WAS Day 2

Washington Aerospace Scholars Day 2, Monday July 15, 2013

One other student and I found ourselves first down to breakfast at 6:10am. Breakfast is a buffet. I asked a couple of students what they liked most about the simulation from Tuesday. Both said that the tasks in themselves weren’t difficult, but that they felt the pressure not to let down the team, or their mission partners. That’s good motivation to harness for the classroom, but what is the team in a school environment? Scholars here have the benefit of being relatively unknown to each other and thus perhaps not willing to let the others see weakness or lack of motivation or (gasp) ignorance. Compare that with a classroom of students that are probably well-acquainted with each other, and who, instead of rising to an occasion, might tend to sabotage a similar simulation or do less than their best work.

My team’s main focus on this day was to select some key roles for 2-3 scholars to play on the team for the rest of the week. Scholars had submitted résumés to me and I had forwarded to our mentor (a Boeing Engineer). It was the mentor’s responsibility to pick the scholars for these team roles via interviews with scholars that had expressed interest in those roles. I’ll note here that group dynamics had started in full on this day. The students who normally assume leadership roles and postures in the group had done so, the students who might generally be characterized as passive in a groups had also slid into those roles. Those are natural consequences of any work environment, and any task that invigorates some and not others. [Later that evening I would confront a couple of those students that seemed disinterested or not engaged that day. 
One scholar said that they were off that day, probably tired.]

After the roles for our team were selected: (following from SR-AF Summer Residency Handbook)

“System Manager: coordinates subsystems; understands all project sub-topics; represents team at briefings.”

“Point of Contact: communicates with HQ and other teams.”

The team organized itself around the work/deliverables that were to be completed that day. Our mentor has given us some nudges in some good directions, and is creating an ethic on the team that “Red Team is Prepared”. I would say esprit de corps is high during the morning work session. “Red Team will help the other teams make good decisions. Red Team will poke holes in other teams’ plans. Etc.”

It is in that spirit that we went into our preparations for the peer presentations. Red Team went first. Although I had done a run-through with the rest of the team, and we were coming up short on time, I did not push the team to really nail content and technical depth. Thus, later in the day, when our score was given, we were fined $20 million for a presentation that was “the shortest and least developed of any presentation [she] had seen” according to HQ. Red Team was thus taken down a notch. It will be interesting to see how the team reacts to the setback, and who leads that charge. I can cheerlead, and I have an idea of who might bring us back. (Hint: our SM is charismatic…)

Over lunch we had an excellent talk from an Aerojet (Redmond) Engineer who has worked on rockets since 1997. Aerojet has provided rocket motors for many NASA missions for the past 30 or so years. The talk was engaging, the questions were relevant to the mission projects which all teams were working on (and especially Red Team’s), and I know I wished we could have heard more. My takeaway for the classroom is that students can sense when they are in the presence of a subject matter expert. How can I get similar people into my classroom with content that is engaging and a delivery that is also interesting. I can do some thinking on that now, during the summer.

After lunch we had some time to ourselves in the Museum of Flight and in particular, Red Team had a turn to tour the new Full Fuselage Trainer, which is a scale mockup of a space shuttle cockpit and cargo bay. [NOTE: 
I am way too tall to be of very much use in that cramped cockpit, interestingly enough.]

During our dinner back in our team briefing room at the Museum of Flight, we had a presentation from a representative from the College Success Foundation, talking in particular about the Washington Opportunity Scholarship. It was interesting to hear some students scoff when they heard that the qualifying gpa was *only* 2.75, and the household income cutoff was 125% of the median household income in Washington which was $142,000. [need to check those figures again…] To be fair these students at WAS might not stay in state (did I hear scoffing at the UW?) and might not need another $1000 their first two years, and $5000 in their last three years in college. In other words they have access to other streams of financial aid, or their parents will cough up some larger percentage of their calculated contributions. But, I was encouraged by the talk for my students that are underrepresented in STEM and Medical fields, and got the presenter’s card and will make sure that I put up posters in my room and hall to make students aware.

Our day ended with the beginning of two of the Engineering Challenges that we will be involved with this week. The first was to design a rocket. The rules of the Challenge are that we need to meet an objective, with limited resources, and with limited time. The first challenge is to launch a rocket, and the second challenge is to protect an egg during a drop from some height onto some smooth or “interesting” terrain. I was not really surprised that only a few students out of the 10 on Red Team had had experience in related tasks in their schooling or hobby pursuits. I tried to interject a bit of my understanding on the tasks, but mostly I questioned certain design decisions, and tried to make sure everyone was at the table. [There are, in all, probably four scholars out of ten that get a little overwhelmed in these group activities and show their withdrawal from the task through not saying anything or even sitting away from the table, while the others stand at the table
and sketch or demonstrate with their hands what their ideas are.] I should probably say something about this today urging students to try a different role than what they naturally choose—goes for both the talkative and the taciturn, and to remind them that we are a team and need everyone’s expertise, and warn them that the engineers that don’t speak up when they know a decision is being made that is bad are tantamount to those engineers that let shuttles fly with brittle O-rings, or attempt to land with damaged heat tiles. That’s coming down a little hard, but that, as well, is a stretch for me and what my role might be.

Our last Engineering Challenge of the night was designing the lander (egg drop) from a cup, a plastic bag, and some cushioning material. It is interesting to take a simple “dissipate some kinetic energy” problem from physics and hear how students imagine that this is best done. None would argue that a parachute creates a significant amount of drag and thus dissipates a majority of the energy an egg must survive in a free fall. But how to bring the rest of the problem home. I think in a future science class I could have a lot of good discussion about hypotheses that students might make about the energy dissipation properties of various materials, and testing those hypotheses before we commit to a design. I’m fine with the time pressure that we are under here as a simulation of the engineering and in particular space engineering environment, but I’m thinking a more methodical approach would help students of various abilities.

The final two peer presentations of the day were by other teams, and it was the announcing of their scores that brought about Red Teams funk. But we can own our past presentations and make sure that our next ones are better. [Excuses:  It is hard for a team to go first. 
It is hard for a team without an assistant mentor and with a new SR-AF to make a solid performance if they go first.]

Back at the hotel another SR-AF and I took some 17 students to Taco Bell (was closed at 10pm!) so we went to Jack-In-The-Box. The students were well-behaved and enjoyed a chance to satisfy their munchies. I was in bed by midnight, and am dragging a little this morning when I was up at 5:30am, and have typed this from 6:15am to 7:05am.

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