What We’ve Learned So Far: Overview of the AMA Education Department

My purpose in writing this memo is twofold: I wish to document some of the history of how the Academy of Model Aeronautics’ commitment to education outreach evolved over the past two decades, in addition to offering a summary of our current work. In the interests of full disclosure and giving credit where credit is due, my growth as an AMA educator has been significantly enhanced by the AMA professional staff in Muncie, Indiana, as well as by my colleagues on the Education Committee.

I served as Chair of the Committee for 14 years and now, as a Program Development Specialist in the Education department for nearly a decade, I have been fortunate to work with a group of capable AMA members who share a common vision. It is remarkable how many talented individuals, past and present, in the department and on the committee, have come together under the AMA banner to offer newcomers an opportunity to participate in the recreational and educational benefits of model aviation. I am indebted to their tutelage and I offer this summary of our work together on their behalf.

I became involved with the AMA’s education program in 1995, while I was superintendent of schools in Mansfield, Connecticut. I retired after 31 years in public education, which gave me the opportunity to spend more time on the Education department goals of helping AMA club members introduce newcomers to the sport and hobby, as well as using model aircraft to teach math and science in school classrooms. The AMA has a unique niche no other aerospace education organization can fill because our members know model aviation better than any other national group. And AMA’s Education department plays a pivotal role in serving the needs of our clubs, their members, and the aerospace community, by helping engage adults and young people through its work with community groups and schools.

The Academy in the organization’s name is relevant today because a major focus of the sport and hobby of aeromodeling is lifelong learning, whether a member is young or simply young at heart. Model aviation has changed dramatically in the past three-quarters of a century and the more than 2,400 chartered AMA clubs have become “communities of learners,” helping members acquire new skills in electronics, mechanical engineering, and aerodynamics, broadening their horizons to new levels of achievement. However, the department’s mission has not changed since these early days. It is committed to educating the public about the powerful impact model aviation has in motivating people of all ages when they accept the challenge of successfully flying a model airplane.

Gordon Schimmel, AMA Education Outreach Specialist


AMA: Resource for All Aerospace Educators

From the outset, the Education department’s first priority was to focus on helping chartered clubs conduct the best possible programs to recruit adults and young people into the ranks of builders and pilots of model aircraft. We created projects that have successfully attracted newcomers to the sport—especially young people—through our work with club members or with groups of teachers and students. We were confident that our activities broadened the impact and raised the visibility of the AMA as a powerful educational resource for club members, teachers, students, and leaders of community groups. Our recent effort to feature your work, a select group of AMA educators on our Flight School website, is but one example of our commitment to our effort to interest newcomers to membership in the AMA.

We began our work more than two decades ago with a second important commitment: a laser-like focus on supporting the work of other organizations already doing projects in field of aerospace education. We knew that many of our members are people with unique talent and we wanted to establish the AMA as the education resource for other groups, some of which had mixed success in using model aircraft in their programs.

The AMA’s dedication to partnerships illustrates the old adage of making a virtue of necessity because all aerospace education organizations have limited resources. The department believed that working with other outstanding organizations, the AMA education program achieved an economy of scale when acting as a resource to these groups, achieving maximum impact without overextending the AMA’s budget. Helping others achieve common goals creates synergy and reduces competition for scarce resources.

AMA’s partners in aviation education are a pantheon of major aviation organizations, the most prominent of which are:


  • The National Aeronautic Association (NAA)
  • The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)
  • The Civil Air Patrol (CAP)
  • The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)
  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • The National Air and Space Agency (NASA)
  • The Smithsonian Institution
  • The National Coalition of Aviation and Space Education
  • The Soaring Society of America
  • Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
  • AirMap
  • National Intercollegiate Flying Association
  • University Aviation Association
  • Alaris Unmanned Systems
  • The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals
  • Arconic Foundation
  • Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps


Throughout the years, the AMA Education department has also supported the work of the Technology Student Association, the national Science Olympiad program, as well as numerous aviation and science museums, 4-H, Boy and Girl Scout programs, and local community groups.

The third important commitment was to seek ways to make more effective use of flying model aircraft in the school classroom, and the department’s partnership with the Arconic Foundation was instrumental in developing this aspect of the educational program. We recognized that the decades-old “classroom classic,” the dart-shaped paper airplane, was fun for its entertainment value, but it was unreliable as a teaching tool for math and science. We knew we had to create and field-test activities for classrooms using better-flying models as platforms to produce useful data linked to national science and math standards. The Arconic Foundation’s partnership in helping create a “Flight Research Kit”, support for UAS4STEM, a national aerial robotics competition, and helping create the new AMA Alpha, has been crucial in the department’s significant curricular development work.

The decision to pursue classroom-based activities was based on the understanding that teachers did not have time to add aerospace education activities to an already overcrowded instructional day; we knew that if we could assist educators with activities that helped them meet local and state standards in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), we could help student achievement.


AMA Non-Formal Education Activities

Every profession has jargon and the specialty of aerospace education is no exception. The work in the field is divided into two parts: “Nonformal education,” e.g., projects and programs that operate outside of the school day, and “Formal education”, e.g., programs that are tailored to the needs of classroom teachers. From the outset, members of the Education department determined that our work would be focused on using the skills and experience unique to AMA members to assist others in nonformal education and formal programs, to make the best use of models as an instructional tool.

Nonformal education embodies activities that are historically the most familiar to AMA club members. These activities and events are focused outside of regular school hours: after-school clubs, recreation department programs, and summer camps, where leadership from members can benefit local AMA club growth and membership.

