Friday, October 17, 2008

CESTL paper-High-flying Motivation

High-Flying Motivation:
Lessons Learned from a Successful Aviation Program at Egly Elementary

By: Hector Galvan
EDCI 6304 Learning and Cognition
School of Education
University of Texas at Brownsville
Spring 2008

This Paper was presented at the 2nd Conference of Elementary Secondary Teaching & Learning (CESTL) in April, 2008, Brownsville, Texas. If you have any questions or comments regarding this paper, please contact the authort directly at .


Aviation is not for everyone. A person who studies aviation has to have a need or an interest before taking that leap into the air. Aviation is also not something that can be learned easily. It takes hours of practice, patience, and hundreds of dollars to obtain a pilot’s license. For example, in order to obtain a pilot’s license, one needs to: 1) be at least 16 years old; 2) pass a written exam with ground school; 3) complete 20 hours of dual instruction with a certified flight instructor; 4) complete 20 hours of solo flight time with 10 of them cross-country flight; and 5) pass a check ride with an FAA examiner. As one can see, this is challenging even for an adult, not to say elementary students. Then the question we want to ask ourselves is: What motivates elementary students to learn about aviation?

This study investigated a successful aviation program at the Egly Elementary School, a school located in Brownsville, Texas. This aviation program was first developed by me in the year of 2005. This aviation program mainly use simulation games as its instructional tools. It is important to note that this aviation class would not have been possible if computer flight simulators were not as advanced as today. The class exists in large part because of the affordability and quality of the computer flight simulators.

Since 2005, my aviation program has attracted a lot of elementary students participating in it. The students in my aviation program were highly motivated to learn about aviation. Many of them came to practice in the aviation lab whenever they were free. For example, the only time the students were required to come the aviation lab was after school between 3:15 pm and 4:30 pm. However, some students came to practice as early as 7am, almost the minute I arrived at school every day. Other students came to practice for about 20 minutes during their own lunch time.

While most elementary students in America today are faced with lack of motivation problem, students in my aviation program demonstrated high motivation year after year. When many motivation scholars are wondering why some students are NOT motivated to learn, I would like to shift our focus to the positive things by studying this successful program. The purpose of my research was to find out what DID motivate the elementary students to learn.

Literature Review

Simulation Games & Motivation

Finding literature on elementary students learning aviation through computer flight simulators was a challenge. I did, however, find some similar studies but they did not mention flight simulators or elementary students. The first study was “Video Games in the Middle School Classroom” conducted by Simpson and Clem. The study reported a new way to teach and to motivate learners. This article addressed the gap between aging teachers and the “digital generation” stating a need for a new way to teach, such as simulators. According to Simpson and Clem (2008), simulators allow students to practice skills that are too costly or difficult to implement in the classroom. A report from the Federation of American Science released in 2006 suggested that video games can redefine education. Other research showed that video game simulations can be used effectively as a tool to teach today’s “digital learners” and provide engagement, excitement, and problem-solving opportunities (Simpson & Clem 2008).

Vogel, Greenwood-Ericksen, Cannon-Bowers, and Clint (2006) also studied the effect of using computer simulation games in learning of high school students. One of the key points made by their study was that the primary thrust of the use of games within computer assisted instruction through increased student motivation. Their research suggested that interacting with computers encourages engagement which leads to increased motivation and thereby increased amount of practice. Using simulation as an effective learning tool has been documented over the last 30 years. Simulation has been particularly effective at training students’ skills and procedures, as it allows learners to practice these behaviors in an artificial environment that mimics the real world (Vogel et al., 2006).

Extensive evidence showed that simulation was a highly effective way to communicate skills and operational knowledge to learners. Learning games incorporating digital simulation are ideally suited to learning in multiple domains and may represent the future of learning in technological societies (Vogel et al., 2006). Learning games may represent an effective way of delivering simulation to a wider population of learners that currently do not have access to such systems. A number of studies have shown significant transfer of learning from digital games to real world application. The drawbacks, however, include difficulty and expense of developing such systems and the material characteristic of simulations may not mesh well with the rigid structured environment of current classrooms and curricula (Vogel et al., 2006).

