One of the big problems is that (like all of us), teachers are pressed for time. They are under increasing pressure to teach kids and increasing number of subjects-subjects that change from year to year to encompass whatever is in vogue at the time-"new math", "Earth Day", "Climate Change", revisionist history, and whatever is in the news at the time.

They are teaching more subjects, with more restrictions, in the same amount of time. Is it any wonder that they view someone approaching them with another request for their limited time with suspicion? Each group asking for their time is viewed as having "an agenda!"-no matter how altruistic their motives.

Teachers and school administrators are also wary about "What if something happened?" "What if I gave the OK to tell kids about Young Eagles, CAP, or any of the other opportunities-and something "happened"? Never mind that there are rules for adult supervisors in all of these organizations-that not only does the local aircraft owner have the required insurance, but there is also a national "umbrella" policy. The result? Many school-age kids are never exposed to the thrill of accomplishment and independence that aviation provides.

For teachers, the goal of education has increasingly become to be "safe"-"don't go outside the requirements-just teach what is placed before you."

For students, education has largely become a boring "put in your time, check the box, move on to the next grade."

That's not only poor education-that's a stifling education that doesn't challenge kids-it teaches them to be worker drones.

Think about the best teachers you ever had-for my own list of "best teachers"-every one of them found unique and interesting ways to present material! As I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that we have been going about trying to motivate kids all wrong. All of the industry aviation programs have been geared toward motivating kids-but those programs don't work unless kids are aware of them!

It's like supply-side vs. demand-side economics-we've been working on the assumption that if we put a valuable product (the supply side--aviation) in front of people, that they will automatically want more ("demand") of it.

The problem is that the consumers (students) aren't aware of what they can do with the product-until they've been shown the value of the product (aviation), they don't have an interest. When making an analogy, we have to be careful to be accurate, but it would be like putting most of our current consumer products before someone living 100 years ago-they wouldn't be aware of what the product could do for them-but once they found out, they couldn't live without it.

What we need to do is to not go directly to the students-we need to go through the educators and counselors-to make students aware of opportunities! I've watched as a particularly good public speaker (who happened to be a Glider Flight Instructor) tried to connect with high school students. Some students were interested in the glider-for others, it was just a class field trip. Faced with indifference from some students, the speakers said "Do you realizethat you can fly this glider solo at age 14? Do you realize that youcan be doing something that very few people in the country can do-and something that very few of your classmates have even thought about? Do you realize that you can carry passengers when you are 16-and that all of this glider time counts toward your powered airplane license?" The students paid attention-he had appealed to things that motivate kids-the ability to differentiate themselves from their classmates-the ability to do adult activities and participate in a "grown up" world-the need to challenge themselves-and perhaps, the thought of shocking their parents by announcing "I'm going to learn to fly!"

How to get that information to students? The answer was to do it through the schools, but to do so, we would have to have the teachers present it-and to do that, we would have to overcome any teacher objections.The buzzword in education today is STEM teaching-an attempt to have the U.S. regain leadership in scientific education. There are a number of "approved" textbooks and lesson plans to teach algebra, geometry, trigonometry, physics, and advanced science, but once again, the most memorable teachers find ways to teach outside the textbook.

The challenges

1.How to get teachers to embrace using aviation for STEM education. The answer: Prepare lesson plans for teachers. There is an excellent precedent. For our trip in a Cessna Caravan through the Caribbean, South America, Antarctica, and Central America, I had an artist friend draw up a poster. MnDOT Aeronautics printed up 5,000 copies and sent them to classrooms throughout Minnesota. I came up with 60 lesson plan ideas. MnDOT hired teachers to produce age-appropriate lesson plans about the trip, plans that reflected real-world problems we would have to solve. The lesson plans involved STEM, plus what we used to call social studies. MnDOT provided space on their website for a blog so classes and individuals could follow along, solving problems and anticipating our next leg. As a result, we had over 2 million hits nationwide but mostly from Minnesota due to the classroom posters.

