Among the Clouds

An airplane climbs above the clouds.(photo: Yahoo search)

“It’s only when you’re flying above it that you realize how incredible the Earth really is.

Philippe Perrin

Your students have seen the world from their doorways for far too long, now is the time to lift them up and show them the world among the clouds.

When the profession changes, many get nervous; some panic. I, however, think about the early pioneers of a different field: Aviation.

The Wright Brothers developed the “Wright Brother’s Flyer” in 1903 and took to the air changing what the world knew about transportation. Within ten years men were navigating planes across the ocean and around the world. Amazingly, early pilots looked out of their open cockpits for roads, rail lines, and airports to find their way in daytime flight. Pilots watched the horizon to make sure they were flying with the aircraft’s nose and wings in the proper position relative to the ground, and many times at these altitudes they were looking up at the clouds wary of them obstructing their sight.

As airmail pilots began flying at night and in all kinds of weather in the early 1920s, new equipment helped pilots navigate and maintain aircraft attitude, when they could not see the ground. Navigation aids were developed for use inside the aircraft to guide the pilots from the ground and we began to cruise at heights higher than the clouds.

In 1929, Lawrence Sperry and his Gyroscope Company introduced important technology — the Artificial Horizon — that operated on gyroscopic principles. With its sensitive attachments, Sperry’s device could detect forces that upset the gyroscope stable spin, then would activate the aircraft controls to maintain proper attitude while flying when visible flight was not possible. Refined versions of Sperry’s invention appear in 2015 as the Inertial Navigation System and the Inertial Guidance System. These systems measure changes in the aircraft’s location and attitude that have taken place since the aircraft left the ground. These new devices include an accelerometer to detect changes in airspeed as well as attitude. By determining the precise latitude and longitude before flight, then tracking every change in location, the INS or IGS tells the pilot where he has flown. We have mastered the clouds.

Today’s aircraft are tracked as computer-generated icons wandering across radar display screens, with their positions, altitude, and airspeed updated every few seconds. Pilots and controllers communicate using both voice and data transmitting radios, with controllers relying on radar tracking to keep aircraft on course. Today, cockpit navigation information is increasingly displayed on a monitor, but the position of information and its format are nearly identical to the basic six instruments of early and simpler aircraft.

All of these could easily find a comparison in modern education. Just as in the field of aviation, practice has been developed for teachers to enter classrooms and teach in countless schools around the world. The analogy between aircraft pilots and teachers becomes much more cogent when we look at a profession where we began feeling and crawling along the surface of learning. We picked out the places where we made strong strides and created pedagogic principles that allowed teaching to happen. We created paradigms and models and stuck to those, even as technology progressed. However, those paradigms have begun to change so the profession can lift off.

If we want to fly to new heights we must be willing to get into the chair of newer and better classrooms. This is a simple proposition. Where is the profession going, up or down? Your students have seen the world from their doorways for far too long, now is the time to lift them up and show them the world among the clouds.

This involves taking more and more of our students high among the clouds, and traversing a new global education. If we want to teach our students to participate globally, we have to look at the world from our cockpits, utilize the best technological resources at our disposal to navigate, and travel.

The pilots who navigated out of the window have moved into seats at the epicenter of massive information exchanges to navigate the globe. The planes of today can fly higher, and carry more passengers than ever before.

Similarly, a teacher can step into a classroom and take their students to the Louvre in Paris, or on a field trip to Mexico, or connect them to experts around the world. How? Technology. Technological progress in the classroom is changing how and what we teach, and taking students to new heights.

As the classrooms grow around us we have to see the clouds as not in our way, but part of the new atmosphere of education we roam. We have to not be afraid to take off toward new horizons and destinations. Just as pilots utilize larger and larger airports to exchange people from all around the world, schools can use social media tools, in-class video, coding and programming, and globalization in the cloud to facilitate learning in such new and varied ways; destinations have no end.

No longer can we be content to wander among the fields of home and never reach out to touch the world that is so close to our classrooms. Students deserve to traverse the oceans, fly among the clouds, and broaden horizons. As teachers this has to be our goal, to embrace the technology that makes those journeys possible.

Captain our own courses into brighter tomorrows.

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