How Can Flight Transform Learning?

Meet the Maker

Kathleen Fredette, Director of STEAM Initiatives

Did you always want to be a pilot?

No! I never wanted to be a pilot. Never, ever. Then, I was filming a video for a STEM class I was teaching because some of my learners wouldn’t be able to take their first glider flight. The pilot asked me three different times if I wanted to take the controls. I said no each time. Finally, I did and uh-oh — I got bit by the flight bug!

Was it hard to become a pilot? 

YES! The hardest thing I’ve done, next to raising four boys! However, it also taught me that if I could do that – get my pilot rating, overcome fears, learn really hard stuff and gain new skills – I could do anything IF I really wanted to.

This Week’s Making Magic WHY

Flight has been a source of wonder maybe forever. The ability to soar up into the sky like a bird has always interested mankind. Offering the opportunity for learners to explore flight through all the disciplines, and to actually then fly a glider, is one of the most impactful learning experiences I’ve experienced as an educator.

This Week’s Focus

Driving Question

How do things fly and how can this concept transform learning?

The Glider Project has been conducted at iLEAD California charter schools for the past 6 years. At Colorado SKIES Academy, through the Maker Learning Network, over 600 young people have taken their first glider flights — many of them also sharing the controls and actually piloting the aircraft with the instructor following along. As a result of this project, we’ve seen five learners receive their pilot rating (it’s actually not called a “pilot license”). And one student was awarded a NASA Armstrong internship. 

So what is it about flight that is so useful to connect to deep learning and development?

  1. Flight – flying in general – is magical. It has the potential to evoke curiosity and wonder. Wonder is the impetus. It is the fuel to move learning from surface to depth, from disinterest to personal attentiveness. If delivered with just the right amount of challenge, flight can capture even the most disengaged learner.
  2. Concepts around flight are both intriguing and fun, as well as terrifying and exhilarating. When an educator can create opportunities for young people to dig into these concepts through design challenges, discussions with experts, applications, and connections to ideas about how things behave in the air and how to overcome gravity, watch what happens to the learning! This is not fluffy stuff, either. Note how the engagement drives the learner to dig deep to make sense of things like lift, drag, Newton’s Laws of Motion, the Bernoulli Principle, how to operate an aircraft and a radio, how to behave at an airfield, and to have the opportunity to actually fly an aircraft. For a bit of fun, find out how pilots get a “call sign” by watching the video below.
  3. Flight often evokes fear. It’s not easy to climb into a glider, which is an aircraft without an engine (literally, it’s one of the most awkward “getting into” situations you’ll ever experience.). It’s scary to think, “Wait, this aircraft doesn’t have an engine?” So one of the most transformative of experiences is when a young person literally walks through their fear to take their first glider flight. Maybe they won’t end up in aerospace, a pilot, or connected to aviation. But, what they will remember is the lesson about how to deal with personal challenges, how they overcame their emotions to do something difficult, and how that lesson can be taken into the rest of their lives.

If you’d like more information about using flight and education, don’t hesitate to reach out!


Quick! Grab a piece of paper and try this: How Do Airplanes Fly?

Minutephysics does a solid job of explaining it with a bit more complexity: How do Airplanes Fly

Here’s what it looks like to fly a glider: Glider Pilot Training

NASA Storytime Call Signs


Here’s an article written by one of our facilitators about this project!

For those who want a REALLY good read, check out how you could use this book for your own inspiration or with your young people.

More Magic



Share This Story,
Choose Your Platform!
Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Related Posts