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Teaching STEM Through an Indoor Skydiving Experience (Curriculum Exchange)

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Curriculum Exchange

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1490.1 - 26.1490.3



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Paper Authors


Philip S. Schmidt P.E. University of Texas, Austin

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Philip Schmidt is the Donald J. Douglass Centennial Professor, Emeritus and University Distinguished Teaching Professor, Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin, where he recently retired after 43 years on the faculty in Mechanical Engineering. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a registered professional engineer.
Dr. Schmidt received a BS in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT and MS and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford, the latter in 1968. Prior to coming to UT in 1970 he taught for two years at Prairie View A&M as a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow. In 1994 he was named Texas Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and in 1995 he was selected as one of the 10 inaugural members of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at UT Austin. Dr. Schmidt received ASEE’s Ralph Coats Roe Award in 1992, and the Chester F. Carlson Award in 2010 for his contributions to development of project-based engineering education and promotion of educational and professional opportunities for women and minorities. During the past 10 years he has worked actively with the Austin Children’s Museum to encourage children’s interest in STEM. In 2013 Dr. Schmidt was retained as a consultant by iFLY Corporation to develop programs which utilize the company’s unique indoor sky-diving facilities and expert flight instruction with a hands-on science/math curriculum to produce exciting and memorable STEM educational experiences for K-12 students.

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Christina Soontornvat iFLY

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Christina Soontornvat holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering (Trinity University) and a M.S. in Science Education (UT Austin). She has worked in the science center field for eight years, including as the Science Content Developer for the Austin Children’s Museum. During this time she oversaw all STEM content in exhibits and programs, delivered STEM trainings for staff and teachers, and served as museum liaison to UT Austin’s Science and Engineering departments and the local STEM professional community. She received training in inquiry-based learning from the Institute for Inquiry at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, CA. She is currently the Education Director for Phoenix Arising Aviation Academy and the Program Director for STEM Education programs with iFLY.

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Stuart B Wallock

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Stuart Wallock has spent the last 20 years involved with the convergence of technology, ecommerce, media and entertainment industries in various online and retail capacities. He holds a BA in Liberal Arts from UT Austin. Stuart joined SkyVenture/iFLY Indoor Skydiving from Dell, Inc., in October of 2011. As Chief Marketing Officer, he oversees the company’s corporate and product marketing, franchisee and consumer marketing, social media, communications, brand strategy and application development. At Dell, Stuart was Director of Site Innovation and Social Commerce. Previously, he was Director of Marketing at, overseeing all marketing and web development programs. Before Newegg, he was Director of Business Planning at Sony Electronics. Since assuming his present role with SkyVenture/iFLY, one of Stuart’s major objectives has been the development of the team building and education programs at iFLY--from concept through implementation--with the goal of making physics, math, technology, the science of human interaction, and entertainment all come together.

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          Teaching STEM Through an Indoor Skydiving Experience (Curriculum Exchange)Abstract  This paper describes a curriculum and associated delivery strategy for teaching scientific andmathematical principles of fluid dynamics through a unique indoor skydiving experience in avertical wind tunnel. iFLY Corporation owns and operates these facilities world-wide, and makesthem available to K-12 groups at discounted rates for educational purposes. The program isdesigned to enhance students’ understanding of how fluids produce forces on moving objects andhow these forces are influenced by the shape and size of an object and the velocity of the fluidstream. An understanding of fluid dynamics is critically important in engineering of aircraft,ships, cars, bridges, and buildings, in sports such as swimming, running, cycling, and skiing, andin earth sciences such as meteorology and oceanography.The curriculum includes a combination of visual presentation, quantitative experimentation, andcalculational activities, combined with an individual flight experience in an iFLY vertical windtunnel. It is primarily targeted at grade levels 5-7 to reinforce force and motion scienceobjectives and transition-to-algebra math objectives, but has also been piloted at lower andhigher grade levels with appropriate adjustments to the presentation and calculational content.All elements of the program are keyed to state and national math and science curriculumstandards.The visual segment includes demonstrations to introduce key concepts: • Wind tunnels: how they work, energy transformations, and applications; • Distinction between fluids and solids, types of fluids, density and viscosity; • Pressure and friction forces in fluids, aerodynamic lift and drag; and • Equilibrium of forces for an object in free flight: gravitational vs. drag forces.Students subsequently participate in a real-time wind tunnel experiment coordinated with theirindividual flight experience, during which they record their equilibrium “terminal” velocities,then measure and record weight and body dimensions on a worksheet for subsequent analysis.The flight experience, which includes training in basic skydiving procedures and proper safetyequipment, is carried out under the guidance of a certified flight instructor.The analysis activity uses measured data recorded during the experiment to demonstrate theapplication of important science and math skills, including: • Relating mass to weight using gravitational acceleration; • Calculating areas of various body elements represented as geometric shapes; • Using algebraic equations to relate a predicted quantity to measured variables; • Comparing calculated vs. measured results and rationalizing discrepancies; and • Using simple statistics to account for uncertainty in measured quantities.Links to a complete set of teacher resources are provided.

Schmidt, P. S., & Soontornvat, C., & Wallock, S. B. (2015, June), Teaching STEM Through an Indoor Skydiving Experience (Curriculum Exchange) Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24827

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