Student-Teacher Relationship & Motivation

The relationship a teacher establishes with his students can also directly affect the students’ motivation levels (Martin, 2003). According to Martin’s study, students who saw their teacher enjoy teaching young people had higher levels of motivation. The students were more motivated when the teacher respected their opinions and perspectives and was able to see eye to eye with them. Teacher who had a proper balance between being an authority and relaxed figure created an atmosphere of positive motivation. Teacher with a good sense of humor who could laugh with the students was another teacher characteristic that improved motivation in the classroom. And finally, student motivation was high when the teacher provided students with choices, clear explanations, broad assessment practices and methods in a particular course (Martin, 2003).

Statement of the Problem

The majority of students today grew up with digital devices. As a result, these are considered as “digital generation.” For young teachers who are familiar with the digital devices, it’s not a big stretch for them to relate to this generation of students. However, there is a large turn over rate in teaching. Studies show that there are many aging teachers who have little or no knowledge of technology and who are still using traditional teaching methods in the classroom (Clem, 2008). In an effort to close the gap between the traditional teaching methods and their “digital learners,” computer video games can be used as a new teaching approach to motivate students. Children can learn to play video games themselves mostly by trial and error, they can also learn through structured educational lessons designed by innovative teachers using video games related to the subject they teach.

Purpose of the Present Study

The purpose of this study was to find out what the motivating factors were behind my aviation students. A secondary purpose for this study was to find out if the knowledge learned about how to fly through a computer simulator can be transferred to a real world application. To test the latter purpose, I plan to take my top five students to the airport in middle May, 2008 and have these five students fly a real Cessna with a flight instructor.


Research Question

My research question was, “What motivates elementary students to learn about aviation?” My hypothesis was that the students were attracted to this aviation program mainly due to the factor of the hands-on video games with the aspects of the computer flight simulators. Another of my hypothesis for their motivation was that aviation was perceived as something “fun” and “cool” by most elementary school students.

Research Site

This research was conducted at Egly Elementary located at 445 Land O’ Lakes drive in Brownsville Texas. The aviation class was held Monday through Friday in room 210 in the school classroom building. The class room had double deck shelves which were approximately two-foot wide. The upper shelves were just below five-foot high and the lower shelves were about two-foot high. The shelves line the perimeter of the room along the north, east, and south wall. Entry to the class room was on the west end of the north wall. Twenty-one computers were sitting on the lower shelves against those three walls of the room. The middle of the room had eight evenly spaced tables which were two-foot wide, four-foot long and about 27 inches high. These tables have industrial Velcro on the bottom of the legs which kept them from moving when they were bumped into. The west wall had a huge seven by eight foot projection screen. A projector was hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room facing the west wall. All the shelves, tables, and the projection screen were created by me using my own funding. The class also had 24 black folding chairs which were purchased by me.

Research Participants

A total of twenty-one elementary students were enrolled in my aviation program from February to April, 2008. All students were Hispanic and aged between eight to twelve. Out of the twenty-one students, there were twenty male students and two females. The students were divided into two groups in the fall based on their knowledge and skill level of aviation. All the ones that were new to the program were beginners. All the ones who had been in the program at least two years and had passed the Private Pilot check ride on FSX were advanced students. There were ten beginners and eleven advanced learners in the program. Also, there was one autistic student among the beginners. This autistic student was not new to the program but he had not passed the check ride yet.

Data Collection

The study used a qualitative research method. Specific data were collected through classroom observation, eight aviation tests, and a survey. The main data collection method was through classroom observation. During the first month, I focused my observation on their motivation towards the program such as observing how eager they were to participate in the activities. In late February the Brownsville Herald came to my room during the aviation class to do a story on the Flying Knights.

