By Zach Warner | DFW Newsflash | July 2017
Making learning a fun and enjoyable experience, Big Thought, a Dallas youth educational organization, teamed up with the City of Dallas and Dallas ISD to organize a Dallas City of Learning ‘Turn-Up’ event and provide a learning experience at Love Field and Frontiers of Flight Museum on June 24.
Families were encouraged to bring kids of all ages to the museum for a chance to learn about behind-the-scenes activities and various jobs that aid the flight industry, current and historic aircraft and equipment, and the science that makes air and space travel possible.
“There’s something about being on a plane, being in the air that excites kids,” said Kristina Dove, senior manager over partnerships for the Dallas City of Learning program. “I think just being here is great to spark the imagination, even if it’s not about aviation. Maybe it’s how to put the plane together, or how did they get the snowplow to look that way. That took engineering, math, physics and science.
“I hope [this event] gives kids a different look at science. Sometimes we look at science as academic, you’ve got to have a book, it’s boring, it’s something they teach in school; but I hope this gives them a new twist on how fun and exciting science can be,” she said.
Visitors had the option of taking terminal tours of Love Field, witnessing a department of aviation field maintenance visit, and watching a Dallas Police Department narcotics canine unit demonstration. They could also sample foods sold at the airport during the Taste of Love Field event.
The museum allowed access to its exhibits and artifacts, while several booths, music acts, and science projects were also on display on the main floor in addition to the regular attractions. The tour of the airport and the admission to Frontiers of Flight were free to the public during the Turn-Up event. The wave of the admission price supported the City of Learning’s theme of providing low-cost or no-cost learning activities for children.
“During the summer, when kids don’t have access to high quality programs, they stand to lose up to two months’ worth of learning,” said Catherine Nodurft, director of communications for Big Thought. “They start the next school year behind. Our goal is to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“We focus on assisting the neighborhoods with the greatest need, where they might not have easy access to good programs or there might not be great programs available to them in their neighborhood. We bring some programs to them, and we work with a lot of partners to promote their existing programs.”
One of the ways Big Thought makes learning opportunities available is through the Mobile Tech Experience, a 33-foot retrofitted RV that the organization designed, complete with 40 laptops, several 3-D printers, and robotics equipment. The goal is to bring STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities to areas that would not have access to them otherwise.
The Mobile Tech Experience is used primarily in the summer, although it is available for use throughout the year. Opening up opportunities for STEM activities for kids is a strategic plan of the organization, said Karim Virani, director of information technology for Big Thought.
“Our biggest aim is to get them thinking about themselves as future engineers, to show them that they can do something and it will work, and to change their mindsets so they’ll think about it in the future,” he said.
Virani gave kids and adults tours of the RV during the museum event. “Middle school is probably our most optimal age range. Their horizons are starting to close down. In elementary school, you thought you were going to be a fireman or an astronaut or whatever. In middle school, they start to get the message over and over again that they need to think more narrowly about their future. We want to open that up again.
“Even if they’ve had a little bit of trouble in math or whatever, there are things that they can do,” he said. “All they have to do is come back and put their minds to it. We’d like to show them that they’ve got a future in STEM if they want it.”
Dallas City of Learning describes opportunities on its website (dallascityoflearning.org) for summer education, partnering with 300-plus organizations across the Metroplex. Events at places like libraries and community centers are common, but aviation museums such as Frontiers of Flight serve as especially education-rich experiences, according to Erin Offord, senior director of programs for Big Thought.
“To actually be in the museum where the kids can see the airplanes and learn more about the history and some of the real key moments [in aviation], and touch some of the actual items is really an eye-opening experience for the kids,” Offord said. “If you say, ‘We’re going to math class in the summer,’ that’s not interesting, but learning about physics and aerodynamics in a fun way is stimulating.”
Those attending the event caught a glimpse of the visual and performing arts which take place at the airport on a regular basis as well. Artwork was on display as part of an exhibition Love Field is holding in cooperation with DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) where young people enter a contest for their drawings to be selected for use by the transportation agency. Teens with aspirations of singing careers also performed on stage at the museum, something that takes place at the airport when students from the Septian Entertainment Group practice their craft for patrons.
Guy Bruggeman, art and programming coordinator at Love Field, said the event allowed his department to make people aware of the permanent art collection and rotating exhibit spaces featured at the airport. It also taught youngsters that pilots and flight attendants are not the only career choices when thinking about employment in the flight industry or at airports.
“This showcases the fact that there’s all types of jobs,” Bruggeman said. “The Department of Aviation only has 260 employees or so, but overall we employ over 8,000 employees at the airport.
“It’s a great way to open their minds a little more to other career opportunities related to aviation, but not necessarily aviation jobs.”
The event also educated kids regarding how big a role aviation has played in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the last century. Since the opening of Love Field 100 years ago, the North Texas region has grown into a major player in the flight industry.
“DFW has a huge concentration of aerospace companies,” said Jason Treadwell, director of education at Frontiers of Flight. “There are two major airlines, two major airports and lots of defense contractors.
“Aviation is a huge part of the DFW economy, and I think it’s important for people to learn about it at a very young age. Hopefully these kids are our future job pool and will end up with careers in aviation.”