2. Provide teachers and counselors with tools. In addition to the lesson plans, teachers need tools to teach. MnDOT used to print copies of training materials. Now, most material is downloadable on line. We found that teachers preferred a hard copy to have in hand for teacher/student interaction.

3. Provide teachers and counselors with current information about the shortage of qualified aviation personnel.

4. Provide teachers and counselors with a list of aviation education opportunities. Again, MnDOT used to have this but it needs to be updated.

5. Develop a partnership led by MnDOT Aeronautics with aviation industry groups and with aviation advocacy groups. MnDOT, being a government agency, is seen by educators as not having an agenda. Aviation groups in Minnesota trust and respect MnDOT. Yes, they are regulators, but they are the "Good Guys." People who do their best to make something happen, not to keep something from happening.

I really believe the key to effective aviation advocacy for students, teachers, and counselors in Minnesota must be led by MnDOT Aeronautics.

The proof – BETA testing

So far, the thought of using aviation to help teachers teach STEM was just that, a theory. We needed a demonstration project and I found one. Last fall, we held a Glider Regatta at Albert Lea. A Regatta is not a contest. It is simply a collection of pilots who get together to fly and socialize with one another over a long weekend. We had about a dozen gliders and a little over twice that many pilots. I received a phone call from Greg Klein, Director of the Lakes Area Technical Institute in Watertown, South Dakota. He asked if I minded if he brought over a motor glider to the Regatta. Minded? Of course not! Greg said he would give a motor glider ride to anyone who asked, glider pilots, airplane pilots, prospective students at their A&P/Aerial Applicator/flight training school. I asked what was in it for him. "It's the way I fill my classes" he replied. "Every person who rides in the motorglider becomes a "salesman" for our school. If anyone asks about attending a school, they are going to recommend ours!" I had to admire his willingness to get off the airport and go hunting for students, instead of waiting for the phone to ring. His classes were full!

Greg brought the motorglider to Albert Lea. He must have given 40 rides. We all had a good time. He mentioned that the school program had rebuilt a Schweizer 2-22 for an owner who paid the cost of the materials, and that they did the annual inspections on a Schwiezer 2-33 for another owner who, in turn, gave glider rides to students. He also described how the training aircraft in the program had been built up with "sweat equity." The gliders included a T-41 tow plane rebuild, a Champion Aurora taildragger that the program kept instead of payment for developing a straight alcohol STC for airplanes, and a number of donated or surplus airplanes and gliders. Lakes Area Technical Institute has created a remarkable program in Watertown, often out of "hand-me-downs."

At Albert Lea, I mentioned to Greg that with all this young talent in the A&P program, and the unusual concentration on gliders, he ought to consider incorporating glider ground launches behind vehicles as a way to get his students into the cockpit at minimal cost. I told him several other Glider CFIs and I would conduct the training. In addition to the gliders available at Brookings, S.D., the Black Hills Soaring Club volunteered a remarkably restored 2-22 and a whole crew of experienced flight and ground personnel to operate it. Paul Randall, dealer for the Pipestrel line of modern motor gliders, offered to bring a demonstrator over for the event. Harry Thompson offered to fly tow in the Citabria, and several other experienced glider pilots and instructors volunteered as well. A surprise to us, we had a number of certificated glider pilots and glider instructors who also wanted to learn ground launching. The airport staff was wonderful, filing the NOTAMs for us, coordinating the arrival and departure of scheduled flights, providing safety vests and handheld radios, and filling animal holes in the turf prior to our use.

The day started with a pancake and sausage breakfast for workers and glider riders alike, courtesy of Lakes Area Technical Institute in exchange for the generous services of all the glider instructors, pilots, and Designated Pilot Examiners. After breakfast, we concentrated on the ground launches first. We paired up experienced tow vehicle drivers with observers. The job of the tow vehicle driver is to simply accelerate and maintain a requested speed and never look back. That is the job of the observer, who can take signals from the pilot, alert the driver, and pull the release on the tow vehicle in the event of an emergency, directing the driver to clear the runway for the glider. As each person became proficient in one aspect of the ground launch, they were moved to train at another position at the glider end of the tow rope, moving gliders into position, loading passengers, hooking up the tow line, taking up slack and running the wing. In the meantime, the three motorgliders were conducting operations, getting people into the air for a 20-30 minute ride, including shutting down the engine for full glider operations. We were having fun now! We were tired at the end of the day but it was a happy tired. We hit the sack early. There was another day the next day!

