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Central Kitsap students get the chance to fly high
This semester, some Central Kitsap students are pilots in a program that's taking them up, up and away in their educational possibilities.
Four schools in the CKSD district are the first to try ACE (Aviation Classroom Experience) as an elective option for students. Each classroom is outfitted with aviation simulators that use Microsoft Flight Simulator X programs to allow students to experience flying various aircrafts.
Even the third week in, the novelty of the new course is still fueling students' excitement, said Alexys Haun, Central Kitsap Junior High assistant principal.
"The kids are really excited. The technology itself is really exciting for the students," she said. "It's wonderful because it's an authentic experience."
The simulators allow students to experience real-world activities in an immersive learning environment, but prior to jumping in the cockpit, students meet for mission briefings. The briefings are filled with information on how to calculate distance, wind currents and further details for a successful mission. All of the instruction is done on an interactive, touchscreen monitor at the front of the classroom.
Details like wind current, distance and other calculations are discussed prior to takeoff. Educators may offer a sample calculation, then students are required to adjust it to their own personalized situations in the simulation.
Missions vary from sending helicopters out for medicine drops in the winter tundra to saving workers from an oil rig about to explode. Students have the ability to choose the aircraft, setting and even the time of day or year.
"I think it's pretty cool we can apply what we're learning in class," said Molly Fischer, a Central Kitsap Junior High student. "I didn't realize how hard it was. We haven't done too much math with fuel, but I'm looking forward to that."
Much of what the students train on are what would be taught in flight school to a pilot, creating a true setting for how future math and science skills could be used, said Doug Dowell, STEM coordinator for CKSD.
"More than anything, we just want to get kids excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)," he said.
While student duos are working as a team in the three flight simulators available, the rest of the students work individually on free flying on their own computer. Each is set up with a joystick and throttle for students to fly in whichever setting they'd like.
The simulation gives students the chance to learn about new places and ask questions about geography, social studies and more. The program is constantly being updated automatically and is easy to adjust based on student learning needs as well. Missions can be adapted to elementary levels all the way up through high school, which creates multiple benefits in a classroom, Dowell said.
Mark Anderson, a Central Kitsap Junior High teacher, said watching the students get so heavily involved is encouraging and exciting for him. Even with a background in engineering, Anderson said he's found that sometimes his students will surpass his skill and knowledge of the simulator.
"They're super pumped about it," he said. "It's not just a video game; it's very educational. This class is basically a STEM sandwich. I'm proud of what we've got going on in here."
At the end of a flight, Anderson can print out a report to see how students performed. From there, he can work with them on adjusting elements of flight like speed, altitude, angles and more to improve future flights.
Depending on how educators format the course, students can spend all semester on one particular unit or several. Air pressure, study of lift and airfoil design, airplane parts, propulsion, flight instruments and other topics are all available as coursework for students.
Ninth grader Chris Hunter knew he had to be involved somehow when it came to the ACE program. Although it isn't offered at his school, he worked the class into his schedule as an elective to be a teacher's assistant for Anderson.
Hunter, whose father is in the Navy, lived in Japan for five years prior to moving to the area. While overseas, he had the opportunity to attend flight school. Between that and hearing his grandfather's fighter pilot's stories, his interest was piqued.
He felt the ACE class was the perfect opportunity to share his passion with other students.
"I think it's just really fun for them," he said. "It's a very good way to learn how to fly. It's a good way if they want to learn in the future how to fly. I think it's really cool how they did this room. I just think it's a great course."
The district received the $2.5 million Department of Defense Education Activity grant to use toward the STEM-focused classroom elective. Remodels and installations were needed to appropriately insert the simulators and other instructional materials in the classroom. The grant was enough for the CKSD to build simulators at Central Kitsap Junior High, Fairview Junior High, Ridgetop Junior High and Klahowya Secondary schools.