Douglas Adomatis Flying

Questions Remain As Teacher Becomes a Student Pilot

Taking flying lessons this summer challenged me as a learner. This admission comes from someone who is usually doing the teaching. After nine hours of dual instruction, I learned how to maneuver the airplane. But, the most important lesson I learned was that my teaching could improve by adopting the ways of a professional flight school.

During orientation, I was put firmly in my place as a student. The owner of the flight school sat me down, gave me the policy manual, a course syllabus, and a preemptive pep talk. He was brutally honest with me. He said, “I know you want to progress quickly, but it may take you longer than others.” He continued, “that does not mean you will be any less proficient than those who get their license ahead of you.” This lesson was the first of many I learned.

Encourage a growth mindset.

On the first day of school, students come to the classroom with a variety of backgrounds and abilities. When I first started teaching high school, I treated every course as a race. Every student began at the starting line, the finish line was the final exam, and success meant passing the final exam. Over the years, I’ve realized that students can quickly become discouraged and give up if I strictly adhere to this you-either-get-it-or-you-don’t philosophy. That is not satisfying for them or me. I don’t want students to walk away from my class saying, I can’t do science. I want them to walk away with a sense of accomplishment. What the flight school owner told me on that first day makes me more empathetic towards struggling students. As I plan for the next school year, I am asking myself:

How can my grading system award the highest grades to students who master the learning objectives, while also rewarding students for making progress?

Minimize distractions.

As the saying goes: An airplane is a terrible classroom. There are many distractions in the cockpit. You have to continually monitor radio communications that may have nothing to do with you. You are always looking outside the aircraft for other airplanes and weather conditions. And, turbulence can wreck your train of thought.

Similarly, a classroom has a lot of distractions. Students monitor the conversations of other students. What’s going on outside the windows may be more interesting than what is going on inside. And, classroom interruptions such as announcements, fire drills, and unexpected visitors often disrupt the flow of instruction. It’s a wonder students can focus on the lesson with all these distractions.

You cannot eliminate distractions, but you can structure lessons that minimize their impact.

My flight school helped students make the best use of their time in the airplane by requiring them to do homework before lessons. This instructional model is similar to what educators call the “flipped classroom.” In a traditional high school or college class, direct instruction is presented in the form of a lecture, and then students are assigned problems to work at home. In the flipped classroom, students work individually at home to take notes on a video or reading assignment, while classroom time is used for problem-solving. It makes so much more sense. Students work individually at their own pace at home on tasks that do not require interaction with the teacher. Back in class, students come prepared to apply what they have learned. The teacher is available when students need the most help: working on problems.

I have successfully flipped several physics lessons, but there are always a few students who come to class without doing their homework. They have not received the instruction necessary to participate in group activities. If I separate them from the group, requiring them to complete their individual work during class time, then they miss out on important learning activities.

How do I manage students who come to class unprepared?

Use multiple modalities.

The subject of aerodynamics includes some challenging topics. I struggled with understanding how induced drag is caused by generating lift and why you have to use reverse control on the backside of the power curve. Getting my head around these concepts required me to pour over several books, binge on YouTube videos, and post questions on discussion forums. Of course, asking my flight instructor to demonstrate these concepts helped also. Reading, writing, talking about and feeling the forces of lift and drag helped me understand difficult concepts.

I have read where there are different types of learners: visual learners, auditory learners, kinesthetic learners, and read/write learners. I can say from experience that the more ways that students interact with the content, the better the chances that everyone will understand it. However, planning activities for all different types of learners can be a challenge when you have a lot of students.

Without increasing the time it takes to teach a lesson, how do I include activities for all different types of learners?

Check for understanding.

One of the most challenging tasks I had to do was communicate on the radio with the air traffic controllers (ATC). Although the words they use are English, it sounded like a foreign language. My flight instructor initially handled the radio while I got up to speed on phraseology. After a few lessons, I felt confident to initiate communications with the tower, but I often fumbled the readback.

Readback is the aviation communication protocol requiring pilots to repeat back critical instructions from ATC. Readback is a check for understanding and a cause of anxiety for many student pilots, including myself. I remember now what it’s like being called out in class to answer a question from the teacher.

I’m sure there are times when my physics students have no idea what I’m saying. Some students may have difficulty paying attention. Some students are reluctant to ask for clarification. And some students may think they understand, but they don’t.

How can I check for understanding without calling students out?

Teach skills.

I learned a lot about coordinated and uncoordinated flight. Most of the time, you want coordinated flight, which means that the tail of the airplane is following in line with the nose. Then, there are times when you want to be uncoordinated, like side-slip landing in a crosswind. Forcing the airplane to be uncoordinated is like holding a medicine ball out in your right hand while balancing on the left foot, or rubbing your tummy while patting your head. My instructor says that side slip landing requires muscle memory that you learn through repetition.

Crosswind landing aside, repetitious skill-building exercises can be boring. Physics students start complaining about boring, repetitive tasks when they are required to master mathematical operations involving scientific notation and significant figures.

How do I address students complaints about boring, repetitive exercises?


My instructor always made time at the end of the lesson to review the learning objectives. He checked-off the objectives I completed, and we talked about what I still needed to work on. The lesson debriefing was a reckoning of my achievement. Some days I left with a sense of accomplishment, and some days, I left disappointed. Regardless of the outcome, the debriefing provided closure.

Which lesson closure activities are useful in the physics classroom?

Learning is hard, and students struggle. I’d forgotten that. Applying physics to understand the theory of flight was easy for me, but actually flying the airplane was much more difficult. My struggles with learning to fly this summer will benefit my teaching for a long time to come. And as far as those nagging questions that remain, I welcome your advice. Feel free to post your comments below.

* * *

I want to thank my ground instructors at USAeroFlight, Cecil Tune and Dave Pelicano, for taking me under their wings. I especially want to thank my flight instructor, Josh Hamby, for keeping us safe. Josh helped me locate traffic, steered me away from developing weather, and added a little extra pressure on the controls when I needed it.

* * *

Author: Douglas (Doug) Adomatis teaches physics and aviation at Greenville Technical Charter High School in Greenville, South Carolina.

Source (Reposted with permission)