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Robert H. Wakelyn Jr., Florida AEM

Posted on September 27, 2023 at 9:11 PM by Virginia Smith

Robert Wakelyn demonstrates a paper propeller for his elementary class

Robert Wakelyn, an elementary STEM teacher in Sanford, Florida, is the 2023 National ACE Teacher of the Year.

September 27, 2023

Meet Robert. H. Wakelyn Jr., Space Lab instructor/STEM Resource Teacher at Goldsboro Elementary Magnet School in Sanford, Florida. Goldsboro is the Civil Air Patrol's National Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) School of the Year, and he is the National ACE Teacher of the Year. ACE is a K- through 6th-grade program that provides grade-specific STEM lessons. The 2023 National ACE Liftoff will be held at Goldsboro Magnet later this fall. Wakelyn has been teaching since 2003, and his philosophy is to encourage his students to be in charge of their own learning. "When it’s done right, I believe education becomes more than the mere dissemination of knowledge. It becomes a journey," he says. "Although a student’s educational journey may start with educators and with classrooms, it should never end there." He says CAP's programs and lesson plans fit right into this approach because they are hands-on and combine different disciplines such as science and history. And his young learners enjoy the hands-on activities. "The students really enjoy assembling the various planes in the different grades and then having them fly," he says. The aerospace industry, he believes, holds much future for economic growth for the students, and he seeks to inspire them with aerospace lessons. In addition to participating in the ACE program, he also participates in CAP's STEM Kit program and integrates it with the ACE program. "The Weather Station STEM Kit is a great one, where it works hand-in-hand with the ACE lessons," he says. We asked him several questions about his teaching career and CAP membership. His answers follow.

Tell us about your current school and your role in the school.

I work at Goldsboro Elementary Magnet School in Sanford, Florida. We are a public elementary school, but are a true magnet school, in which all of our families go through an application process for their students to attend our school. We have a very diverse population of students. Our magnet focus is STEM. We have three instructor-led labs, which include a Bioscience Lab, a Robotics Lab and our Space Lab. Our Space Lab was originally set up with the help of NASA Explorer School program.

While the program is no longer an active program, we do our best to integrate space concepts and activities into the lab to maintain it.  

How many years have you been an educator and why did you become an educator?

I started back in 2003 as a third-grade teacher. I have taught second- to fifth-grade classes. I also spent time at the district office, where I was privileged to help empower teachers in ways to use technology in their classrooms. Then about five years ago I was offered a teaching position here at Goldsboro teaching Robotics to all of the students from kindergarten to fifth grade. This was an amazing opportunity for me, I had the honor and responsibility to develop my own curriculum for the students using LEGO Robotics and other robotic resources. The opportunity that I enjoy most about this venture is to see the students grow in their understanding and love for robotics over multiple years. I was able to develop scenarios where the students had to work together to solve different problems as a team. Then, our Space Lab teacher took another job at a university, and our principal asked me to take over teaching in the Space Lab. This was another amazing opportunity because I was given the ability to design and use space and flight concepts to engage the students in meaningful learning opportunities that excited them.  As an educator, being able to have full control to develop meaningful learning experiences for the students is a very important component of the process for me. Depending on the purpose and goal of some of the lessons, I try to design them in a way that is very open-ended for the students so they are not pigeonholed into a particular answer, and their learning can feel like more of a real-world experience, even at an elementary level.

What is your philosophy of teaching?

When it’s done right, I believe education becomes more than the mere dissemination of knowledge. It becomes a journey. Although a student’s educational journey may start with educators and with classrooms, it should never end there. It is my primary goal to provide students with tools that they will remember and use long after they’ve left my classroom.

Students sit in the CAP plane as Maj AJ Ingle shows them the plane

Sanford Elementary students visit their local airport and tour a CAP plane.

Thus, when I teach, I do not consider my role to be that of an informant. Rather, I am a facilitator. My classroom is a space in which students not only receive information but also learn how to find that information on their own. In this space, students are encouraged to be involved with and even in charge of their own learning. My purpose as an educator is not to draw out for them the world around them. My purpose is to help them locate themselves and their own goals and teach them how to navigate towards those so that they can continue to learn and grow without me. 

