Campus Life

U.S.S. Argo engages math and science students at UWF

Imagine flying an airplane in a simulated race against your peers as part of a days’ work. Students from Milton High School had the opportunity to do just that this week at the University of West Florida.

Through partnership with the National Flight Academy (NFA), the National Museum for Naval Aviation and local schools in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, UWF is providing young students a one-of-a-kind learning experience. Referred to as Aviation Classroom Education (ACE), UWF is the first higher education facility to be equipped with one of these classrooms.

“I am very excited about the opportunities presented by the NFA classroom and the related programs it supports,” said Dave Dawson, program coordinator for Applied Science, Technology and Administration at UWF. “Preparing teachers to use this type of environment serves a critical need for the education of our young people to provide the stimulating and relevant experiences that foster deeper learning.”

The U.S.S. Argo, as it is named, is located in Building 77, Room 153 and has been retrofitted to appear like the inside of an aircraft carrier. The room includes three work stations that simulate sitting in the cockpit of an airplane and an Air Traffic Control station that are running of state-of- the-art Raven computers.

“Additionally, the room houses a dozen work stations equipped with flight controllers and Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX),” said Dawson. “The teaching station is also equipped like the 12 workstations and is connected to an 84-inch Smart Board that will project the output of the computers in the room and can be used as a teaching surface.”

Students used the room for the first time for a flight simulation competition against Escambia High School and Orlando area students. UWF classes will be utilizing the technology starting in January. According to Dawson, the technology accurately and authentically simulates flight and operational characteristics of a variety of real-world aircraft, as well as a high definition view of the surroundings, such as weather and ground features.

“Students are excited when they are in control of the aircraft,” said Giang-Nguyen Nguyen, assistant professor in math education. “What I really want to see is these challenges improve their motivation and lead to improved performance in school.”

The competition was featured on a big screen at the world’s largest modeling, simulation and training conference, called I/ITSEC (Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference) in Orlando, Fla. Nov. 28 – Dec. 1. The MHS students’ races were live on the big screen for all conference-goers to see the capabilities of the technology first-hand.

Initiatives to create technologically advanced classrooms, such as the U.S.S. Argo, are taking place all over the United States. The ultimate goal is to get young students involved and interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines.

“Interest in these disciplines does not start in college,” said Pamela Northrup, dean of the College of Professional Studies. “It starts much earlier, in middle school and high school.”

Dawson sees two very important benefits for this model of learning. First, he believes placing academics into a real-world environment hones skills that can be applied in other contexts later. Second, students gain greater confidence by exercising complex scientific and mathematical concepts in a challenging environment.

“This learning model plays a significant role in shaping student’s intention to pursue higher level math and science courses later in their academic career,” he said. “I see both of these things as invaluable to serving the mission of the university.”