CARY – How do you spark students’ interest in science and math? Get them out of the classroom.

This was the purpose of “Data on the Fly” last week at Raleigh-Durham International Airport as part of the North Carolina Science Festival. The month-long festival features events across the state that encourage students to pursue science-related careers.

More than 20 students created hardware to retrieve data related to aircraft situational awareness as part of the N.C. Science Festival.

This year, 20 students from Wake and Durham counties worked inside the N.C. Department of Transportation hangar, where they had a front row seat to aircraft taking off and landing at RDU.

Working closely with data experts from SAS Institute, students built real-time airplane monitoring systems out of simple, single-board computers, special antennas and iPads. They then tested their creations by recording data near the airport’s longest runway.

“This program is a home run,” said Jonathan Frederick, director of the science festival. “We want events that give audiences unique experiences. Here, the classroom is a hangar, giving students an innovative, hands-on experience in an incredible setting.”

Passion for Flight

SAS Institute’s commitment to K-12 education has a long history, so it was a natural fit for it to partner with the N.C. Department of Transportation to host the event.

“Today’s exercise combines all elements of STEM,” said Don Koch, Sr. Director of Consulting with SAS who is also a pilot. “We are combining hardware, aviation and the internet of things to encourage interest in STEM and data analytics.”

After its inaugural course last year, SAS created a curriculum for the program that is now available to students around the world through its Curriculum Pathways program.  SAS estimates that its curriculum program reaches 3.5 million students and teachers around the world.

Ada Lopez, a SAS science curriculum specialist, created the “Date on the Fly” curriculum after volunteering at last year’s event.

“When I saw what was happening, I wanted to capture this experience and lesson and make it available to anyone,” said Lopez.

[In photo at the top of this post, Lopez works with students as part of the “Data on the Fly” event.]

Lopez agrees that the unique learning environment sparks interest in STEM and takes one step in closing the skills gap related to data analytics and literacy.

“STEM is important, and this lesson pulls in all elements of it: science, technology and math,” she said.

Love of Flight and Analytics

John McNeill, left, and Don Koch of SAS Institute combined their love of aviation to create a math and science-driven exercise as part of the N.C. Science Festival.

For 16-year old David Day, the event combines his interest in flying with science and math.

Day participated in the first “Data on the Fly” event last year. It was there that he learned the role analytics can play in aviation.

“I loved the emphasis on aviation and analytics,” said Day, who is a sophomore at Research Triangle Academy. “I learned how I can gather and retrieve data to identify the locations of other planes.”

This year, he returned to the event as a speaker.

“I told the students my story and how easy it is to do what I do by focusing on science, math, physics and aerodynamics,” he said.