In Her Words. Aviation 12 – an engaged, relevant classroom.

Ian Newton came late to teaching.  After a career in engineering and aviation, Ian found a new calling in the classroom at Rick Hansen Secondary School in Abbotsford, BC.  He teaches Physics, where he has turned his love of flight and his passion for reaching kids into a new course, Aviation 12. 

Ian has embraced the challenge of the BC Ed Plan and the Abbotsford School District’s Strategic Plan to engage and to make relevant both the content the delivery of his curriculum.  He is part of a network of Abbotsford educators who collaborate on inquiry in the classroom. Ian and others have been to such places as High Tech High, Project-Based Learning training with the Buck Institute and Calgary School of Science.  Under the guidance of principal, Greg Sharpe,  Director of Curriculum, Julie Rousseau  and along with District Helping Teacher, Michelle Middleton, teachers have begun to transform secondary classrooms.

At the end of semester one, Ian had each student submit a reflection on Aviation 12.  The text of one reflection follows.  Had I been asked to do a reflection on my senior physics class in 1970, I would have written about placing a sheet of 3 ringed paper between two stacked beakers and then blowing across the surface of the paper.  Magically and mystifyingly the surface of the paper rose!  What the…..?  ‘That’s how airplanes fly’, pronounced my beaming teacher. ‘Now let’s move on the chapter 6………’  Interesting, yes.  Engaging, no.  Here are the words of grade 12 student, Christine Tran, reflecting on the same material but in a 21st Century classroom!


            This class was nothing short from phenomenal.  Coming into this course, I knew very little about planes and how they are created other than that they were large fixed-wing aircraft for transporting passengers and cargo.  Whether it was learning about how the plane functions to how it is structured from a manufacturers point of view, this course was nothing but insightful.  The Aviation program consisted of numerous activities such as field trips to Boeing Fields, Coastal Pacific, Conair, Chinook Helicopters, and even our very own Abbotsford Airport.  At Boeing Fields in Seattle, I learned that constructing a 747 Dreamlifter and a 787 Dreamliner is a lot more complex than I had originally thought. The orchestration of the aircrafts used is called the assembly line process.  Assembly lines are designed for sequential organization of workers, tools, as well as machines, and parts.  This process is beneficial in a way that it is efficient, uses relatively less skilled labour, produces consistent results, and there is a much lower cost in mass production allowing the creation of several at a time.  Mass production involves building copies of a product in a quick and efficient manner, using assembly line techniques to send partially complete products to workers who each work on an individual step, rather than having a single worker work on a whole product from start to finish.  At Coastal Pacific, we experienced sitting in the pilot’s seat of a Cessna 172, a four-seat, single-engine, high-wing fixed-wing aircraft in which have been built more than any other aircraft. Then, we got front row seats to the view from the control tower while witnessing the air traffic controller in action assisting the landings and take-offs of aircrafts. At Conair, I had the opportunity to be inside a water bomber as well as be one of the first few people to see a new and improved upcoming design.  Afterwards, at Chinook Helicopters I met one of the first women in the world to obtain a helicopters license. Meeting her was not only honourable, but inspirational in a sense that not only males can be pilots but females like myself have the same credentials and are just as capable of becoming pilots.

Furthermore, everyone got to know each other as a whole and work on numerous projects together in this class making it a collaborative effort and allowing us to learn how to work as a team.  This skill is helpful in any aspect of Aviation; flying alongside a co-pilot or building the exclusive 787 Dreamliner with a team of people at Boeing Fields.  Projects that we engaged in include designing a wing and also building a semi-monocoque plane.  The purpose of the wing design project was to learn the different types and parts to the wings of an aircraft and be able to design a wing that demonstrates lift.  Throughout this wing project, I learned how the camber, leading edge, and trailing edge all contribute to creating lift in the wing just by the way it is shaped.  I gained knowledge of many new and interesting principles and ideas about lift. Some of which include Daniel Bernoulli’s Principle, the lift equation, and why air flow is important.  During the construction of the wing section, my partner and I made three model wings.  Each differently shaped and moulded.  What we learned through our design is that we never quite generated the lift we desired on each wing.  After thinking about the concept for a while we came up with two problems we had with each wing.  The first problem being that there was not enough camber, and inefficient camber resulted in a wing with a great deal of drag.  To solve this problem we made a deeper camber into one of the wings, and the lift seemed to improve a little.  The other problem was that we made our wing tails lower, which consequently caused more drag, and to fix that problem we cut some of the end part of the wing off and only then did our wings generate further lift.  Our final project was to construct a semi-monocoque plane that will not only fly for duration of time but also lift off on its own without any sort of fuelled engines attached.  This project challenged us to use our critical thinking skills and continuously make adjustments in order to improve the take-off and produce the smoothest flight possible.  Several adjustments had to be made such as the roughness and placement of our wings because if the wings were too far forward the plane would nose-dive due to the amount of weight at the front, with a forward CG (centre of gravity), our tail was producing a downwards force to balance the nose, but if the wings were too far moved rearwards that the centre of gravity fell behind our centre of life the tail then needed to generate “upwards” lift to keep the nose from pitching up, and that caused in the nose of the plane rising more and becoming slower as it needed to work harder. Then there was the length of our elastic that acted as “the motor” when we realized that the shorter the elastic the less likely it is to get tangled during take-off, and also the addition of baby oil in which decreased the friction to allow better movement.  Overall both projects gave us an opportunity to experience firsthand the sort of work aircraft engineers have, while encouraging us to problem solve and improve results of both projects through trial and error.  Before taking this course, never would I have imagined myself capable of producing such structures that are scale models of what engineers themselves manufacture.

