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Teachers Take Full Advantage of Aero-Sim Program
By: Amy Johnson

James Beasley and David Markham were among a dozen teachers who returned to the classroom this summer – not as instructors, but as students.

Beasley and Markham, both science teachers from Hamilton High School in Alabama, traveled to NASA Langley for two weeks to learn how to beef up their lesson plans and gain a broader understanding of aerospace during the Simulation-Based Aerospace Engineering Teacher Professional Development program, also called Aero-Sim.

Aero-Sim teachers.
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David Fahringer shows Aero-Sim teachers some fabricated pieces that will be part of the IRVE III project. They were made in Langley's Computer Aided Manufacturing Section. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

The experience, said Markham, has been extremely "valuable."

"NASA has a lot to offer, and this program has been great because we're being exposed to so many things, particularly modeling and simulation activities," he said. "There's a lot of utility in what we’re learning and it's super applicable."

The purpose of the program, now in its second year, is to allow teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the latest NASA aerospace engineering technologies while working closely with agency mentors. The goal is for the teachers to share what they learned with their students – in turn, exciting them about STEM.

Beasley doesn't think it will be too hard to get his students excited.

"I don't think that will be a challenge," he said. "The simulations we are learning are very interesting and resemble video games. It fits the cultural climate these students are familiar with."

Simulation-based aerospace engineering relies on computer models and simulations of aerospace structures, materials, atmospheric flight conditions and system operations design improvements for the next generation of flight vehicles and systems, such as the air transportation system.

"Simulations are very hands-on," added Markham. "By entering in data and seeing real-world results, it becomes a very subtle and interesting way for students to learn."

"NASA continually strives to nurture the nation’s future engineers, scientists and researchers through quality experiences in STEM areas, which include modeling and simulation," said Caryn Kelly, curriculum coordinator of the Aero-Sim workshop. "The ultimate goal of the program is to get students interested in aerospace engineering and computer simulation early in their education."

Kelly said the teachers took "full advantage of the experience," and that she's already seen some exciting lesson plans created by the teachers.

For Beasley, working with NASA technical experts was the best part.

"Everyone here is so accessible and willing to help even though you know they have plenty of things to do," he said.

Math teacher Karen Orhon from Camden Hills Regional High School in Maine said the workshop gave her plenty of ideas on how to get her students more excited about math and gave her a new perspective about what NASA does.

"I loved taking the tours and seeing all the equipment and machinery," she said. "I've never seen that much hardware before."

In between creating lesson plans, hearing presentations and learning about new software, the teachers also had some fun. They toured the Mars Airplane Simulator, the National Transonic Facility, fabrication shop and vertical spin tunnel. They also built Geobat flying saucers, paper airplanes, wore flight suits and took a field trip to the Virginia Living Museum.

Orhon is looking forward to sharing what she learned with her students.

"It's good for the kids to hear what kinds of things are happening in the world outside of where they live," she said.

Markham and Beasley have already begun sharing with their students what they've been doing during their summer vacation.

"Oh, they know what we're doing," Markham said. "They've been texting me during the workshop to find out what we're learning!"

In addition to NASA Langley, three other centers are participating in the program this year, including Ames Research Center, Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center.

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