Archive for Thursday, January 18, 2007

Grant to introduce students to engineering

January 18, 2007

The word "yaw" may be jargon to anyone outside the aircraft industry, but next year De Soto USD 232 middle school students will know what it means.

"If you think of a plane twisting as it's sitting flat on your desk and you twist your hand, that's 'yaw,'" explained Kauffman Grant curriculum coordinator Mike Wiley. "The students will build a rough model of the airplane by sticking skewers through and twisting them."

Aviation is just one of four exploratory classes that will be available next fall to students at Lexington Trails Middle School, Mill Creek Middle School and Monticello Trails Middle School. Other courses include architectural engineering, bioscience and industrial engineering. The courses were funded through an $800,000 grant from the Ewing and Marion Kauffman Foundation. With partnerships from business and engineering professionals throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area, Wiley is spending this year planning the four courses.

"We felt a key component was a direct tie with metro engineers and the community," he said. "Those ties were what we wanted to focus on."

The courses will be exploratory and available in nine-week blocks. Curriculum for the sixth-grade aviation course might include building a model aircraft and then traveling to Gardner for the New Century Airfield, and learning from the engineers themselves about a hanger Burns and McDonnell Engineering designed for the Garmin Corporation.

"We want our students to be able to tour and see that," Wiley said. "This is exciting stuff that real people in our community are involved in. To make that real-life application for our students was important to us."

Wiley, an eight-year math teacher at Lexington Trails, said the courses would enhance current math and science curriculum at the middle school level. As a real-life example of how math and science can lead to successful and exciting careers, Wiley said students would be encouraged to take higher-level math and science courses at the high school level.

"A lot of adults struggle with algebra, but to help our students at middle school understand those applications -- that an engineer isn't someone who sits at a desk all day and plays with a calculator, they do exciting things. I think we'll have a lot more students interested in math and science," he said.

Business partnerships for the project include Burns & McDonnell Engineering, the Garmin Corporation, J.E. Dunn Construction Company, Hollis and Miller Architects, Terracon Consultants Inc., Sprint, The Kansas City Area Life Sciences and Kansas University. Wiley is meeting with business professionals in each company to plan the curriculum.

One challenge, Wiley said, was making complex engineering ideas understandable to the middle school student.

"I'm jotting down terminology (engineers) are using," he said. "I guess I've been a teacher for 12 years now -- eight of those in middle school, so I guess I kind of think like a middle school student know. I try to find ways to make connections with prior learning."

Aviation terms like yaw, pitch and roll can be taught more easily through hands-on study. Wiley said the students could make a model plane, using special colored skewers -- yellow for the "y" in yaw, purple for the "p" in pitch and red for the "r" in roll -- to understand where each motion affects the aircraft. There would be similar hands-on applications for each of the four classes.

Wiley said he would train teachers for the exploratory classes this spring. The grant funds the program for three years, and eventually the district will pick up the cost.

"With our district growing as it is, the need to have more exploratory offerings is going to be a necessity," Wiley said.

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