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Indiana AEM Patrick D. Carter stresses 'learning by doing' in science classes

Posted on September 15, 2021 at 12:44 PM by Virginia Smith

Students work on gravity demonstration with teacher Patrick Carter

Patrick A Carter joins students in a demonstration of how gravity warps space according to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

September 15, 2021

Meet Patrick D. Carter, a physics teacher from Evansville, Indiana, who recently retired from a 37-year career as an educator. He is the 2021 National CAP Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year. Once a self-described "class clown," he credits "amazing," lab-focused high school science teachers for turning him into a student who thrived on as many science labs as he could get his hands on. He has taken that enthusiasm and passed it on to his own students, who have also enjoyed learning by doing. "My favorite words to hear in class are, 'This is hard, but I’ve learned so much,' ” he says. "I’ve been blessed to have so many students who have excelled in both science and engineering."  Carter says. "Teaching is like breathing to me; I have to do it."  He continually looks for inspirations for his classes from such places as movies, driving, sports, animals and more. "Teaching is my core being," he says. "I love what I do, and I do what I love." We asked him some questions about his teaching career and involvement with CAP. His answers follow.

Tell us about your most recent school and your role there.

I retired last year from the New Tech Institute, a project-based learning school and also STEM certified high school in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation. I taught grades 10-12 as a physics and Principles of Engineering Project Lead the Way (PLTW) teacher.  

How many years have you been an educator? Tell us about why you stayed in the field so long. 

I have been a teacher since 1984. I was the type of student who needed to do something in class other than listen or read and I spent my first two years of high school taking every shop class I could get into.

School Portrait of teacher Patrick Carter

During second semester of my sophomore year, I was told that I would not be allowed to take anymore shop classes, probably because I was a hyperactive class clown. Luckily, I had a Biology teacher that put that energy to use by doing lots of labs, and I found that type of learning enjoyable. My last two years of high school were spent taking every science class I could, and I loved every minute of it.  My science teachers were amazing, and our learning was built around doing labs, which was exactly what I thrived on. Because of my experiences in high school, I was much further ahead of my fellow students in my science classes in college. The professors often made comments on my background/lab skills.

My career is based on the foundations of my high school science teachers. My difference is that I found using Vernier’s Logger Pro® data collection devices is a 21st century skill of real time graphing to understand the math more easily in physics. My students feel that they are doing real science. During the 2017 eclipse, groups of my students collected data on wind speed, light intensity and spectrum changes before and during totality. I get the greatest satisfaction when former students tell me, “We’re doing the same labs in my college class that you had us do in your class, I’m so far ahead of everyone else.”  That is exactly what I want for my students, to have an educational advantage in college in their science/engineering classes.

My goal in teaching is to have students learn by DOING science, my favorite words to hear in class are, “This is hard, but I’ve learned so much.” I’ve been blessed to have so many students who have excelled in both science and engineering. I keep in touch with students from my teaching career of 35 years and I’m still learning from them. Teaching is my core being, I love what I do, and I do what I love.    

What do you plan to do in retirement? 

Currently, I'm working part time with our Virtual Academy. I hope to help both the AFA and the CAP programs locally get more people interested in using the materials in their classes. I'm also hoping to have time to build RC planes and learn to fly them.  

How many years have you been involved in Civil Air Patrol?

I joined in 2016.

How did you get involved in the Civil Air Patrol AEM program?

I stumbled into the CAP booth at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. When they showed me what I could get for $35, I was hooked.

Please list awards/honors/achievements you have received as an educator that you would like to include.

  • National CAP Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year -- 2021

  • Air Force Association Area Teacher of the Year -- 2020

  • Alcoa Excellence in Teaching Award -- 2015-2020

Tell us about some of the projects you and your students have worked on in your teaching that stand out. 

There are several projects I’ve been able to get students involved in that I feel are great accomplishments for my students, myself and our school. The project I’m most excited about is having our students build a 1/3 scale replica of a P-47 D Thunderbolt.  Our school is located within a half mile of the Republic Aviation Plant that built 6,242 P-47s during WWII. So, fittingly our school mascot is the Thunderbolt. I met Maj. Allen Sanderson, a 97-year-old pilot, of the 64th Fighter group along with two other P-47 pilots at a public forum for the Evansville Wartime Museum. Since then. Maj. Sanderson has visited and talked to our students about his 118 missions in Africa, Italy and D-Day. While showing him our model, I asked him if we could paint the plane as his “Lady Jane” and he agreed. In doing research one of our students found a video of Maj. Sanderson and his plane on the internet that no one locally was aware of for 70+ years!   Our goal is to make two of these planes, one for the Evansville Wartime Museum and one to display in front on our school. We have succeeded in bridging the past with the future by having a 97-year-old pilot meet, talk and work with high school students.

A wind tube is another one of several projects my students have built over the years at New Tech. It is to let kids try and find a balance between upward wind force and weight to make an object float in the tube by adjusting mass and surface air area of an object. I had students design and build a wind tube for STEM outreach programs, which will eventually be used for an exhibit at the Evansville Museum as an interactive display for kids.

My students have also built a 10-foot diameter gravity well simulator that I first encountered at a National Science Teachers Association meeting with a NASA researcher who worked on the Gravity Probe B mission. My students use this to explain the ideas of mass warping the fabric of space time and how objects will follow parabolic paths around more massive objects during STEM outreach programs. My goal in teaching is to have students learn by DOING science. "My favorite words to hear in class are, “This is hard, but I’ve learned so much.”   I’ve been blessed to have so many students who have excelled in both science and engineering. I keep in touch with students from my teaching career of 37 years and I’m still learning from them. Teaching is my core being, I love what I do, and I do what I love.  

Please describe the Civil Air Patrol programs you participate in and why you participate. (AEX, TOP Flight, ACE and/or STEM Kits, for example) What benefits do your students get from the CAP programs you use?

I was using the STEM Kit program including kits such as the quadcopters and telescopes. 

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

The "toys" in physics are amazing to use and fun to teach my students to use. Physics is everywhere, but the labs are so hands-on that I couldn't find a better science to teach. 

What do you and/or your students like about Civil Air Patrol programs/materials?

I would not have been able to get such high quality materials for my classes to work with.

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

Try new things, don't be afraid or shy.  You are going to make some amazing connections.

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

The Teacher Orientation Program flight was the most rewarding CAP experience -- being up in the air, taking control of an aircraft and then learning how to control the aircraft. It was incredible!

Is there anything we didn't ask that you'd like to say? Please tell us anything else you’d like to add for this feature on an AEM.

For me, one of my greatest personal contributions of my teaching career is finding opportunities for my students by encouraging them to participate in our regional Science and Engineering Fair. In our application to become a State Certified STEM school, I thought it was imperative that we have our own Science and Engineering Fair to actively participate and encourage STEM participation. Since 2014 we have sent students every year to our State Level Science Fair. In 2019 one of my female students placed Fourth in Engineering at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. This year the same student won the top state award. She was also a finalist in the Regeneron International Virtual Science and Engineering Fair. This participation is opening doors for these kids for college.  

I love what I do, and I do what I love. These words probably describe me better than any others. Teaching is like breathing to me, I have to do it. Teaching is my core being. Inspirations for my classes come from nearly everywhere: movies, music, driving, sports, animals, reading, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas I can try in class. Some of the best teaching I have done is when a student asks, “What would happen if…?” I usually reply, “Let’s try it and see what happens.”

A student works on the Thunderbolt replica Student works on the Thunderbolt replica

Patrick Carter's students work on 1/3 scale replica of a P-47 D Thunderbolt.


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