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Physics Students Take Flight in the Classroom

On November 8, Jordan Burkey invited This Week to one of his physics classes. Jordan introduced what was happening that day by saying, “We’ve been studying motion all year since September. On the first day of class I put a problem on the board that the students had no idea how to solve. They’d never seen anything like it…I said, ‘you don’t have any idea how to do that, but in a month and a half, you will.’ Then, all through the fall, each day we learned one new piece and ultimately we would put the pieces together to solve larger problems.” The pieces were put to use in a performance-based task that all Upper School teachers were asked to work into their curriculum using backward design.

This task for the ninth grade physics students was to undergo air traffic controller training. During this exercise where they’d have to complete tasks such as graph information about planes, calculate flight manifest weight based on a plane’s contents. They also utilized fake flight recordings (voiced by various faculty members) and a faux radar screen designed by Jordan. Jordan said that he came up with this idea, not based on a personal passion, but because it brought together all the lessons his classes have been learning over the course of the year so well. The students worked in small teams and after a number of class sessions, the students turned in their projects and talked to This Week about their impressions.

Jiahe Wu said, “At first it was stressful. The first thing Jordan introduced us to was a plane map covered with planes.” Jiahe’s teammate Clay Lewis felt the group worked well and divided the work strategically saying, “I was the team leader, so basically I did the numbers and wrote everything down.” He also said, “I felt like it was better than a normal test because not only did we need to know the material, we needed to know how to apply the material.” The third group member, Morgan Wilkins, said the air traffic control training helped her realize there is real world application to her lessons in the classroom saying, “when it’s applied this way you realize people actually use equations like this.”

A team comprised of Scott Katz, Carlos Perez-Fernández and Matt Quinones agreed that the exercise was much better than taking a test. Scott said that the lesson was, “less stressful and it felt immersive and more realistic. In the real world my boss is not going to hand me a test.”

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