Since AMA’s Education department began its work, dedicated AMA club members have assisted after-school groups such as the Science Olympiad and the Technology Students Association, both extracurricular, nonformal education activities. For example, one of our Education Committee members was instrumental in helping Science Olympiad develop competitions using simple indoor models. These indoor flying events have introduced tens of thousands of participants to model aviation during local and regional competitions, leading several students to national and international medals at FAI-sanctioned, Indoor Free Flight events.

In short, if the AMA is to grow and thrive in the 21st century, we must begin by recognizing that model aviation will never be what it was in the “Golden Age of Aviation” in the 1930s when the organization was founded. The mainstream entertainment market is so diverse and media-driven that it is difficult for most organizations to compete successfully. However, the AMA can compete in a niche.

Our work will always appeal to people who have good spatial skills—those who “think with their hands.” The AMA can provide an outlet for this type of learner because creative young people are out there and, if we keep our visibility high and our programs robust, they will find us. To this end, the Education department plans to launch a significant push this year using a variety of social media and marketing strategies to make young people aware of the UAS4STEM and AMA Alpha competitions.

The new, nonformal Education department initiative is AMA’s UAS4STEM national competition, launched during the past three years. As members of 120 teams from 25 states, more than 700 students have participated in the competition. We look forward to further expanding the program during the 2018/2019 school year as more and more students and teachers learn of the opportunity.

Much like the proverbial marketing slogan, “A satisfied customer is our best advertisement,” we are confident that sharing the enthusiasm that students exhibit in the competition through social media will produce growing participation in the program. From a handful of colleges and universities only a few short years ago, to scores of institutions of higher education presently offering accredited programs in unmanned aerial vehicles, it is clear that this AMA project has the potential to make much-needed contributions to careers in STEM disciplines.

Another very exciting addition to AMA’s non-formal education work is the development of the AMA Alpha, a simple but elegant Free Flight model designed specifically to give students experience in applying Newton’s Laws of Motion. This practical, hands-on experience is a unique addition to the AMA’s activities to promote STEM education. More than 3,500 models have been shipped to students, teachers, AMA club members, and community group leaders around the country. The first national online contest was conducted this spring focusing on a flight-duration challenge and future competitions are being planned in conjunction with the national Science Olympiad regional and national events.

Finally the Take off And Grow (TAG) program is another facet of the department’s support of nonformal education. TAG awards up to $22,000 annually to local clubs to promote field-based activities for newcomers. As you might know, clubs apply for support to host a TAG Model Aviation Day where attendees can participate in an event that includes making simple models, practicing skills on simulators in preparation for RC flight, and “stick-time” on a buddy box under the guidance of an AMA club instructor.

The program has been very successful, providing ways for clubs to reach out to their communities and to create positive relationships with flying site neighbors. The TAG program is an example of how the Education department supports local clubs with events to increase membership with successful programs and activities that are now a permanent feature on the Flight School website.


AMA Formal Education Activities

Formal education activities are designed to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities for classroom teachers in middle and high school classrooms. The Education department believes that hands-on projects enable students to apply key science and math concepts and processes. We believe that experimentation with model flying machines teach students to work through real-world problems, helping them become more discriminating learners in all core academic disciplines.

The AMA realizes that activities to help teachers accomplish STEM objectives must address federal and state standards for student achievement. Federal legislation requires that public school districts throughout the country test students in science, in addition to the core areas of reading, writing and math. We knew that aerospace education activities for the formal education classroom had to be designed to help teachers address these standards—activities that supported the acquisition of knowledge and experience within the process of doing original investigative work.

With Arconic Foundation support in communities where the corporation has facilities, dozens of AeroLab STEM teacher workshops have been conducted, featuring a variety of simple, inexpensive activities for middle school math and science classroom teachers, providing materials and supplies as well as online technical assistance. The AMA Education department committed itself to offering activities to help students practice skills and apply concepts in fun and engaging way.

The success of these workshops was achieved through vigorous promotion of the event and word-of-mouth endorsement from participants and colleagues. In the department’s most recent AMA/Arconic project, 18 workshops, serving nearly 400 teachers, were completed during the three-year grant. Conservatively estimating that each middle or high school teacher has at least 100 students, we believe that, at minimum, nearly 45,000 students were impacted by this program.

These activities also have been presented in teacher workshops at the EAA’s annual conventions in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, at aerospace education museums and conferences, and at FAA educational conferences and seminars, where hundreds more teachers have participated in the AeroLab experience.

The second component of formal education is career education and the Education department is committed to the development this objective as part of our work in the school classroom. We believe that AMA chartered clubs have much to offer because members are talented individuals. Many of them are part of an educated, high-tech workforce who can inspire young people who might be interested in aerospace careers. Using our members in this capacity is a great resource when our members provide information about career opportunities through classroom presentations and demonstrations. Working closely with schools and classroom teachers, scientists, engineers, technicians, pilots, and astronauts who enjoy the sport and hobby of model aviation, can inspire and inform students who might wish to pursue study in aerospace careers.

Although it is obvious is that the AMA has a strong interest in recruiting young people as members, it is not the department’s only objective. An important formal education goal in school classrooms is using model aviation to create better students, not using students to create model aviators. We firmly believe that the study of aerospace topics enables students to practice lifelong learning skills—gathering information, examining alternative solutions, testing theories, and analyzing results.

The Education department will continue to pursue as many opportunities in the classroom as its budget will allow; we focus on formal and nonformal education because it is where the children are! These programs and the work of Education Outreach staff are ways to expose young people to flying models to help teachers with science goals, while indirectly promoting the AMA as a resource for other flying opportunities for fun and competition. We are confident that practicing these skills in STEM classrooms as well as in extracurricular events are important steps to building an informed citizenry, the foundation of a strong democracy.

Gordon Schimmel Ed.D.

AMA Education Outreach Specialist

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