I am a Texas certified math teacher and have a degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Allow me to explain a little about what an Aerospace engineer is:
Aerospace engineering is the primary branch of engineering concerned with the design, construction, and science behind the forces and physical properties of aircraft, rockets, flying craft, and spacecraft. The field also covers their aerodynamic characteristics and behaviors, airfoil, control surfaces, lift, drag, and other properties.
Aerospace engineers design, test, and supervise the manufacture of aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles. Aerospace engineers develop new technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and space.
Some of the elements of aerospace engineering are: Fluid mechanics, Astrodynamics, Statics and Dynamics, Mathematics – in particular, calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra, Propulsion, Controls, Aircraft structures, etc. (the list goes on and on.)
Ok, so all that mumbo jumbo really means is that I have had and used a ton of math in my line of work.
I have fourteen years experience in design engineering ranging from devices that helped in the building of products to flight test equipment for missile systems.
I have six years experience as a certified math teacher in McKinney, TX and before that as a substitute teacher for math, science, history and English classes in Allen, TX.
While teaching advanced mathematics in McKinney I designed and developed Excel and Access databases to be used by teachers and Special Education staff district wide. I myself and fellow teachers used these databases to track our student’s success. The kids would use printouts of this data in graph form to monitor their own progress.
I was the foreman of a machine shop by the time I was 16 and worked my way through college as a machinist. (Lots of math used in this field)
I was also the owner and operator of a martial arts studio in my younger days.
And lastly, in keeping with being an Aerospace engineer, I have a private pilot’s license. (Again, lots of math.)
So how does all this make me a good teacher?
First, I don’t speak geek! I can remember sitting in a professor’s office back in college, listening as he tried to explain some arcane concept and having to ask him to tone down the geek-speak so that I might, at least, stand a chance of understanding him. He just smiled, and then he came down off the mountain and began to speak plain English. He became my favorite professor. I took several classes from him, and he always, from that point onward, spoke plain English to me.
I carried that with me the rest of my career as an engineer and as a teacher. Technical concepts are hard enough to understand, you don’t need a lot of scholarly words thrown into the equation. Simple-speak may take a few sentences, whereas geek-speak might take one word, but keep it simple, keep it clear and any concept is understandable to a student who is struggling just to get their mind around the idea.
I taught sixth grade Pre-AP math (my little angels!) in McKinney for awhile. That’s where I had to hone this talent to a fine edge. If you speak geek to that age their eyes roll to the back of their heads. But, they love stories! So, I told them of my heroic adventures as a missile engineer and the Star Wars like technology used to develop the so-called “smart” and “brilliant” systems used today. Stories of flying through the air, the freedom as the bonds of earth fell below my feet. How my confidence soared as I worked toward and achieved the rank of Black Belt and stories of the cool stuff I got to make as a machinist.
These stories were always used just to lay the foundation for the math used in each discipline. Yes, even martial arts uses math! Ever seen the equation F = ma? It’s actually a physics equation that means force (F) is equal to mass (m) times the acceleration (a). For a martial artist it means the faster you move the harder you will hit. The classroom demonstration for that held the kids attention, believe me.
I also did something else that teachers are loath to do. I made, and admitted to, mistakes. Did you ever have that teacher who, having made a mistake, refused to admit it? You see, teachers are trained to command a classroom, unfortunately some think this means they must be infallible. Children can see right through that baloney and immediately loose trust in the teacher. So, I made mistakes, sometimes real ones, and other times on purpose, just to see who would catch it. I would warn the students that I was fallible and to be careful because sometimes I “might lead them astray.” This kept them on their toes and became a game of who could keep up with Mr. Allen. This wasn’t designed to confuse them, but to keep them focused on every line of a solution and to follow the logic behind it. It also gave them a real world perspective as I had already explained that in the real world everyone makes mistakes and a lot of them. It’s the person who finds his or her own mistakes and corrects them that will win the day.
This leads to an engineering concept called Zero Defects. It is a term that basically means to drive out any errors in a system. Think about it, how many built in defects can a missile have? How about an airplane or a car? How many mistakes can an engineer, pilot, doctor, pharmacist (you name the profession) make before someone gets killed?
I learned this the hard way when the first widget I designed almost killed someone. I had, I thought, taken everything into account; everything except one thing, age. I was young, in my twenties, and the person who had to use my widget was in her sixties. I had designed it to be used by someone like myself, young. In the hands of someone in their sixties it was potentially deadly.
The kids would always ask, when I told them this story, “Why didn’t someone else catch your mistake?” They have the mind set that the world will always be the same, a teacher or guardian, will always be there to watch over and catch their mistakes. They learned, throughout the year in my class, and grew to accept, that “out there” the only person that checks your work and corrects any errors is yourself. Think about that one. Does a surgeon have someone standing over their shoulder? How many employers can afford to hire two people to do one job; one to do the job, and the other to check the work of the first?
Eventually, the students began to take more time with their work, going back over each problem as many as three and four times. Taking every minute they had to drive out those errors. Grades soared, looks of pride on faces of kids that, for some, may never have known what it felt like to truly accomplish something completely on their own, soon appeared.