On Saturday, everyone arrived early. Maybe it was the promise of another free breakfast but more likely, everyone was looking forward to having another day of fun! The weather forecast initially was for wind and the possibility of rain, but the wind was okay, and the rain stayed just south of Watertown. On this day, I had another element of our weekend, teaching the teachers.

I had asked Greg for a favor. Since LATI is an educational organization, I wanted to Beta Test my theory. I asked Greg to find 25 teachers to participate in a give and take session on providing the information they need to prepare students for an aviation career. In return, we would give them glider and motor glider rides. Greg asked for volunteers at a South Dakota STEM conference. After explaining this was to help teachers do their jobs, he quickly filled the 25 slots. Some teachers drove almost 8 hours one way, on a weekend, at their own expense, to attend!

Educating the educators

We talked about what the aviation industry needs to fill aviation jobs in the future, how students can be prepared for specialty education in public schools, the many educational opportunities available across the area, and non-traditional ways to obtain that education. I presented materials available through the aviation industry, including the wealth of information available online from MnDOT Aeronautics. Since the teachers involved were heavily loaded towards algebra, calculus, geometry, and physics due to the STEM conference, I produced four lesson plans involving science, technology, engineering, and math, and broke that down further for Junior and Senior High School. I explained how MnDOT Aeronautics cooperated with us on our trip through Central and South America to the Antarctic. I presented the teachers with contact information for EAA, AOPA, Sporty's Pilot Shop, Ace Camp, and CAP, all organizations that will provide free or low-cost training and flight experiences for students. The encouraging takeaway for me in this meeting was, while teachers might be wary of yet another mandated program to teach, once they found out they were being provided tools to teach classes they were already teaching, and to be able to teach it in a new and interesting way, they were ready to adopt the program.

After we left the classroom, we adjourned to the hangar, where LATI instructor Jim Behnken spent 20 minutes preflighting a glider for the teachers. The airframe itself provides many teachable moments about aerodynamics and aircraft control. The teachers toured the impressive facility at LATI, and the airplanes the students maintain. Then, it was on to the flight line! The teachers were able to experience ground launching and aero tow on gliders, plus operation in motor gliders. Though there were some initial fears, nearly every teacher elected to try each type of glider flight. There were smiles all around as they came down. Their cameras were loaded with photos and videos to share with fellow teachers and their students, along with what they had learned in the classroom. A written debrief in the days following revealed real enthusiasm on the part of the teachers!

Jim Hanson

Classroom setting

All in all, it was a superb weekend! All goals were met. We qualified the LATI students on all ground launch procedures and positions. We certified and recertified 14 glider pilots and instructors on the positions. We engaged in a good dialogue with 23 STEM teachers on using aviation as a way to make science, technology, engineering and math fun and relevant. We gave a total of 270 rides. We all had fun at minimal cost. We made new friends. It went so well there are already plans afoot to do more of these teacher events in other locations. As for the teachers, we received superb feedback. They had driven hundreds of miles at their own expense to experience this and to give us suggestions on implementing this program. All stated they will use much of what they experienced in their classrooms for years to come.

For better or worse, students spend more time with their teachers than they do at home. Is it any wonder that teachers have such an effect on kids? Let's make that time more meaningful!

Jim Hanson is the long-time manager of the Albert Lea, MN municipal airport. Jim is "up" for almost anything aeronautical. He has spent his entire life having fun with aircraft. Jim welcomes your feedback. If you have questions or suggestions on this program, contact Jim at his airport office 507 373 0608, or jimhanson@deskemdia.com


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