Some data were also collected through testing. On March 3rd I introduced the first of eight tests which were used to determine their abilities. The simulator used for testing was Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X. For the first test, the students needed to fly a left turn traffic pattern from the Brownsville airport and land. They were asked to meet five objectives and they would pass if they met at least four of the five, each objective weighted 20 points. A score of 80 point was given if the students met four objectives and 100 points if they met all five. The students were also told that they could take each test twice to accumulate points. The five objectives were to maintain a pattern altitude of 1000 feet above ground level plus or minus 100 feet, to follow the correct headings plus or minus ten degrees, maintain an airspeed of 80 knots plus or minus ten knots, to follow the localizer needle on the ILS (instrument landing system) approach, and finally to follow the proper glide path going down towards the runway to land. The first test was about 13 minutes long.

For week two the students had to do the same thing but in the fog. Week three was the same as week two but with the settings set on “hard.” Week four was a 25-minute flight from one airport to another. The five requirements were the same except the altitude was 2000 feet and the airspeed was 100 knots. Week five was the same as four except it was in the fog. Week six was in the fog as well but the settings were set to “hard”. Week seven was the Private Pilot check ride with an FAA examiner which was built into the flight simulator. The last week was a bonus test worth 400 points. It was a different 30-minute night flight from one airport to another in the fog with a visibility of only 1/4th of a mile and the settings set on “hard.” The ranking was charted using Excel and pictures of Air Force metals which represented different points that could be earned during testing. Using this chart, students could easily see who was in the top five.

A third data collection method was the survey. During week five, a 31-question survey about the students attitudes towards the program as well as aviation was distributed to the students. Some students were absent that day so I only collected 15 surveys. The purpose of the survey was to how they felt about the different activities which were being done on both Flight Simulator X and IL2 Sturmovik. Before distributing the survey, the students were sited at the tables and were asked to answer those questions as honestly as possible and they did not have to write their names on the survey. However, one of the students still asked if he could write his name anyway, so I told the group that writing their names on the survey was optional. While distributing the survey, I read and explained each question one by one to ensure their understanding. I also gave the students enough time to answer each one. At the end I collected the surveys and the students returned to the computers to continue their tests.


Through one semester’s study with my aviation program, I found that the students were motivated for multiple reasons such as their own interest in aviation, their goals for the future, the feature of the simulation games, their general perception of flying, and the rewarding system I created.

First of all, my study showed that students’ own interests and the goals they set for themselves played a key role in their motivation to learn. After analyzing the data, I surprisingly found that most of my students have a genuine desire to learn how to fly airplanes because they wand to one day become real pilots. The most important reason behind my students’ high motivation was because they all dreamed about becoming a real pilot when they grew up. For example, most of the students (73.33%) in the program indicated in the survey that the reason they joined this aviation program was because they wanted to become real pilots in the future. 73.33% of the students said they would love the chance to fly a real Cessna 172. The majority of the students (93.33%) would love to obtain their pilot’s license when they become adults. Students expressed their dreams like this:

“I like airplanes and I like to learn about the instruments and that this will help me pass my real pilot exam to get my pilot’s license”
“When I grow up I want to be a pilot and Mr. Galvan can teach me how to fly”
“I really want to stay and get my pilot’s license.”
“I want to be a pilot.”

Because of the high expectations the students set for themselves, all students took this program very seriously and considered all the activities and tests as “important.” Some of those students initially joined this program just for “fun.” However, they eventually began to see the importance of knowing how to navigate and take the program more and more seriously as they learned more about it. The survey showed that out of the fifteen students, 100% of them indicated that passing the tests I created to rank them was “very important.” They felt that passing the test would help them learn how to fly the real Cessna very well. Also, 66.67% of the students indicated that the lessons built into Flight Simulator X were very helpful to them.

