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Virginia AEM Megan Tucker inspires aviation fascination among her students

Posted on November 6, 2020 at 7:37 AM by Virginia Smith

Teacher Megan Tucker with mascot
Megan Tucker describes herself as having an 'aviation fascination.'

November 5, 2020

Meet Megan Tucker, who teaches at a small elementary public charter school in Loudon County, Virginia. She has been an Aerospace Education Member since her third year of teaching in 2006. A former Civil Air Patrol Teacher of the Year, she describes her teaching philosophy as simple: “If a student is truly motivated, he or she can achieve anything." She also believes "engaging students and teachers in real world STEAM design challenges, especially using aerospace, is the perfect motivation to become a lifelong learner. Through the years, Tucker has completed several curriculum development projects with CAP, including creating the CAP AEX for Middle School Physical Science booklet and the AEX for Middle School Life Science booklet. Most recently, she worked on editing and revising volumes to develop the new AEX I and AEX II books. We asked her some questions about her teaching career and involvement with Civil Air Patrol. Her answers follow.

Tell us about your current school and what grades you teach.

I currently work at Hillsboro Charter Academy (HCA), which is a small elementary (K-5) public charter school in Loudoun County, Virginia. My role is multifaceted as many of my roles naturally overlap. I am the Dean of Curriculum, STEAM Specialist, Gifted Teacher, and Instructional Facilitator for Technology and Professional Development. Specifically, I teach STEAM, Flight Funday (Aerospace) and Enrichment/Gifted classes to scholars in grades K-5. I also teach professional development related to our specific curriculum, technology, STEAM and aerospace for faculty and staff from HCA as well as all across the nation with every opportunity that I have to lead workshop sessions at conferences. At HCA, we call our students “scholars,” and there is a lottery for enrollment.  It is a school that is open to any child in our county, and it is tuition-free. At Hillsboro, I have been working with a team of AMAZING teachers to create a unique STEAM curriculum since the 2016 school opening.  

Tell us about your education career.

I have been an educator for 16 years.  One of the best things that I ever did in my career was to get an M.S. in Science Education (K-8).  This opened me to the world of middle school, which I truly enjoy. I taught seventh grade STEM for four years at the Palmdale Aerospace Academy in California, and taught fourth-grade STEM for more than seven years at Kenwood Elementary in Florida. I hold multiple STEM Certifications from Project Lead the Way Elementary and Middle School Curriculum.  I also founded two after school clubs: AERO (Aerospace, Education, Rocketry and Outreach) Club for low-income middle schoolers as well as Girls in GEAR (Guiding Engineering, Aerospace, and Robotics), an exploratory STEAM club for fourth/fifth grade girls.

My love of STEAM, especially aerospace, extends year-round as I have directed and taught at summer science and aviation/aerospace enrichment camps for K-12 students. I organized teacher workshops and presented at multiple national and state STEAM conferences. I was selected four times, nationwide, for the America’s Teachers Program held by the National Training and Simulation Association. I am a published author on Science Netlinks with an article titled “Aviation Fascination.”  My teaching philosophy is simple:  “If a student is truly motivated, he or she can achieve anything.” Engaging students and teachers in real world STEAM design challenges, especially using aerospace, is the perfect motivation to become a lifelong learner.

Please elaborate on your teaching philosophy and how you motivate learners.

Across America, students are not pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies. The result is that students are not well-prepared to pursue those disciplines in college and this limits their opportunities. The reality is that we can change that and

Megan Tucker talks to ACE students
Virginia AEM Megan Tucker leads ACE students in a STEAM lesson.

show students that these career fields are of utmost importance and excitement. By incorporating the teaching of STEAM into the curriculum, specifically aerospace, we raise interest level, as well as achievement of the students. STEAM is a vehicle for my students and me to change business as usual into an innovative learning and experiencing laboratory.

My educational philosophy is simple…make education engaging, exciting and relevant to the lives of the students. With that being said, it is of extreme importance to expose the students to the world of science, technology, engineering. art and mathematics (STEAM). My personal day-to-day motivation is that even if it is just one student that is inspired, it could begin a new generation of engineers and designers for America. These students that sit in our classes are the eyes that will see us land on Mars and beyond. They are going to dream what we can’t imagine and design things that we can’t dream…but it needs to start being encouraged today. STEAM education is a new journey that will turn into a great adventure in the lives of these students and it all begins in a classroom. I truly believe that if a student is motivated, he or she can achieve anything, and STEAM is the perfect motivation!

Students learn best when doing, and it is crucial for us as teachers to provide multiple opportunities for students to make discoveries related to their education. Student-guided inquiry should be at the heart of teaching with innovation being encouraged along the way.  When your students can relate to a lesson due to real world context, the learning achieved will be greater and more likely to be recalled during a consecutive lesson.  It is important for students to be active learners during instruction.  Lessons should be planned taking into consideration all the different ways that students learn.  Visual, auditory and kinesthetic delivery methods are of utmost importance.  I think that the use of technology during teaching is a great way to ensure that all students are receiving the kind of instruction that is needed.

The purpose of education is to help every student reach his or her potential, to prepare them for success in the 21st century and to foster a lifelong love of learning. Students need to be provided with the tools necessary to succeed in life and that begins in the classroom.  As teachers, we are not only responsible for the content area, but the social aspects, as well.  Our goal is to instill in the students a respect and passion for education, but also to provide opportunities for students to practice good character traits.  Education should give students the facts as well as the framework for success. This means that it is just as important for the students to have proper grammar as it is for them to know how to cooperate and communicate in a group setting. The ultimate goal of any education system should be to produce quality citizens that will have a positive impact on society.

My personal mission statement is to actively strive to ignite the fire of inquiry in all students, and to participate in a faculty committed to the fostering of lifelong learning, as well as motivating and encouraging students to develop into educated and productive contributors to society as a whole. It is ultimately about the process to a solution, not just the product at the conclusion of the Design Challenge.  Mistakes are just as important as the final answer as they pave the path to a Growth Mindset, showing scholars the power of “YET!” as well as instilling in them that failure is okay and it is how we move on from the failure that counts.  What a difference we can make by showing students the excitement of STEAM through the lens of aerospace. Teaching is ultimately about lighting the fire of lifelong learning. STEAM education is the spark!

Please list awards, honors and achievements you have received as an educator.

I was chosen as a Presidential Award Winner for Science Teaching in 2010, the National Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Aerospace Educator of the Year in 2011, a NASA SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador in 2014, a Space Station Ambassador in 2017, a Space Foundation Teacher Liaison in 2017, the recipient of the AIAA Foundation Educator Achievement Award in 2019 and most recently, named the Virginia Air Force Association State Teacher of the Year in 2020.

How many years have you been involved with Civil Air Patrol and how did you hear about CAP's AEM Program?

I have been involved with CAP since 2006 (my third year teaching) when I attended a CAP AEM workshop in Dayton, Ohio.  I was introduced to the CAP AEM program through my mentor, Rick “Chief” Soria, who was working with me in Okaloosa County, Florida, and told me about an AWESOME opportunity to learn more about how to use aerospace in my classroom. He mentioned the trip to Dayton to learn about the CAP AE program, and I signed up right away.  It was the best decision I have ever made related to teaching. Not just the aerospace knowledge and teaching lessons, but the comaraderie of the CAP AE program has carried me through my teaching career all across the country from Florida to California to Virginia. I joke that I caught the Aviation Fascination “bug,” and it has stuck with me since!

Through the years, you have helped developed curriculum for CAP. Tell us about that.

I have worked on numerous curriculum projects for CAP:
I authored/created the CAP AEX for Middle School Physical Science curriculum.
I authored/created the CAP AEX for Middle School Life Science curriculum.
I also revised the CAP textbook Aerospace: The Journey of Flight.
I helped revise the CAP ACE Program Teacher Guides.
Most recently, I worked with the editing and revising to create the new AEX I and AEX II books.

Please describe the Civil Air Patrol programs you use and why you participate.

I participate in a variety of CAP programs.  My favorite is the CAP Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) program because it not only teaches kids about aerospace, but about physical fitness and character development.  Those are two very important things that don’t often get stressed enough in the regular school day. I also have participated in the TOP Flight Program, the AEX program and have applied for many of the STEM Kits.  My students get the full benefit from the CAP programs as when the teacher is excited, the lessons are more engaging and the scholars naturally learn more!  I also have employed the Flight Simulator STEM Kit as a permanent structure in my classroom and the scholars earn “flight time” by exhibiting positive behavior and habits toward others. Not only do my students get the benefits of using the materials from the STEM kits, but they also get the opportunity to learn about aerospace through the lens of making paper airplanes, studying the planets, and learning like an astronaut while using the CAP ACE curriculum bi-weekly for Flight Funday.

Please describe how stay-at-home restrictions impacted how you do your job and how you made the best of the situation for your students.

On March 12, 2020, I was attending the ITEEA (International Technology and Engineering Educators Association) Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I was literally at a booth sharing the power of using aerospace (and STEAM) to inspire students when we were all called to the show floor of the conference.  We were told that the conference was ending early and we were to leave in the morning to go home.  That same day, school was canceled for the rest of the week and quite literally the rest of the school year.  I remember the feeling of utter disappointment and disbelief.  How was I going to teach Flight Fundays, let alone STEAM, from behind a screen to elementary kids for the rest of the school year?  I was used to giving an Engineering Design Challenge in STEAM class and standing back to watch the magic of imagination and collaboration unfold in my Innovation Lab. How could I possibly recreate that through the lens of distance learning?

After thinking about what was really important -- keeping the kids excited about STEAM and distracted from the isolation from COVID -- I let my Growth Mindset take over and looked at the problem of teaching STEAM through a screen like a GIANT Design Challenge.  My solution was to create Tucker Tuesdays.

Example videos:

Through Tucker Tuesdays, the scholars would get a weekly high-energy video from me as well as an engaging STEAM/aerospace challenge that they could do as a family.  There would still be learning, there would still be smiles and there would still be collaboration, even if it was multigenerational collaboration between the adults in the family and the kids.

I also created a virtual Innovation Lab using Google Slides, where the scholars were able to click on pictures to explore my Innovation Lab from their homes. The images linked to websites such as NASA Space Place, songs about aviation, and many other activities designed to inspire future engineering and STEAM discoveries. It was not the same as entering our physical space at school, but it did fill a need in our school community to keep the fire of STEAM and aerospace burning!

We have started this year distance learning, but our program is more robust with opportunities for collaboration even across a screen.  We are slowly phasing back to those that want in-person learning five days a week along with an Opt-In distance learning track. Our kindergarten scholars came back on Monday, October 13, and first-third grade will be returning on November 9. Fourth and fifth grade are slated to be back in the building on December 1.  All scholars will be socially distanced, masked and divided into two cohorts per grade level.  This presents a new challenge for engineering and collaborating while adhering to mitigation strategies.  As happened before in the spring, my brain has already started racing with this NEW Design Challenge of how to continue to provide that “Aviation Fascination” to my students within my new constraints of teaching STEAM “in-person” during COVID-19.

I am super excited as I am currently planning a virtual Flight Funday Fest in November to launch our CAP ACE program and our love of all things aerospace!  I will be creating online lessons for the entire school related to aviation and space, including aerospace choice boards for the scholars to explore; unveiling a virtual aerospace classroom;  sending video messages to our scholars from aerospace community members; and potentially having a surprise landing for our in-person Kindergarten class.  It won’t be the same as our yearly hands-on Flight Funday Fest, but it will be something to hold the place and keep the passion for that to occur as soon as it is safe. 

