Learning to Fly
From touring the inside of a supersonic wind tunnel to seeing experimental aircraft up-close, a NASA workshop gave a group of educators the opportunity to see firsthand the kind of research NASA is doing into the aerodynamics of flight.

Teachers looking at the nose of an airplane

Workshop participants visit the NASA Glenn Flight Research Building to learn about NASA's research aircraft. Image Credit: NASA

This summer, 29 educators attended the special workshop on aerodynamics research at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Glenn's Educational Programs Office, with support from NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, organized the workshop to showcase NASA's research in aerodynamics and to provide educators a networking opportunity.

Glenn educational technology specialist Carol Galica said participants were led in aeronautics activities that explain how airplanes work. The activities help answer questions about what causes an airplane to lift off the runway and how pilots control the movement of an airplane.

"They also have a better understanding about the basic principles of thrust and Newton's Laws of Motion," Galica said. "The workshop equipped participants to use students' interest in airplanes to introduce math and physics principles and problems."

Attending the workshop were members of NASA's Network of Educator Astronaut Teachers and educators working with NASA's Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy.

The Network of Educator Astronaut Teachers, or NEAT, is a group of outstanding teachers from around the U.S. selected from applicants for the Educator Astronaut project. NEAT members attend workshops and seminars at NASA centers to improve their ability to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, topics.

NASA's Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Aerospace Academy project, known as SEMAA, engages K-12 students in exciting, hands-on activities that encompass the research and technology of NASA's missions. SEMAA is a national project designed to increase the participation and retention of historically underserved and underrepresented K-12 youth in STEM. The Educational Programs Office at NASA's Glenn Research Center manages the project. SEMAA operates in 17 locations throughout 13 states and the District of Columbia.

These projects support NASA's goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Workshop attendee Brian Lucy said the highlights of the event were learning from researchers in the field how and why things fly, conducting experiments related to flight, and visiting sites around Glenn, such as wind tunnels, where research is done.

"I have come away from this workshop with many activities that I will share with my students. But the most important thing is the feeling of awe and wonder as I learned about the beginnings of aviation and the intricacies of how and why things fly," said Lucy, a sixth-grade Earth science teacher from Georgia. "I can understand how the early pioneers of aviation felt as they experimented and gradually learned about the processes that govern flight. The feeling of wonder associated with 'learning to fly' is the most important thing I want to share with my students."

Teachers observing a piece of foam on top of a cutting tool

Roger Storm of the NASA Glenn Educational Programs Office demonstrates the wing cutter equipment used to cut foam airfoils. Image Credit: NASA

Lucy is a SEMAA instructor, an aviation camp instructor at Atlanta's Fernbank Science Center, and head coach of the Science Olympiad team at his school. He sponsors a student model rocket club, and this year, for the first time, he is sponsoring a student aviation club. Students will build and fly rockets, planes, hot air balloons, gliders, kites and more.

"(As a result of this workshop) I will be able to share more details about aviation and give more in-depth explanations about aspects relating to aviation and flight," Lucy said. "Hopefully, this will improve relationships between my students and me, as I am better able to answer questions and to guide them through more exciting investigations."

Middle school mathematics teacher Lisa M. Suarez-Caraballo took from the workshop a tremendous amount of content to share with students about current research in math. She said she is better prepared now to answer students' questions about when they will use math in the real world. She is currently using NASA's Smart Skies Line Up with Math unit to review math concepts while teaching students about air traffic control. Smart Skies is a project out of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

A group photo in front of a hangar at Glenn Research Center's Lewis Field

Glenn's workshop on NASA's aerodynamics research was attended by 29 participants in NASA's Network of Educator Astronaut Teachers and in Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Aerospace Academy projects. Image Credit: NASA

"Learning about aeronautics and how to take it back to my students was great," Suarez-Caraballo said. "Being able to see firsthand research that is going on at NASA helps me teach my students more than just the mathematics involved. It also gives me more credibility, too, as I share photos and experiences with them."

Michigan teacher Casey Teliczan said the emphasis on aeronautics showed him the broad scope of NASA, that it is much more than the space program alone. "The opportunity to actually stand in a wind tunnel where important research is done adds credibility to my classes when I present them to students," he said.

In addition to being the student coordinator at River Valley Academy in Rockford, Mich., Teliczan incorporates his NASA experiences into after-school enrichment classes and summer adventure programs for elementary students. Teliczan plans to use the materials presented at the workshop in an aeronautics enrichment class.

"My job is to generate interest in STEM activities in young students, to show them that they can do something special and be a part of something important," he said. "Beyond that, I feel it is imperative that others who have no intention of working as scientists still have an understanding of science. It is these citizens and voters who will eventually fund the efforts of those who do go on to become scientists, engineers and astronauts. Without an informed public, scientists will have a difficult time indeed."

Related Resources
NASA's Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Aerospace Academy
NASA's Glenn Research Center
Glenn Research Center Education
NASA Education

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services