Teaching Kids Math and Science Through Flying

Last week I posted a speech given by the FAA acting administrator, Michael Huerta.  In that speech he made the following remark:

To continue our transformation, the FAA is working with many partners to develop and foster a workforce that is schooled in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math.

This is not a matter of focusing on high schools or junior colleges. To do this, we must reach down into middle school and start fostering the kind of attention on STEM disciplines early on.

There’s both a huge demand and a huge shortage for these kinds of skills in the United States.

To promote STEM education, we are mentoring teachers and working with others to hold boot camps for educators. We encourage teachers to give their lessons with an aeronautical twist. For example, when we teach the laws of Sir Isaac Newton, we ask them to consider using the four forces of flight as an example – lift, weight, thrust and drag.

If they are going to talk about navigation, we ask, why not use a visual flight rules sectional chart to teach the lesson rather than the typical road atlas?

There’s a myth that aeronautics is so difficult that the average teacher can’t handle it, and we want to bust that myth.

The Aspen School District is answering this call, and taking it one step farther.  They are proposing a program that would teach students to fly as part of the math and science curriculum.  I wish my school had offered something like this, then I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

It is based on a program in Albuquerque, NM that was started in 2005.  The program allows students in grades 4-12 to take flying lessons towards their pilot’s license along with classroom work in aerodynamics and applied mathematics.

The program even has an initial investment from a local couple, Lawrence and Joan Altman, in the form of a $50,000 donation.  They made the donation because of their concern with the declining level of education in America.  According to the National Academy of Sciences over half of the engineering degrees awarded by American universities are given to foreign-born students.

With further cuts on the horizon for the Aspen School District, the Altman’s are hoping other concerned residents will follow their lead and help raise the level of education in the area.  If this program is to really take off it will require a good amount of outside funding.

In 2009 the Albuquerque schools spent about $70,000 on the program, and students were required to pay about $50 per hour of flight training.  That is a fraction of the price that normal flight training costs, which could help inspire more kids to pursue flying which is a very good thing.

Throughout all of my years of education I continually asked how I would use information in the real world.  By teaching math and science in a setting where it is actually applied, students are more likely to enjoy it, as well as continue to pursue it.

We can only hope that programs like this will continue to pop up throughout the country in all the industries that rely on math and science.