For someone who grew up not liking airplanes, Megan Tucker has made a quick turnaround.
Tucker says it’s an award she’s been wanting for a long time. Two of her mentors had already won it, and she’s been nominated twice before, in 2009 and 2019.
She applied again, compiling a 93-page application with more than 30 pages consisting of letters from former students, parents, and others in the community.
One of those mentors, Susan Mallett, the aerospace/STEM education outreach coordinator for the Civil Air Patrol and the 1992 award winner, wrote in her nomination that Tucker “is one of those unique treasures who never stops thinking of ways to help others understand, feel valued, and seek to accomplish great things.”
Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance added, “Megan has ensured that the themes of aerospace engineering are key components in the classroom, and she has demonstrated boundless creativity in activities and projects to encourage and enhance the teaching of aerospace.”
“It’s always been a career goal,” Tucker says. “I have other accolades and things that people have nominated me for, but this one has been my personal career goal. I’m really infusing everything I do with getting these kids excited about STEAM and in exploration of space and in the skies.”
Tucker currently teaches kindergarten to fifth grade, “So my job is to make them understand why they’re learning the science concepts.”
It’s easy to think that high school teachers, who teach the most advanced concepts to the most intellectually developed students, would scoop up awards like the Crossfield. But Tucker says teaching about aviation and aerospace is gratifying because it opens so many doors in a child’s mind.
“STEAM is really a tool to teach math and science, and reading and social studies, all of the subjects,” Tucker says. “But it’s a high-interest tool where the kids are not even knowing they’re learning, but doing it for real-world purpose.”
For a simple paper airplane contest, Tucker says, “They’re working on those paper folding skills, which aren’t really hard skills. But then they throw the paper airplane, and we have to figure out who won the paper airplane contest. So then you’re bringing in the measurement, right? Are we talking about how far it goes? Then you can take all their measurement and do like, mean, median, mode, and make it into a whole math problem.”
That’s assuming you go with a distance-based competition, she adds. “Maybe it’s longest flight time. So then we’re bringing in a timer and figuring out that piece of things. For the younger kids, we throw at targets, and then they collect how many reds they got, and they make a pie chart and learn how to translate that to math.”
She adds, “They don’t even realize they’re learning cause and effect, and they’re learning the different math concepts — science, especially physical science; Newton’s laws; force and motion; a push and a pull, invisible forces, so many things.”
That’s why the award is so gratifying, she says. “This award takes creativity in the teacher, to figure out how you can use these things. … I get to highlight the standards, but then also the people skills that I wish we had a class for when we were in school. I never had a class on how to get along, but we would benefit.”
‘I Hated Airplanes Even More’
Not bad for someone who never liked airplanes.
“I grew up by an airport. And I did not like airplanes. They’d wake me up on a Saturday morning — it was not my cup of tea.” Then she married an Air Force crew chief, who works on F-16s, “and I hated airplanes even more, because they took him away.”
About six months into her first teaching job, in Florida, and convinced she would concentrate her teaching on life sciences, when a friend recommended an aviation workshop. Tucker was doubtful, but went. “I was hooked. … I’d only taught half a year, but I was going to figure out how to get these things into my classroom.”
She went to NASA’s Space Camp and to every training session she could find, “and it grew to the point where … the school started seeing what I was doing. And then I started being the fourth grade STEM person; everybody would come to me, and then it grew and the whole school was involved.”
When she followed her husband to California, she began teaching STEM. By the time she got to Hillsboro, “it was natural for me to use airplanes and rockets.”
Tucker says she knows that her students are not all going to go into aviation and aerospace for the rest of their lives. The most important thing you learn at the elementary school level, she says, is how to learn. And being excited about the subject matter, which kids generally are when it comes to aviation, helps.
“It’s that excitement — the passion. I always talk about their aviation fascination; it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a career, but they want to come to school in the morning, and they get excited to do these things. They want to go home and talk about it. And that’s what we want as teachers, we want them to want to be there.”
That’s why some of her success stories don’t have anything to do with flight. She recalls one student who has been commissioned in the Navy (she got to watch the graduation ceremony), but she’s just as proud of a student of hers from Florida who went with Tucker to a local news station for an interview on STEAM education and fell in love with the atmosphere of the studio and is now a local Florida news anchor.
She’ll be getting her award at the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s ceremony in DC September 21, right after an award is presented to the team that built the Ingenuity helicopter that just landed on Mars. “So I’m starstruck — like, oh, my gosh, are you kidding me? Like I’m going on the stage after the engineers that made a helicopter fly in an environment that is not air.”
The next day sees the enshrinement of six inductees into the Hall of Fame, including Apollo astronaut Fred Haise and Kathryn Sullivan, the first woman to take a space walk. “Crazy, crazy stuff,” Tucker says. “I could never imagine being on a stage with these people.”
Feature image courtesy Megan Tucker
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