WAS Day 3

Washington Aerospace Scholars, Summer Residency, Tuesday, July 16, 2013

After typing this report on Tuesday morning for Monday, I went and found our System Manager and gave her some feedback over breakfast. I think that was an effective move, but it was made possible or necessary due to reflections on the prior day and where we needed to go for the day ahead. I am reminded that daily or regular reflection on my teaching can have the same effect, namely taking stock in what has gone well or what could go better, helps make future outcomes better.

We started the day at the MoF in our Mission Briefing. Each team got up and gave a status of where their team was in the performing of various tasks. I think our session went well except for one of our team members who contradicted or sought to clarify our status. I will talk to that team member offline about how unprofessional that looks, since they should have clarified their status internally before going before the other teams and showing that our team had some internal disconnect. I’m proud of my team having concise status, being mostly on the same page, and being able to communicate what they might need from other teams, e.g. red flags or warnings about where they might be blocked or need further clarification. Status meetings are valuable things despite the general revulsion (anecdotal? See Dilbert cartoon.) that people have for meetings in general. I found some of my memories from my former life at Microsoft flowing back about how teams posture and sometimes put up smoke screens about progress that is communicated more glowingly than it actually is. How could status meetings be used in an educational context? The answer is fairly straightforward if students are working on a clearly defined project with dated deliverables and interdependencies with other teams that they need to resolve. However, how could they be used in a classroom that isn’t doing projects? Is there a way to couch a quarter or semester of learning goals as a project that students need to make progress on, and give them tools for measuring their progress, reporting on that progress and taking corrective action for lackluster results? I think the answer might be standards-based grading, and I think it is something to try which will serve students well in a variety of future careers. I don’t think students are naturally project-oriented, or team-status aware, but I think all can improve on those basic job skills.

Over lunch we spoke with a Geologist on MSL, the Mars Science Laboratory mission that is supporting the Curiosity Rover on Mars. We did so over a Google hangout with video and audio. The video and audio quality were good, but it very hard to see what was on the screen, and I sat closer than any scholar. From a tech standpoint, there must be a way to share desktop or documents in higher fidelity, or there might have been a way to get scholars closer to the screen so they could engage better. (I think I will ask some of my students today for some feedback on that session, to see if they noticed this same thing that I did.) As a footnote to my comment yesterday about the usefulness of bringing experts into the classroom, today was proof that you can bring those experts in virtual ways (video, audio) and still get good engagement or deliver good content to students.

Red Team had a phone conference call with a researcher working on fusion drive at the University of Washington today which went very well. I’m told that students even pointed out some ideas that researchers had not considered, which is always exhilarating. I didn’t attend the conference call as a way to support other scholars who weren’t involved in that topic (Propulsion). Here again I was reminded of some management learnings that I have gained from my prior experience. Namely, as a manager/leader it is not leadership to spend time with those workers that are highly motivated and have the same learning style as you. It is more effective leadership to speak with your whole team, i.e. apportion your time more equitably so that all your team knows that you are supportive and eager for them to succeed. For example, in our preparation for our second Peer Presentation, I realized that I didn’t really have a good grasp on the Reflectance Spectrometers that we were supposed to be presenting. Furthermore, I realized that the scholar on our team also didn’t have a good idea of what they wanted students to take away from her part of the presentation on those devices either. I realized that this was a coaching opportunity and a teachable moment. Both teachers and presenters need to know what the main goal of their presentation as information transfer needs to be. When I was able to coach my scholar on some presentation tips, they were more confident, the material was relayed better, and the overall presentation went much better. A comment from HQ was “I have not seen Reflectance Spectrometers presented as clearly as Red Team just did.” Nice work! Overall, we got $40 million bonus for a 9.3 score (out of 10) on our presentation. That goes a little way towards reducing the pain we feel from getting -$20 million on our first presentation.

We took a grand tour of Boeing’s assembly facility at Paine Field in Everett. I realized that what we were seeing on the tour were mostly skilled (highly skilled!) labor jobs, and not really day-to-day STEM jobs at Boeing when we tour that facility. I’m not so sure that students connected these massive machines with the pile of STEM work that goes into producing each one. Do I want to buy stock in Boeing based on their production estimates? Yes. Do I want to ride in a 787 Dreamliner? Most definitely! Do I know what the engineers do tucked away around those assembly lines all day? Not so much… Oh and one more question that is teasing me: does the production of airplanes with a high proportion of carbon fiber do a net sequester of carbon and thus help reduce greenhouse gases? I know the plane is green, but how green?

After the Boeing tour we spent some time at the MoF Restoration Center where aircraft are refurbished or stored when they are not at the Museum of Flight gallery. After seeing the massive amount of spare parts and tools and high-tech tools used on modern planes it was a little depressing to see the mostly volunteer, somewhat duck tape and baling wire operation that restoration is. However, I can appreciate the value of working on historical airplanes both as mechanical and engineering history, and as a “maker” type activity for students. I just didn’t find a lot of interpretive information at the Restoration Center. Not to belittle the volunteers who are contributing mightily to the preservation of our aeronautical heritage in any way!

As mentioned above, upon our return to MoF we had a successful Peer Presentation on Spectrometers. The team was very supportive of each other and wanted them to succeed. I should mention here that we timed our presentation and had scenarios we would do if we were over or under time. When we were under time, our presenter had a few questions prepared to ask the audience, and he did so, but somewhat humorously cut off the reply from the student answering the question to stay on our time, which he did, and our final time was 7:07.

I should note that Scholars are starting to show signs of being tired. Quite a few took a nap on the traffic-slowed return from Everett to Boeing Field. We ended our work on Tuesday with a Lego Mindstorm Rover development project. I was interested to see that almost every student was engaged in that project in task, with the usual type-A’s driving key tasks and the other other scholars taking supporting roles. The hands-on power of these projects cannot be underestimated. Students had to reason about gear reductions, and power limitations of small motors, of the flex and unexpected behaviors of lego structures, and how to program and test robot code. I can’t help but think that this type of work can only hone student’s intuition and experience which can enlighten their classroom learning. We need to more robotics, more maker-faires, more hands on if we expect future STEM professionals to be able to innovate and create. The time-pressure frustrated some, and invigorated others, the team still lacked some integration of efforts, but I think even that aspect of team work is best learned and honed through more of these activities. I am eager to do more hands-on, project-based, and team-oriented activities in my class room, because like the students, I will only get better with practice.

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  • B  On July 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    John –
    Capturing your start here is interesting. You wondered:
    Oh and one more question that is teasing me: does the production of airplanes with a high proportion of carbon fiber do a net sequester of carbon and thus help reduce greenhouse gases? I know the plane is green, but how green?

    So if you get a positive answer, would that also pertain to a carbon bicycle? Would that be super green?

    • John Weisenfeld  On July 17, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      I guess you could talk about TCO=total carbon of ownership. You have carbon expense to make the bike and components, then carbon to operate the bike. You are exhaling CO2 to ride your bike, just like the 787 is burning per hour. Do you want to reduce CO2 kg per hour or kg per km?

      What’s the theoretical best level of CO2 and when does sequester become unnecessary?

      Sent from my iPhone

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