STEM Education Takes Flight

We met a lot of people as they stopped by the Tormach Booth to chat with us at EAA AirVenture last week – not only Pilots and Aviation Enthusiasts, but  Machinists, Fabricators, Educators, and many more people simply interested in technology.  One such group are the folks behind ThinkGlobalFlight.org, a non-profit organization that was created to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) in classrooms around the world.

On a mission to promote STEM education as it relates to aerospace and aviation, Captain Judy Rice has credentials that include roles as former Executive Director Youth Education of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), former Deputy Director Aerospace Education of Civil Air Patrol (CAP), and 20 years in education.

Planning the final details for their 2013 trip around the world, Rice and Navigator Fred Nauer will fly together in a single engine aircraft that proudly displays the name of the 501 (c )3 non-profit, ThinkGlobalFlight.org.

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Using Fly to Learn, a curriculum developed by flight simulator software developer X-Plane, Rice and Nauer will bring STEM-based lessons to students and teachers, sharing their experiences using social media tools including Facebook, You Tube, Podcast, Forums, and the ThinkGlobalFlight.org website.

Connecting with Rice in person at the 2012 EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, she explained how ThinkGlobalFlight.org and Fly to Learn complement so many other STEM programs, including the Tormach sponsored TeachStemNow.com.

“I’m a retired school teacher and was teaching before STEM was a buzzword. For the last 20 years, I’ve been doing aerospace education on a contract basis. When Fly To Learn came to me last December, they asked me what I thought about it and if I wanted to be involved, I about fell out of my chair. I’ve not seen anything as powerful in engineering, the missing “E”. There’s very little E out there for middle school to high school, and especially elementary,” Rice began.

“In the fall of 2013, we’re flying around the world and connecting classrooms. It’s immense. Already we have 20 countries,” she continued. “We have a translator factor, and we’ll be building forums on the website so students and teachers can talk to each other.”

Explaining the Learn to Fly curriculum, Rice describes the program content using words like “powerful” and “exciting”. “Lessons 1-5 teach how to use the X-Plane program, the science of flight, and how to fly a simulator. Then, Lessons 6-9 include the design component. Within X-Plane, there’s a component called Plane Maker that teaches middle school students to design a complete airplane,” Rice said.

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“The middle school kids design five airfoils. In Lesson 10 they go back into X-Plane and then fly the five airfoils in simulation mode. What’s really powerful from an engineering perspective is the graphs that are available in X-Plane to show how the planes flew.”

Rice and the Fly to Learn team are also developing a teacher training program for the X-Plane curriculum. “Teachers really need the training to take the fear factor out. The program is so easy to use is that once the teacher sees it the fear factor is gone; this is really the coming out party.”

While the Fly to Learn curriculum is firmly focused on teaching the science of flight principles and introductory airplane design, Rice is well aware of the importance of manufacturing education as it relates to STEM in the avionics and aerospace industries.  “What’s really neat about Tormach,” Rice related, “is how your equipment is making manufacturing—and CNC manufacturing in particular —more accessible in the classrooms today that are training tomorrow’s workforce. One of my past contract projects was for the government on workforce needs in aerospace. I really understand that, unless you are in the business, the need for manufacturing skilled labor is bigger than anyone knows. The air traffic controllers and the pro pilots think they are the biggest need, but that’s not the case. It’s the people that know how to make things and that includes the skilled labor.”

For more information on ThinkGlobalFlight.org and Fly to Learn, visit both websites. Rice is also an ambassador for the “Live Your Dream” scholarships are available through Sennheiser Aviation.