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Pennsylvania AEM Jeff Woodhams sees benefits of CAP resources in summer learning support program

Posted on July 12, 2021 at 2:00 PM by Virginia Smith

Picture of Jeff Woodhams holding a model rocket

Jeff Woodhams, a Pennsylvania AEM, has been a special education teacher since 2013. He has his pilot's certificate (single engine land) and is a model rocketry enthusiast.

July 12, 2021

Meet Jeff Woodhams. He is a 7th grade learning support teacher at a rural school in York County, Pennsylvania. Just a few months ago, he became an Aerospace Education Member (AEM) and filled out an application for CAP's STEM Kit program. He was able to use the Rocketry STEM Kit he received in a summer program his school district created to provide support to students after the impact of learning loss due to the global pandemic. For this summer program, he designed a course on rocketry and aviation (he has a single engine land pilot's license). In searching for teaching materials for the course, he remembered his time as a cadet (1988-89) and researched CAP education programs, where, he says, he "hit the jackpot" with course materials. Working in special education is a fulfilling career, he says. "It's amazing to see how much growth you can get from a child who knows that you really do care." We asked him some questions about his education career and involvement with CAP, and his answers follow: 

Students show their rocket and inclinometer Students are making Goddard rockets

Red Lion Area (Pennsylvania) School District's summer program featured a rocket launch using Civil Air Patrol's Model Rocketry STEM Kit (left) and hands-on activities such as CAP's Goddard Rocket lesson (right).

Tell us about your current school/organization. What grades do you teach? 

I teach at the Red Lion Area Junior High School in the Red Lion Area School District in York County, Pennsylvania. I am a seventh grade learning support teacher with certifications in special education, mathematics, science and English. Our district is a rural district with a significant level of poverty (Title I with 48 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals). Due to the impact of the global pandemic and the corresponding loss of learning, our district implemented a Summer Learning Program. Teachers were given leeway with subject matter as long as we could find and use corresponding state curricular standards for whatever course we designed. I immediately pounced at the chance to teach a course of my own creation with a major focus on hands-on building projects which could then be used for experimenting and engineering.

Registration for students in the program was strictly voluntary. Class sizes were capped at 15 students per class, but registration for the classes filled up almost instantly. A few parents contacted me directly to ask about a waiting list. I received permission to increase my class size slightly to accommodate a few more students. In the end, I had 17 students from very diverse backgrounds--race, gender, learning ability, and social class. I was extremely pleased with the number of female (5) and minority students (6) who enrolled.

How many years have you been an educator? Tell us about your education career. 

During the summer just before my senior year of college, I was an intern at a home for youth from troubled families. When I returned to college in the fall, I decided to take as many education courses as I possibly could while still completing my chosen major (Bible). After graduation, I worked as a teacher in private schools for nine years. I realized, however, that my future lay with public education, but I lacked the certification necessary. I spent a few years getting a second bachelor's degree, followed by a master's degree and a specialist's degree. I held various positions during those years: textbook editor, full-time private tutor, minister, substitute teacher and creator of marketing materials for tech companies. It was also during this time that I earned a private pilot's license (single engine - land). 

I re-entered public education as a special education teacher in 2013. It is difficult but fulfilling work. The relationships that I form with my colleagues, students and parents are extremely rewarding. The only way to stay in this field is to care about people -- all of them, especially the difficult ones. It's amazing to see how much growth you can get from a child who knows that you really do care.

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

I was actually a CAP cadet for a short period (1988-1989) as part of the squadron based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Once I moved out of state to begin my college education, I fell completely out of contact with the organization. When our district announced the opportunity to join the Summer Learning Program, I decided I wanted to teach a STEM course about rocketry and aviation. I began my search for materials for the course with Civil Air Patrol because I remembered from my time as a a cadet that CAP had course materials. I was hoping that I would find something useful as an educator, but what I found was so much more -- I knew I had hit the jackpot! I've only been enrolled as an AEM for a few months, but I've already had tremendous success with the program.

Tell us about why you ordered the Rocketry STEM Kit and how you used it in your program. What benefits do your students get from the CAP programs you use? 

