Skip to main content

Sandy Journal

Flight simulation, balloon launches, flying drones: Beehive’s class engages students with hands-on learning

Dec 09, 2021 03:37PM ● By Julie Slama

Beehive Science and Technology Academy teacher Daniel Bryant gives his sixth-grade students hands-on learning in the Flight and Space course with operating a drone. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Sixth-grader Aaliyah Miller wonders what it’s like to be in zero gravity and float in space on the International Space Station. 

That’s why, when her Beehive Science and Technology Academy teacher said they needed to record the ISS flyover, she didn’t mind getting up at 5 a.m.

Learning about the ISS and the celestial sphere and measure angles where the ISS will appear and how long it will be in view, as well as some of the science projects that have been conducted on it such as developing a water filtration system, was part of what sixth-grade students have learned in the Flight and Space course this term, teacher Daniel Bryant said.

“We do a lot of NASA-based projects, so they tracked down the International Space Station, we tune in to NASA TV a few times every week to see what the astronauts are doing up on the ISS and hear questions students ask,” he said, adding that Beehive students have yet to be chosen to ask questions. “We have quite a few sixth-grade kids who dream of being an astronaut. There might be some who study biology or pre-med or engineering or want to be a pilot; I know NASA is always looking for brilliant scientists to be on board.”

It isn’t just an opportunity to dream. Bryant uses the assignment to learn about Newton’s three laws of motion and Bernoulli’s principle, which directly influences how an aircraft achieves lift and gets up into the air.

“The kids are very enthusiastic about building new projects, learning about aerospace vehicles and how to fly them, and launching other aircraft during our class,” said the teacher who has instructed at Beehive for 12 years and recently was recognized by the Air Force Association’s Salt Lake City Chapter (Elementary) Teacher of the Year. “The students are technically elementary students, but they’re getting a very technical load with a program like Flight and Space which is a nice exposure for them and prepping them for undergrad studies well ahead of the time.”

The course, in its fourth year, follows the Project Lead the Way national curriculum and is hands-on with projects featuring hot air balloons, fixed wing aircraft and rotorcraft and designing airfoils and wind tunnels. The semester-long course is a supplement to their normal general science class.

In October, after a classroom discussion, the students walked to nearby Bear Park where “the kids fly the drone themselves and that’s a nice way to have some kinesthetic learning and be activity engaged in the concepts they’re learning,” Bryant said, adding that they have a flight plan with set GPS goal points. “We’re trying to make it as project-based as possible and we use an inquiry-based approach to where students are hypothesizing and asking questions.”

Sixth-grader Thomas Holt was one of the students who took the drone’s controls.

“It was very fun,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to go that fast. I didn’t want it to crash. It’s like learning about space, and I’ve learned some things I haven’t done before, like the four forces of flight. I like that we’re learning by doing, that it’s an interactive class.”

His classmate, Yasmine Hassen, also likes that they’ve learned about living organisms in space to having interactive lessons.

“It’s great going outside and being involved in what we’re learning,” she said. “We’ve mapped out the planets, we’ve learned about flight, we discovered the moonlight reflecting on the ISS. It’s very engaging.”

As every student will learn how to fly the drone, they’ll also learn yaw and pitch control and how to change elevation when in control.

As the term moves along, students will move from a simple drone to a more complex rotorcraft and then, they’ll be experimenting with aerospace communication and learning to fly prop planes and fixed wing aircraft, Bryant said.

The Microsoft flight simulator is an opportunity for students to take controls on a PlayStation4 or XBox controller and use live air traffic at any airport, adjust to weather conditions and discover what lateral thrust is needed to achieve lift, he said.

This winter, when the weather cools, students will launch a 4-foot by 2-foot hot air balloon from the campus. 

“As teams, they’ll build their own hot air balloon using an engineering design progress and then, they will refine the balloon and make iterative improvements as they’re building it. Students will have exposure to the design process and what they’ll be using as engineers in the future. They get to see the success of their labor and efforts when they have a successful launch,” he said. 

Through the launch, students also take into consideration humidity, lateral wind velocity, precipitation and temperature differential in the balloon versus the ambient temperature.

Before holding an Estes model rocket launch to test Newton’s third law from Big Bear Park in January, Bryant said that students also will design their own gliders.

“They’ll change the shape of the airfoil, so that it achieves more, or less, when they launch their rockets. They will need to take time and care to piece it together and follow the instructions carefully. We angle the launch slightly to compensate for the wind using some algebra and measuring local wind velocity and considering the air pressure at our altitude,” he said. “Through this class, they’re learning there’s a lot of value in building something with their hands and then adjusting it, refining it, and improving on their own design and seeing the progression of something they build and taking pride in it.”