Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Airplanes + kids = learning: World War II aviation museum helps the cause

By Debbie Kelley Updated: November 21, 2013 at 2:24 pm 0

Symmetrical round pegs on an old airplane wing became an awesome math lesson Wednesday for third-graders at Globe Charter School - a lesson they won't soon forget.

"Restoring planes is super cool, but the people who do that have to be really good at measuring. Without math, they wouldn't be able to put all these planes back in the air," flight director Tanna George told the students, who were on a gold star-studded field trip to the National Museum of World War II Aviation.

Murmurs of "Wow!" swept through the group.

"So," George continued, "math can be fun. Did anyone know that?"

Only a few hands thrust upward at first, but then most giggled and yelled "Yes!," realizing George was right.

Science, technology, engineering and math lessons flew at the students from all directions as they spent the morning seeing, touching and even pretending to be airplanes.

As part of the hands-on activities at the museum, the group also toured WestPac Restorations, a private company that refurbishes damaged aircraft and whose founder, Bill Klaers, helped open the museum in October 2012.

"I like that they can restore planes they find buried and make a new model instead of just having an old, dirty bird," third-grader Benjamin Grunenwald said.

The history of World War II and the STEM principles that were used decades ago in fighting the war are coming alive for hundreds of children through a new program. Funded by a $140,800 grant the museum received from the Colorado Division of Aeronautics, the program is a partnership with the Colorado Consortium for Earth and Space Science Education, which owns Challenger Learning Center of Colorado.

The center provides teachers with ways to integrate curriculum requirements into lessons about the scientific and technological advances made during World War II.

Housed in three aircraft hangars near the Colorado Springs Airport, the museum is the perfect classroom, said Deb Haase, a lead aerospace educator with the Colorado Consortium for Earth and Space Science Education.

Engineers from the countries at war entered into a fierce competition to create heavier, faster and more agile military aircraft, some of which are at the museum.

"That's how we won the war - cranking planes out," Haase said.

Students learn different wing styles and the basic physics behind the principles of lift and drag when assembling plastic foam model airplanes. The elements of healthy eating come into play while designing survival kits for soldiers using toy food.

"One of the standards for social studies is reading graphs, so we include that in our 'bomber factory,' where kids build bombers out of Legos, to factory specs," Haase said. "They're having so much fun, they forget they're learning."

Heidi Breakey, principal of Globe Charter, called the interactive tour a "fantastic experience."

"Our teachers prepared for this by having classes read and write about airplanes, and now they're seeing the technology and engineering side," she said. "The students are using critical thinking to figure out how something works and what does it mean. This is great."

The free tours, available for K-12 students, are grade-level appropriate. Older students get to "fly" in a simulator and operate its color-coded controls. With younger groups, teachers sit in the pilot's seat while students decide whether the plane should turn, roll, lift or drop and then mimic the movement with their bodies.

"I liked finding out how parts of the plane work," Ashton Ramirez said. "I learned that some of the planes can hold bombs in their stomach."

About 500 students participated in the program in the first five weeks it was offered in the spring. A total of 1,300 students throughout the region have toured the museum in the four months it has been operating. Haase said the grant will carry through this school year.

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