The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 4, 2009


Want to fly a plane? Build a bridge? Create a computer game?


Eighth-grader Michael Rober takes flight in a Cessna using the X-Plane Simulator in a Flight Class after-school program. (Photo by Ginny Lamere)

Head over to the Carlisle School after hours and you may be surprised to find lots of science going on. There’s a Flight Class in action in the library, Lego structures being built in Mr. Darasz’s classroom, dam building and chemistry happening in the Spalding Building and students creating their own computer games in a middle school classroom. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Program (STEM) is a national initiative aimed at getting more students interested in these fields and has been has been in full swing this fall in Carlisle.

Flight school

Participants in the Flight Class are using the X-Plane Simulator on Macintosh computers. The screen looks like the dashboard of a Cessna-172, with all the instruments, dials and meters. Attached to the computer are the yoke and rudder pedals, comparable to what would be in the aircraft. The yoke, somewhat like a steering wheel, is used to control the pitch of the aircraft and to bank the plane to the left or right. The rudder pedals, operated by feet, control steering on the ground but control the nose of the plane in the air. The landscape is authentic for the routes chosen.

The students piloting these crafts explain how to fly using certain instruments. They showed me geographical flight maps, called Sectionals, of eastern Massachusetts that display circles. Eighth-grader Spencer Griswold explains, “The circles tell what altitude you can fly at. ILS [an instrument landing system using radio signals] sends out radial lines. There are directional and gyro instruments on the dashboard. The airspeed indicator tells you how fast you’re going. The altimeter tells you your height above sea level.”

The class, taught by parent-volunteer Walter Hickman, begins with Newton’s and Bernoulli’s Laws. Hickman says, “All of Newton’s laws are involved with the process of flight, Force equals Mass times Acceleration (F=MA), being primary.” Spencer explains, “Newton’s Third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Molecules hitting the wing create an opposite force which gives lift to airplanes.” Within the first few classes, these would-be pilots learned how to land their Cessna airplanes. Eighth-grader Michael Rober said one exercise was to fly from Hanscom Airport to Logan Airport. “I stalled at 5,000 feet in the air,” he said, and then recovered. Students have to perform similar tasks as real pilots, such as “touch and go” techniques and flying “the pattern,” generally a circle around an airport waiting for permission to land.

“It’s pretty good,” says Spencer Griswold. “It’s fun to learn to fly but it could be complicated with all these rules.” When asked about the class, Michael Rober said, “I like it. I’d recommend it to other middle schoolers. You can learn the instruments of a plane. It teaches you useful skills.”

Computer games


Meanwhile in the middle school wing, seventh-grade teacher Mr. Brad Cranston is using Scratch to teach computer programming to several students. It’s an eight-week course. Cranston takes about 30 minutes to walk the class through building a new type of game. Sixth-grader Dom Dylan says, “Mr. Cranston gives examples and then we make our own games.”

The first game they created was Dodge-ball. Cranston explained how to move a character around the screen and how to create dodge-balls with perpetual motion. If a ball hits a character, the message on the screen says “Game Over.” Other games included Asteroids and one where sharks were shooting octopi. “It’s pretty funny,” said eighth-grader Cody Barth.

Each week, students add more dimensions to their games. They learn how to import different backgrounds, “sprites,” which are action characters, and sounds. The choices are numerous. They can change the costumes on characters. “It’s pretty cool,” said Cody Barth. The class designed a game similar to Simon, familiar to many, and two could play it on the ActivBoard, an interactive white board.

There’s a lot of creativity displayed by the students. Cranston said, “It’s like a cooking show.” He shows them some new ideas and gives them some tips for a half-hour or so and then, “they tweak and embellish.”

Future engineers, first-graders Aiko Ma and Thalia Westland, are intent on building their dams in “Tornadoes to Telegraphs.”
(Photo by Ginny Lamere)

Tornadoes to Telegraphs

Mr. Barnas Monteith runs the “Tornadoes to Telegraphs” course. He taught first- to third-grade students to build bridges, dams, boats, water filters, volcanoes and periscopes. It was a lively class with lots of hands-on activities. Students were given information on how things worked, materials with which to build and off they went.

One week they were building dams. They learned about turbulence and characteristics of water flow. Mr. M. explained they were trying to emulate hydro-electric dams using clay. Each student had a foil pan, some small building blocks and clay. Each tried their design and then put them to the test by adding water to one side of the dam. Several designs had small leaks and students were diligently figuring out how to improve their design, following a typical engineering cycle – design, build, test and redesign. Other designs had some very large leaks. Aren Martinian built a perfect dam; no water came through at all! He said, “I like building things.”

In previous weeks, these students built periscopes with plastic mirrors and then had fun being under their desks and seeing what was happening above them. Another week they made trace fossils by taking sea shells and embedding them in clay.

“I love it because we get to do so many science projects,” said Aiko Ma. “It’s awesome,” said Evan Johnson.” I like making the whole thing.”

Chemistry for kindergartners

In Mrs. Chandler’s kindergarten classroom, Mr. M. taught a class called KinderScience. He was teaching quite a few enthusiastic students how to make silly putty. In previous classes, students were taught how to create kaleidoscopes, ecosystems and fossils.

Students learned about polymers as they created homemade silly putty from a few ingredients. They added the food coloring of their choice: yellow, green or blue. The students combined the ingredients until an egg- or ball-shaped substance was formed. Then they experimented to see how bouncy their balls were. All were pleased with the results. Rachel Barach said, “Mine is so bouncy. This is so awesome.” Isabella Synnestvedt rolled hers down a ramp, excited to see the ball bounce high and far. It was obvious the class was enjoying the science experiment.


STEM was formed a few years ago. It was the brainchild of Superintendent Marie Doyle and came together over several meetings. It was a co-operative effort between a few science teachers and science-oriented parents to give students more opportunities to enjoy science and encourage them to go into these fields of study. Parents with various expertise come forward to teach a session. Generally, a teacher would partner with that parent, learning the material and helping with teaching techniques.

The Carlisle Education Foundation funded materials for the program. Classes offered have included: discovering electricity, weather observation, astronomy, making a digital scrapbook, how a car engine works and architecture. Art and Scrabble have also been offered under the structure of the STEM offerings.

The program has grown. In addition to utilizing parent volunteers, programs such as KnowAtom, science, technology and engineering have been brought in. Generally, there are course offerings for all grade levels for fall, winter and spring. In the next few weeks, course offerings for winter will be announced.

If residents have a class they would like to teach, please contact Peg Gladstone at 1-978-246-6793 or Wendy Powell at 1-978-287-0876. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito