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Meghan Salter, West Virginia AEM, encourages students to take on new challenges

Posted on December 7, 2020 at 8:24 PM by Virginia Smith

Meghan Salter works on rocket launch with student
Meghan Salter is in her 13th year as an elementary educator in a West Virginia school.

December 7, 2020

Meet Meghan Salter, a Special Education/Gifted Education elementary teacher in Barboursville, West Virginia.  She wants to mentor children to "never stop learning." She tells her students, "Nobody in the class will ever judge you for trying something new." As a teacher, she models that attitude. With the help of a friend, she introduced small UAS flight to her students and noticed how interested they were in it. She now holds annual "Drone Olympics" with her students. She believes drone education is important for even elementary school students because they are skilled enough to succeed in it. Now that she has Civil Air Patrol's RTF STEM Kit, she plans to incorporate that into her classes when students return to in-person instruction. We asked her some questions about her teaching career and Civil Air Patrol, and her answers follow.

Tell us about your school.

I am a Special Education/Gifted Education teacher at a public school, Martha Elementary School/Barboursville, West Virginia, in Cabell County School District. I teach Grades 1-5. 

Tell us about your career as an educator.

This will be my 13th year as an elementary educator in a West Virginia public school. I received my bachelor of arts degree from Marshall University in Elementary Education (2007) and a master of arts in Special Education from Marshall University (2009). I am a National Board Certified Teacher for Students with Exceptionalities.

Other recognition I have received includes:

  • 2019 Education Honoree for Women to Watch in UAS by Women and Drones.
  • 2021 Cabell County Schools Teacher of the Year
  • 2021 Top 5 Finalist for West Virginia State Teacher of the Year
  • FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certified.

My motivation to become a teacher came from my mother's being a teacher. When I was little, I would play pretend school with my friends — and of course, I was always the teacher. I loved the end of the school year when my elementary teachers would clean out their classrooms. It gave me a chance to collect a lot of material for my pretend classroom.

What keeps me in the field is that I believe that the educational landscape of the 21st century needs innovative teachers who do activities that emphasize increased academic ambition, civic participation and an expanded global participation. I have chosen to stay in this field because I want to be the mentor for children who encourages them to never stop learning. I hope to be the role model that emphasizes how important it is to take risks in life. My newest students are always shocked by my teaching philosophy. When I start a new school year I say, “I want you to fail.” The students are flabbergasted. But then I go onto explain, “I want you to fail because that is how you grow as a person. You have to fail to learn things, and my classroom is a safe place for you to do that. Nobody in the class will ever judge you for trying something new.”

How did you become involved with Civil Air Patrol as an AEM? What CAP programs do you and your students use?

I have been an AEM for three years. I heard about Civil Air Patrol at a Maker’s Festival at MU in Huntington, West Virginia. I love using the STEM kits in my classroom. It gives my students great hands-on experiences with materials that I would otherwise not have. They absolutely love coding with the Spheros. In addition, I appreciate having online resources/lessons available on the Sphero website. 

I have used the following resources: (1) online curriculum (2) physics of flight (3) RTF STEM Kit (4) Sphero. Additionally, three coworkers of mine are also members of Civil Air Patrol. We ask for the same kits and share the resources so that we have enough for an entire class — and the best thing about them is that they are FREE! This is an excellent incentive for teachers since we use so much of our own money to purchase supplies in our classroom.

How have stay-at-home restrictions impacted you and your students and how have you made the most of the situation?

The 100-percent virtual learning at the end of last year really put a halt on the effectiveness of my program because it is almost entirely hands-on learning. We had to cancel our Drone Olympics, which my 5th-graders hold at the end of each year. It was disheartening because the students had been working all year building their drone portfolios for the event.  Watch a video of the event here.

I tried to make the best of the situation for my students through virtual learning, but it’s not the same.  At this time my county has two different options for students: (1) 100-percent virtual (2) part time in person/part time remote — 2 days in school, 3 days virtual.

Why do you teach in the Aerospace/STEM field?

I teach aerospace because it is fun. The students love building and also, unfortunately. crashing things. They have worked with my local high school ROTC program to hold rocket launches at our school. This was a great learning experience for the high school cadets because they were teaching younger students about the program and the basics of physics of flight. The students built rubber band powered rockets. The most memorable experience from this event was when I looked over to see one of my 4th graders crying. When I asked what was wrong she said, “How am I ever going to work at NASA when I grow up if I can’t even fly this paper rocket?” I looked at her and said, “Honey, when you work at NASA, they are not going to ask you to build paper rockets with rubber bands. Keep going, you are doing great.” This is one of the biggest reasons that I choose to teach STEM and Aerospace in the classroom. It sparks interest. I do not believe that students learn from sitting at a desk all day They learn through movement and exploration.

Tell us about working with drones in the classroom.

I got started with using drones in my classroom in 2016. A good friend of mine asked to talk to my classroom about how he used drones in cinematography. I am always looking for new ways to engage student brains in my classroom. This was a perfect opportunity. When he came to my classroom to talk to the students about drones, I noticed just how focused they were on what he was saying. I was like,wow, I could stand up here all day and blab at them and never keep their attention that long. Technology keeps kids interested. At that point, I decided that I needed to get some drones for my classroom. I knew that the only way that I could get this technology would to be write educational grants. My friend, whom I now consider my drone mentor, helped me learn how to write grants. I was so excited when I was awarded $1,500 for our first classroom project. Since then, I have written several other grants relating to technology and drones. I am now known as "that drone lady" in my school, and I am perfectly fine with it!

The first year my mentor helped me with grant writing and the technical aspects of drones. He visited my classroom several times and even brainstormed with me to create a “Drone Olympics” for the students. When I started using drones in 2016, there were little to no resources or lesson plans for integrating drones in the classroom — especially at the elementary level. My students, Mr. Murphy, and I build the curriculum from scratch. We had a lot of successful moments and even more failures.

The drone program that I have been creating has been evolving for almost five years now. Drone technology is changing so quickly. It is really interesting to look back on student work samples from 2016. One interesting assignment was titled, “What do you think drones will look like in the future.” Interestingly, several of the predictions that the students wrote about have come to pass or are in the works of being created.

I believe that it is important to teach drones to younger children because they can do it. Sometimes, we, as adults, underestimate what kids can do. I went into this problem knowing that I was not the expert. It was really an enlightening experience for the entire class to have input in creating the curriculum with me. I also found out that the kids were 99.9% better with the technology than I am — but that’s OK! I don’t need to be the expert at everything. I just need to know how children learn and how to spark their passion to hopefully be a lifelong learner. (See a news story about Meghan Salter's drone program here.)

What tips do you have for teachers who want to start a drone program at their school?

Don’t try to be the expert. Like I stated earlier, you will find out that your students will probably be better at flying than you are. You need to understand that technology is a great thing to use in the classroom—when it works. (Emphasis: When it works.) Secondly, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. I recently found several organizations that help empower teachers to integrate STEM into their classrooms. Networking is great because you can share ideas and materials.

You have said in interviews that you encourage young girls in STEM areas. Please tell us why that is important to you.

I hope to be an inspiring educator to all of my students — especially my girls. I live in Appalachia, an area of the United States that faces several negative stereotypes. I grew up in a very small town; so I didn’t have as many of the educational experiences that a student would in a bigger city. Actually, I didn’t even know what an engineer was until my second year of college. The only type of engineer that I knew existed was the one who drives a train.

It is my past experiences that have helped shape me who I am as an educator today. I want to inspire my students to do great things. Socioeconomic status should not define who you are as a learner. It is my personal goal as a teacher to encourage my students to do great things if they work hard in life. Looking back I really don’t think that I would have liked being an engineer. However, I would have at least liked to have known that it was an option.

Meghan Salter leads her elementary students in working with drones.   


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