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

  • National ACE Teacher of the Year for 2022-2023 school year

  • Solar System Ambassador

  • Goldsboro Elementary School Teacher of the Year -- 2021-2022

How many years have you participated in the Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) Program? How do you incorporate it into your lessons? 

This will be my third year participating in the ACE Program. In running the Space Lab, I have the opportunity to let the lessons become the front and center of the content they are learning for a particular quarter for the school year. I also incorporate numerous CAP lessons into my content area.

Please tell us why you participate in the ACE program and why your students like it? What benefits do your students get from the ACE Program?

In working in our Space Lab, I find that the aerospace content that is covered in the lesson is a beautiful marriage with one of my goals with the space lab. I look to give the students a background of flight and then include some of the history with the lessons. The lessons in the ACE curriculum hit this right on point. From the kindergarten lesson about identifying the amount of land vs. water, to the 4th-grade lesson about the future of space travel where they talk about the space shuttle program and then go beyond with the commercial crew program -- it all just fits so well. The students also really look forward to the hands-on activities. The first graders really enjoy building the windsocks, Seeing them go outside and just lift up as they go back to class with the wind is just so amazing. The students really enjoy assembling the various planes in the different grades and then having them fly.    

Please describe any Civil Air Patrol Aerospace Education programs you participate in other than ACE.

I have taught with various STEM Kits, which the students really enjoy. The Weather Station is a great STEM Kit, where it works hand-in-hand with the ACE lessons. The electric circuits STEM Kit was amazing. My third-grade students really enjoyed the lessons. I actually linked it by talking about various careers with engineering. The flight simulator is one of the students' favorites to fly planes. The telescope is also a great one that I have used in class and with various before- and after-school clubs for them to get a hands-on experience using them to look at objects at a great distance, including the moon if it is visible.

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

This will be my third year. 

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

A teacher whom I have known for years told me about the program.

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

I believe with everything that is currently going on in this industry, that it will be where the future economic growth for our students and world will be. So, if I can help to begin to light the fire for this field in some of my students' minds and hearts, it will be successful. I also like that this field is always expanding and growing, and people discover new things and test new ideas. So, it shows students that anything is possible and may just take time to develop.

What do you like about Civil Air Patrol programs/materials?

One thing that I like is the rich content that is provided. The second is that the materials that are provided to us to use with our students are very amazing.

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

As someone who has worked with the content from kindergarten to fifth grade, my advice to teachers is to review the content and find a way to make it your own and meaningful to what you do. For example, this year in fifth grade, I plan to be doing the lesson "Follow the Drinking Gourd" [Academic Lesson #9 about how navigating the stars helped slaves escape during the Underground Railroad] during Black History Month, when the teachers are covering similar content. Also, for one of the fourth-grade lessons about the anatomy of a plane, I turned that content into more of an escape room, using a digital Google form. Then at the end, I linked it to an activity where they explored the physics of the plane.

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

The best experience is just seeing the students' excitement and joy when we do the lessons. I think their amazement and excitement is the reward. I think of when I do the lesson in kindergarten about the land vs. water and I spin it to where a space "alien" needs their help, and should we help them?  They also say, "yes," so I know I have their buy-in at that point. And to see them throw the inflatable Earth globe across the room and collect the data is so much fun. When the first graders see the first group do the lesson about creating the windsocks, the other groups are so excited to build them. Then, to hear stories about how proud the students are of them as they get on the bus with them! Overall, the best part is to see the students engage in the hands-on activities and build their confidence with their work.

Students pose in front of a CAP plane
Students work on the CAP Snaptricity STEM kit
Students fly the ACE third grade Foam Flyer airplane outsid the school

Top: Students visit the local airport. Middle: Students work on the Snaptricity STEM Kit. Above: ACE students fly their Foam Flyer airplanes.


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