The second motivator of this aviation program was the simulation games I used for my teaching. Through my observations, I found that students displayed high level of motivation when they were working with the hands-on realism of the flight simulators. The results of the survey also revealed that most students found the simulation games to be “rewarding.” 86.67% (ten beginners and three advanced students) of the students indicated that navigating on FSX was very interesting. They believed that IL2 Sturmovik 1946 had more realistic flight physics than Flight Simulator X. It’s important to note that none of the students have ever flown a real airplane before and some of the students might have heard me saying that in my opinion I thought IL2 simulates the physics of flight better than FSX. Also, 86.67% of the students (nine beginners and four advanced students) felt that flying an airplane at a given heading to find another airport was very “rewarding” to them. 66.67% of the students (eight beginners and three advanced students) indicated that completing missions on FSX to be “rewarding.

The third reason of the students’ high motivation was because they perceived flying as “fun” “challenging” and “cool.” Among the fifteen students, none of them thought that learning aviation was boring. In fact, 66.67% of the students indicated that FSX was “fun” when flying alone. 80% of the students said that flying alone in IL2 was very much fun. For examples, students said these in their survey:

“It’s very fun and I like the challenges.”
“Ground is for losers, but flyiers are for winners.”
“I like flying in the simulator. And flying planes like WW2 airplanes to todays airplanes are cool.”

Fourthly, because of the students’ strong desire to become a real pilot in the future, they all worked very hard and they learned very well, which gave them a sense of control and achievement. Most of my students in this program felt confident about their own knowledge and ability with this aviation program. For example, 86.67% of the students indicated that they had a good understanding of how an airplane flies and they had a very good understanding of how to navigate using the aircraft instruments.

The last motivator was the reward system I used with my students. The Private Pilot certificate which I created myself, for example, was a big motivator for my students. After passing that test, the students would receive a certificate from me, and a copy of which would be displayed on the wall to show their accomplishments. The survey results showed that 90% of the beginners (except the autistic student) would like to pass the Private Pilot check ride and earn their Private Pilot certificate very much. The reason the autistic student was not as motivated and confident as the rest was because this was his second year in the program. He had been trying to pass the Private Pilot check ride on the simulator since October of 2007 and had become extremely frustrated with himself for not being able to pass it. Two weeks after this survey, he finally passed. Among the advanced students, 100% of them found it very rewarding to pass the Private Pilot check ride on FSX and earn a Private Pilot certificate.


To sum up, this study found that elementary students in my aviation program were very motivated to learn. Their high motivation can be explained by at least five reasons: 1) The students had a high interest and high expectations for themselves and they all had a strong desire to become a real pilot in the future; 2) The teaching method used learning tools or hands-on activities such as the computer simulation games which the students thought as “realistic” and “rewarding;” 3) Most of the students perceived the learning content and learning tasks related to aviation as “important” and they took them very seriously; 4) The students perceive the learning tasks as “fun” “challenging” and “cool”, and they enjoyed doing it; and lastly, 5) The students’ hard work and achievement were recognized and rewarded through rewards system such as receiving the Private Pilot Certificate.


Although the literature indicated that students’ aviation motivation was due to the video game aspect of simulators, my study shows that it is not the strongest factor, although it was definitely a factor which motivated my students to learn. However, the big motivator for this group of students was due to their strong desire to become a real pilot some day. This confirmed with my hypothesis only partially because although they initially joined the program for fun, they continued because they developed a real desire to become pilots one day.

Also, much to the dominant view that elementary students are not motivated to learn, my research found that elementary students can actually be very motivated to learn. Motivation is defined as a force that account for the direction, selection, and continuation of a behavior. I believe many teachers have at least two misconceptions about students’ motivation. One is that many teachers are biased and strongly convinced that their students are NOT motivated. This is simply not true. If a student has a goal and makes a certain amount of effort to accomplish them, then by definition, that student is motivated. What these teachers really mean is that their students are not motivated in the way that they would like to see.