            Another aspect to the course was learning how to read TAFs and METARs which are the most popular formats in the world for the transmission of weather data.  They are weather reports predominantly used by pilots in fulfillment of a part of a pre-flight weather briefing, and by meteorologists, who use aggregated METAR information to assist in weather forecasting.  Strangely, I found decoding METARs and TAFs the most enjoyable part because it felt like I was learning another language, the language that pilots use.  We also learned how to use various different tools such as an E6B to determine fuel required, magnetic headings, estimated time it would take to arrive to a destination, and airspeed.  Furthermore, I found how useful a pilot’s operating handbook is to determine weight and balance calculations and just basic instructions before flight.  All of these tools had ultimately prepared us for the single task of being able to create a flight plan for our final examination. Our flight plan had to be composed of take-off and landing distances, take-off briefing, weight and balance calculations, a navigation log, and a progress log.  This really tested our knowledge and tied everything that we had learned in the course together.

            For our final exam, using our flight plan we had to fly from Abbotsford Airport (CYXX) to Nanaimo (CYCD) in a Cessna 172 simulator. Going into the exam, I was nervous and fearful of not preparing myself enough.  However, the course itself had prepared me for this exam without even me realizing it. The exam was not based on “book-knowledge” although it may be helpful to some extent, but it encouraged you to use your natural ability to fly and common sense to put it simply. So as much as I studied, I wouldn’t have succeeded during my exam if I didn’t understand the general concepts learned in class that no book could ever teach me the same way.  The most challenging part of the flight was how sensitive the simulators controls were to every movement you made.  Overall, flying was nowhere near as challenging to landing due to the lack of visibility of the runway from afar and being able to angle yourself in preparation to land square onto the runway.  Timing was everything, the timing to decrease your speed as well as lower your altitude before approaching the runway.

What I loved most about this course however is that the instructor was what made this course enjoyable.  It wasn’t about the percentage we received in class, but the learning experience as a whole.  He had innovative teaching tactics as he ensured that our success was not based on our grades, but rather gave us an opportunity to grow and learn far beyond the curriculum and attain knowledge that was not taught by him, but taught by ourselves through experience.  The people I met through this Aviation course, as well as the places I would have not been able to go to without this course is not indescribable in words. These memories will be what I will cherish forever, and the skills that I have developed with everything I’ve learned are nothing that I could have achieved on my own. This course has opened numerous paths and provided great insight for me as a person keen to knowledge.  The exploration of all the various perspectives brought me to realize that I may have an interest and desire to work as an aircraft manufacturer as well as reinforced the drive to attain a career in Aviation.  I have been exposed a number of career paths in Aviation that include but aren’t limited to; Aviation Law, Commercial Pilot, Sports Pilot, Maintenance, Engineering, Airport Management, Manufacture and Design, Flight Instruction, and Air Traffic Control. Whether it involves working for the Boeing Company, becoming a Commercial Pilot, or even perhaps an Air Traffic Controller – I am intrigued by the different aspects of Aviation that I have come to understand aside from just becoming a pilot.

Hey, Ian.  I think you are onto something here.

This entry was posted in 21st Century Learning, Assessment, Best Practice, Personalizing High School, Teaching and Learning. Bookmark the permalink.

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