By Michael Niehoff
Education Content Coordinator, iLEAD Schools
At Colorado SKIES Academy, an aviation/aerospace-focused middle school, learners and facilitators have launched powerful, school-wide projects as the fall semester 2020 begins.
School-Wide and Cross-Curricular
Though the school opened its doors very recently, in August 2019, Colorado SKIES Academy already has a proud tradition of completing school-wide, cross-curricular projects. Jason Brockman, a social sciences facilitator at the school, spoke on the benefits of beginning the year with a large, collaborative challenge. “Every year we have a few new colleagues and little time to really get to know them,” he said. “Working together on a unified project with a specific timeline gives us a window into learning styles, skills, and personalities.”
The Driving Questions: The Why
This year, CSA’s 7th graders are tackling the driving question “How does bio inspiration influence us in flight?” The 8th graders’ driving question is “How do we use the scientific method to create better iterations of flight technology and to communicate the results to an audience?”
For first-year science facilitator Lucy Howlett, this project immediately resonated. Howlett, who is interested in studying birds and flight, said the project uses the engineering process in authentic disciplinary application. She believes science should help learners find answers from nature and apply skills to design projects, ideas and solutions that push humanity forward.
“Humans have always been inspired by nature, and using it to work for us, instead of destroying it, is a smart thing to do. Birds were the inspiration for humanity to yearn to fly,” Howlett said. “What I want students to learn from this project is to be inspired by nature and use it to propel us. My learners are my future, and I want them to learn to harness the power and knowledge of the natural world.”
Rosemary Been, an English language arts facilitator, also applies the cross-curricular approach in her classes. Her core mission, she says, is to have learners experience that life is really about storytelling. In her classes, the current project starts with the fact that each learner has an important story to tell. She said, “In 8th grade, learners will see that in their story, they begin with a question — something they seek — and go through obstacles, hurdles and successes on their way to some decision point. In 7th grade, learners are focusing on perspective, beginning with their own perspectives of themselves and the world.”
From a social sciences lens, Brockman views the current school-wide project as a means for learners to see the scientific method as part of their foundation for success in life. “By the end of this project, learners will understand how a glider flies, and they’ll express that knowledge through authentic application,” Brockman said.
Challenges and Outcomes
Due to COVID-19 restrictions and a move to their brand-new facility in mid-September, Colorado SKIES Academy has been in a distance learning model during the first weeks of school this year. Distance learning has presented new challenges for both facilitating and learning. However, project-based learning is about stretching beyond one’s comfort zone — taking flight, if you will.
First-year science facilitator Howlett said, “This has challenged me to create more of a flipped classroom, which has advantages with pre-recorded videos and unique asynchronous learning opportunities.”
English language arts facilitator Been agreed, saying distance learning has helped her and her colleagues become better facilitators, more organized and better able to increase interaction.
Whether through distance learning or on-site, the Colorado SKIES Academy team is ultimately excited about engaging in real-world, high-quality, and cross-curricular work for all learners. The teamwork involved in cross-curricular work creates a supportive environment for learners and facilitators. Howlett said, “I believe this approach facilitates true learning. Honestly, as a new facilitator, I’ve found it to be a life saver. We can lean on each other to scaffold our learners.”
Colorado SKIES Academy Director Suzanne Acheson is proud of her staff, learners and aerospace/aviation learning community. She complimented the community’s continued efforts, collaboration and commitment to high-quality aerospaced-focused project-based learning — especially during the pandemic.
“The aerospace/aviation industries are tight-knit communities and have welcomed us with open arms. They gladly don masks and are ready to meet our learners at a flight simulator to run them through their paces as a pilot landing a glider or a prop aircraft at any airport in the United States or the world,” Acheson said. “As we continue to negotiate the COVID requirements, we will ‘soar’ once again. As the CSA motto states, ‘The sky is not the limit when our imaginations are unlimited.’ We will find a way. The CSA way!”
Pictured: Colorado SKIES Academy, inaugural school year, 2019-20.