Cleared to land

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Technology education teacher Brad Bill pulls off hands-on lesson with the help of Air National Guard

Photo by Brian Brosmer

The whir of helicopter blades becomes almost deafening as the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter hovers closer to the ground.

Its wheels get closer and closer to the turf, and the wind generated from the multi-million dollar aircraft that weighs thousands of pounds knocks over the sideline benches.

An aircraft fit to carry soldiers into battle landed on the Riverside Junior High School football field on Nov. 14.

As the Air National Guard personnel filed out of the expensive weapon of war, they took on another roll besides soldier.

They became guest teachers in a lesson plan by technology education teacher Brad Bill.

Two months of preparation and correspondence led up to one day of school that put a real-life application of classroom theory in the hands of approximately 75 eighth graders in Bill’s technology education classes.

“I think the added value was they were able to see first-hand what we were talking about in class,” Bill said, holding a rubber band-powered airplane.

“The true extra worth was students being able to compare their 88 cent rubber band airplanes that weigh about one gram, to the multimillion-dollar chopper and seeing what they were learning on a bigger scale,” Bill said.

A new kind of shop class

Turn the clock back a few years, and Bill’s technology education courses might be called, simply, “shop.”

Today, Bill works out of a classroom complete with work tables, chairs and shop area with a vacuum system to suck up sawdust.

His classes are currently working on a transportation unit, with the helicopter landing capping off the “air” segment, for the most part. He said the course focuses more on the engineering side of what would have been preparation for trade schools.

Teaching is in his blood. Both Bill’s mom and aunt are teachers, but he didn’t set out to teach technology.

“I was in the middle of my junior year of college at Ball State,” he said, “and I was a social studies education major. I was getting burned out.”

Bill’s then girlfriend, now wife, Camille, told him to switch to technology education.

After being convinced such a topic was still taught, Bill switched tracks and took extra semesters to complete the new degree. He said he likes having a hands-on approach to learning, taking on jobs like painting and other home improvement projects to pass the time outside of class.

Degree in hand, he chose to teach eighth graders over other age groups because he felt he could make a difference during a time of change for young people, he said.

It turns out, the visit from the Air National Guard would make an impact on students.

The ultimate visual aide

“I think every day as a teacher you want to say that one thing that’s going to grab the attention of the student,” Bill said, “ and my thing was, ‘anyone of you in here, girl or guy does not matter, can do this (pilot or work in a flight crew). You have to stick with your education, and you have to keep going with it. But any of you can be in that position, and it’s not reserved for the elite, as long as you earn it work hard to obtain it …’”

To deliver that message, Bill worked since September to make it happen. A parent at a meet-the-teacher event, who works at IUPUI and knew of a similar event there, gave him contact information in the Guard, and after much correspondence and some coincidental connections, paperwork and cooperation from his administration, it all came together.

In the past, Bill brought in Andretti Autosport and its Indy cars to help teach aerodynamics. After having a helicopter land on the football field, he said some students walked away with a career interest.

Setting out at trying to make it all happen, Bill said the worst the military could have told him was “no.”

“If you don’t at least try then you’re never going to know,” he said.

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