The other misconception on motivation is that the teacher can motivate the students directly. My study shows that this is also not true because motivation has to come from within the student himself. To motivate the students to learn, the students have to believe that whatever they are doing is “important” “fun” “rewarding” and “cool” as indicated in their survey. It is my sincere hope that this study will help elementary school teachers take a new look at their students’ motivation and try a different approach in motivating them to learn.


Simpson, E., & Clem, F. A. (2008). Video Games in the Middle School Classroom. Middle School Journal. 39, 4-11.

Martin, A. J. (2003).Boys and Motivation. Australian Educational Researcher. 30, 43-65.

Vogel, J., Greenwood-Ericksen, A., Cannon-Bowers, J., & Bowers, C. A. (2006). Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 39, 105-118.

Snowman & Biehler (1997). Psychology Applied to Teaching. Houghton Mifflin.


Aviation Student Survey

_____1. Which simulator do you think simulates the physics of fight better?
A. FSX B. IL2 1946
_____2. How rewarding is it to you to hold a heading in IL2 to find an airport?
Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is no reward at all and 5 is very rewarding.
_____3. How rewarding is it to you to complete missions on FSX?
Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is no reward at all and 5 is very rewarding.
_____4. How important is it to be able to pass Mr. Galvan's tests on FSX?
Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not important at all and 5 is very important.
_____5. How well do you think passing Mr. Galvan's tests on FSX with help you learn how
to fly a real Cessna? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not well at all and 5 is very well
_____6. How helpful do you think the lessons on FSX are? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not
helpful at all and 5 is very helpful.
_____7. For beginners, how much do you want to pass the private pilot test on FSX? Answer
1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not much at all and 5 is very much.
_____8. For advances, how did you feel when you passed the private pilot test? Answer 1, 2,
3, 4, or 5. 1 is no reward at all and 5 is very rewarding.
_____9. What are the chances you will want to continue learning aviation next school year?
Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not much at all and 5 is very much.
_____10. How realistic to you feel the navigation instruments on FSX are? Answer 1,2,3,4, or 5. 1 is not much at all and 5 is very much.
_____11. How rewarding is it to you to be able to fly in the fog and find the correct runway?
Answer 1,2,3,4, or 5. 1 is no reward at all and 5 is very rewarding.
_____12. How important do you think it is to know how to fly from one airport and land at a
different airport? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not important at all and 5 is very important.
_____13. How do you feel about flying long flights that last over an hour on FSX? Answer 1, 2,
3, 4, or 5. 1 is not good at all and 5 is very good.
_____14. How much extra time to you practice besides the after school class? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4,
or 5. 1 is no extra time and 5 is as much as possible.
_____15. How much do you want to fly a real Cessna? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not much at
all and 5 is very much.
_____16. How much do you want to get a pilot's license when you grow up? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4,
or 5. 1 is not much at all and 5 is very much.
_____17. How boring is it to learn aviation? Answer L 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not boring at all and 5 is
very boring.
_____18. How much fun is FSX when you fly alone? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not much at all
and 5 is very much.
_____19. How much fun is IL2 when you fly alone? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not much at all
and 5 is very much.
_____20. How much fun is FSX when you fly with others? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not much
at all and 5 is very much.
_____21. How much fun is IL2 when you fly with others? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not much
at all and 5 is very much.
_____22. How much to you like flying formation with others? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not
much at all and 5 is very much.
_____23. How important is it to learn to fly formation? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not important
at all and 5 is very important.
_____25. In which simulator is it easier to fly formation?
A. FSX B. IL2 1946
_____26. How much would you like to help build a remote control airplane? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4,
or5. 1 is not much at all and 5 is very much.
_____27. How much do you want to learn how to fly an RIC airplane? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1
is not much at all and 5 is very much.
_____28. How well do you understand how an airplane flies? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 no
understanding at all and 5 very well understood.
_____29. How well do you understand how to navigate using instruments? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or
5. 1 no understanding at all and 5 very well understood.
_____30. How important is it to go on field trips? Answer 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 1 is not important at all and
5 is very important.
31. What motivates you to stay in this aviation group?

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