Flying high

Air Camps attract educators from around the nation to Wright State

Michelle Fleming, left, director of Wright State’s Early Childhood Education Program, instructs educators during an Air Camp session at the university. The camps taught teachers how to use aviation and aeronautics as a learning vehicle for their students. (Photos by Matt Helton)

Normally, their world is the classroom. But schoolteachers from around the nation piloted airplanes and learned flight physics as part of a series of Air Camps this summer designed to get teachers to use aviation and aeronautics as a learning vehicle for their students. And several of the multi-experience sessions were held at Wright State University.

Air Camp is the vision of Dayton-area leaders who want to help young people nationwide achieve their potential, develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and pursue further education and future careers in STEM-related fields, aviation and aeronautics.

Teachers Air Camps were added to the program this summer, encouraging K–12 teachers to take part in a unique opportunity for STEM professional development. The four-day camps were designed to inspire K–12 teachers and education leaders to learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics by using aviation and aerospace as a medium.

Michelle Fleming, associate professor and director of the Early Childhood Education Program in the Wright State College of Education and Human Services, said one goal of the Teachers Air Camp is to challenge educators to grow their mindsets around scientific problem solving. Likewise, Fleming hopes teachers use challenging, investigative scientific experiences to promote a problem-solving mindset in their students.

“And part of Air Camp is helping the K–12 teachers understand they are not alone in the field,” said Fleming. “They should reach out to colleagues across the STEM fields to support, help, guide and provide a sounding board. Many STEM professionals are eager to connect with educators.”

Air Camp began in Dayton as a one-week residential camp for middle schoolers. It later spread to include K–12 educators — a program that is in its fourth year — and now has a national presence. Educational partners include Wright State and Sinclair College; featured partners include United Airlines and Dayton International Airport.

Wright State held one session in each of the three multi-session Air Camps over the summer, attracting 100 teachers from around the country — from New Jersey to Illinois to California.

The sessions held at Wright State focused on how to connect aviation to garden problem-based learning through the concepts of gravity and the natural sensors in seeds.

“We can look at force in motion in the garden and how that impacts life and the survival of life in that space,” said Fleming.

The teachers, who were divided into different “flight groups,” were shown a video of how astronauts on the International Space Station grow microgreens.

“How do we survive in space? Part of that is food,” said Fleming.

Educators from around the country participated in Air Camp sessions this summer at Wright State.

The teachers also got some eye-opening, hands-on experience. They took a physics flight class at the National Museum of the United States Air Force and attended ground school at Sinclair. Then flight instructors took the teachers individually up in small, single-propeller airplanes and turned the controls over to them.

“It’s the experience of doing something you didn’t think you could do,” said Heidi Steinbrink, Air Camp curriculum director. “How do you tie all of these concepts back into the classroom for students so they want to learn more? How do they learn about career pathways?”

Nimisha Patel, professor and chair of Wright State’s Department of Teacher Education, said the professional development of teachers through initiatives such as Air Camp has a direct positive impact on students and society.

“Our goal, specifically for the teacher education department, is contributing to the K–12 community and contributing to the larger community,” said Patel. “We really feel that education is part of the foundation of the strength of any community.”

Organization studies Ed.D. student Colleen Saxen, an Ohio state extension master gardener who helped organize the Wright State sessions, said sometimes educators and students think of science as something that other people do.

“Yet when you have a direct learning experience with a new concept — whether it is flying a plane or growing your own food — we expand the idea of who can ‘do’ science and perhaps start expanding our sense of who we can become as individuals and learning communities,” said Saxen, who is working on her doctorate and will study the impact of gardens on science education for her dissertation.

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