What do you and your colleagues like about Civil Air Patrol programs and materials?

Our favorite part is that the materials are easy to use and easy to access!  We love that you can log in to use the curriculum and that the lessons are written in a way that it is not intimidating to teach tough science concepts. We also like how much “bang” you get for your “buck.” That $35 one-time membership fee is a top value with access to TONS of curriculum that is constantly being added to, updated and revised as well as STEM kits. And don’t forget the guest speakers, technical experts and the experiential learning for the teachers in the form of TOP Flights. The networking is also a natural reward of being a part of CAP.

What is the best advice you have for a new AEM working with CAP programs and materials?

Pick a program or curriculum that looks interesting to you and get started!  Don’t worry about finding the perfect fit because there are pieces of all of the CAP products that will enhance your program. My best advice to elementary teachers is to start with the CAP ACE program and then supplement with the AEX curriculum.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions and get connected with your local CAP Squadron. It builds community and gives teachers a technical expert/guest speaker to help excite the students as well as give the teachers more background knowledge. Try to bring aviation to your students in any way possible.  The more excited you are, the more excited the students will be and the more learning will naturally happen!  A mentor is also a great way to learn the ropes. Find someone who is passionate about aviation and the CAP AE program and I guarantee that they will want to help you get connected into the world of aerospace.

Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience you have had while working with students or colleagues using CAP programs.

I started using the CAP ACE program when I taught fourth grade in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, many years ago. I decided to integrate CAP ACE lessons because it made my students get excited about math and science. Since then, the students that I have taught have graduated from high school and started on a career path. I recently got this message from a former student on Facebook. The message below is why I believe in the power of aerospace education.

Hey Ms.Tucker! I know you might not remember me, but you were my 4th grade teacher at Kenwood. I am now a Sophomore in college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and I’m a computer engineering and UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) major. The reason for me sharing this with you is because I wanted to give a HUGE thank you! Because of your love for science and aviation, I am now following my dreams! You gave me so much inspiration that I completed the STEM program at Choctaw and now I am here in Daytona. I received my associates degree in General technology and aviation and am currently working on my bachelors for two majors, engineering and unmanned aircraft. I can't say thank you enough for being the best teacher I ever had and I appreciate everything you ever did for me! Teachers like you are what create hard working and motivated young adults like myself. I will begin flying drones for the Daytona Beach Police Department after Christmas and hopefully receive an internship working with the civilians on Eglin! I am accomplishing these things and it is all because of you! You made my love for aviation thrive and now hopefully it’s something I do for the rest of my life! I hope all of well with you and thank you so much again for being so amazing ❤️ - Taylor

Is there anything we didn't ask that you'd like to add to this story?

I just want to add that the sky is literally not the limit, only the beginning of fun when you start using the CAP AE curriculu -- meaning ask if you want something or someone to inspire your students with aerospace. More people are willing to help encourage aerospace than you would initially think, especially your local CAP squadron. By not being afraid to pick up the phone, write an email or network, I have had the privilege of bringing many exciting events to the schools where I have taught including airport field trips, having helicopters (yes, more than one school and more than one helicopter) land on our field (see the video here) , having the Army Black Dagger paratroopers land at our school, flyovers of multiple aircraft, drone shows, full-size hot air balloon inflations on the playground, rocket launches, guest speakers from aircraft mechanics to air traffic controllers to pilots to NASA to the USAF Test Pilot School, taking my students flying with the EAA Young Eagles program, taking my teachers flying with the CAP TOP Flight Program, having Miss America 2020 come and celebrate STEAM with our school (she is a STEM advocate) and SO MUCH MORE!  Having that Growth Mindset and just being brave enough to ask the questions is the best advice that I have to give to other teachers trying to light the fire of an aviation fascination!

Students in class
Megan Tucker enjoys using aerospace education to inspire her students.  



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