In the Spotlight
Fluid Dynamics in the Classroom-The Results of a Summer 2001 Educator Externship

by Lauren Hoehlein, UVBEP Intern

Think back to your high school physics class: if yours was like most, you are sitting in a typical classroom, staring aimlessly into space as your teacher stands at the front of the room trying to explain aerodynamics through dusty chalk diagrams to twenty disinterested teenagers. Now imagine that you and your classmates have been given the challenging task of designing an airplane airfoil that allows the plane to fly more efficiently by using an interactive computer program. This is not a situation designed for classroom purposes; you are actually solving a real-life dilemma that engineers face on a daily basis. Now doesn't that make the material sound a little more interesting?

Jon Haehnel, a teacher at Hanover High School, did exactly this with his Applied Physics class. After doing a summer externship through UVBEP at Fluent, Inc., under the guidance of Rick Lounsbury, he was able to incorporate Fluent's technology into his curriculum, thereby allowing the students to look at the subject matter in an applicable and engaging light. He designed three models that showed fluent dynamics, and focused particularly on a 2D model of an airfoil that illustrated the principles of flight. Prior to the tutorial, the students had learned about basic concepts of aerodynamics and flight, and they were additionally building their own physical models of wind tunnels.

Haehnel found that "the students were generally more motivated because the programs were designed for engineers, not high school students." This is not a supplemental program issued by the text book company for kids to use as an enrichment device; rather, this is technology that is used in exciting endeavors ranging from helping the Olympic ski team streamline their jumps to tailoring race cars for efficiency to designing astronaut's helmets. All of these are interesting pursuits that immediately capture the attention of the students.

This year was the first that Haehnel used such a program, and he plans to further develop it for use in his general curriculum in subsequent years. At a professional development forum on November 7, 2001, Haehnel, along with his mentor Rick Lounsbury, presented their experience to a group of science and math teachers from the Upper Valley. They briefly went over the concepts and objectives behind Fluent, Inc. itself, and then proceeded to show how the technology that Fluent uses can pertain to what is being taught in the classroom. Haehnel gave an overview on how he developed the models, from the initial programming phases to the demo he gave to a student so that he could see what needed to be refined before they were actually used as a teaching device. The teachers were given a variety of packets on the subject matter itself and on the technical requirements to develop such a program.

Meetings like the Fluid Dynamics in the Classroom Forum provide a symposium through which educators can come together to share their experiences and ideas in order to further benefit their students. The teachers were able to ask Haehnel questions about his project, from the abstract concepts to the practical logistics of planning and coordinating such a tutorial so that it fits with the overall curriculum. Haehnel's experience was stretched beyond the scope of his own classroom, for now others can use what he learned through working with Fluent, Inc. as well. The partnerships that can be made between schools and businesses is, as of yet, a widely untapped resource. By collaborating with other teachers, their individual classrooms benefit, but, more importantly, the more general scope of the American educational system is enhanced and expanded.

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Two students in Jon Haehnel's Applied Physics class at Hanover High School use software from Fluent, Inc. to generate simulated airfoil flight models.