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher, Mr. Connelly, introduced me to the hobby of model rocketry. I've been in love with the hobby ever since that time, and I knew that students in our district would love it, too! When I saw that CAP offered a rocketry STEM Kit, I knew I had to complete the application and request the kit for our Summer Learning Program. CAP sent us TWO complete kits! 

The students began their Rocketry and Aviation sessions building several small, hands-on projects featured in CAP's curriculum, such as "The Goddard Rocket" (Model Rocketry and AEX I) and AMA FPG-9 (MARC I). Students learned the basics of handling materials, creating products, and testing them while recording flight data. They also modified their projects and recorded further data to compare. We built the Estes Alpha III rockets from CAP's STEM kit on days four and five. Day six was launch day--and what a glorious day it was!

Students also made altitude trackers and learned to use them -- first on fixed objects such as light posts and flag poles, then on launches of their Goddard Rockets, and finally on Launch Day with their Estes Alpha III rockets. On Launch Day, each student had a buddy who tracked the altitude of his launch. Another major focus of our class was safety. We learned the NAR Model Rocket Safety Code through lessons and review games. We practiced using the launch mechanism in one-to-one sessions with the teacher before Launch Day.

Two girls pose with their alpha II Rockets at Launch Day

The Launch Day, using CAP's Model Rocketry STEM Kit, was a hit with students and their parents in this Pennsylvania summer program.

For Launch Day, students took turns at one of three stations: Managers (held the clipboards with launch order and recorded angles from inclinometer measurements); Recovery Specialists (repacked parachutes and recovery wadding); and Launch Specialists (prepared engines and igniters just before launch).

The feedback from parents and students has been phenomenal. Our district superintendent, Dr. Scott Deisly, and the director of curriculum, Eric Wilson, both came to Launch Day as well and were ecstatic about the program. 

The impact on students has been wonderful to see. Most of them indicated an interest in a STEM-based career at the end of the program. One student created a "thank you" video for me from recordings of all of the students telling me "thank you." This was provided as a surprise on the last day of the class! Another student gave me a hand-written thank you card. Many parents have reached out to me through email to tell me how excited their children were about the program.

Are there any other Civil Air Programs that you have had the chance to use? 

I've only used the curriculum so far. In addition to those booklets I've already mentioned, I also used both Women in Aviation books. I chose a few of the biographies for the students to read and then write short journal entries about. We discussed their journals and the remarkable women they had learned about as a class.

Why do you teach in the Aerospace Education/STEM area?

As a special education teacher, my focus during a normal school year is math and English because those are the areas of greatest need for students with learning disabilities. That is why I was so excited about the Summer Learning Program (or "summer camp"): I had the ability to teach a STEM course rich in science, math, social studies and English skills. The course I created is truly multidisciplinary, but the heaviest emphases are on science and math. This was a wonderful opportunity to get students to see how fun and useful scientific and mathematical processes can be. For example, when we made a straw rocket, we didn't just play with it (although we did play); we launched each one three times, recorded the data, modified it, and launched three more times. When we made the Goddard Rocket, we recorded the angle of our launches with an inclinometer that we had made, and then we calculated the height of the launches. Everything had a connection to math and science, and most activities also had a connection to social studies for historical connections and English for written reflections.

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

When you get those early emails from CAP after enrolling, keep them in a safe place -- especially if it's from Sue Mercer [one of CAP's STEM Kit program managers]. That way, if you have a question or problem, you'll know where to find your lifeline. Ms. Mercer has been a truly wonderful liaison.

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

I knew that having a lot of students creating projects and then testing them out was going to require a lot of energy, and that I could really use some help. I asked if any parents of the enrolled students would be willing to help out. They would need a security clearance, of course. One parent responded, and, as it happens, she is one of the technology coordinators for the district; in fact, she directs the annual Tech Summit, during which teachers present various seminar sessions to our colleagues in the district. We decided that we would display the materials I had received from CAP at our annual Tech Summit in August. I'm really looking forward to encouraging other teachers in our district to join the AEM Program!

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