What We *Do Not* Teach…”Null Curriculum”

Educational Excellence; Board member Dr. Sherry Rossiter on Curriculum.

With the recent FAA change in how “slow flight” is to be taught and demonstrated, flight instructors have had to make some changes in their training curricula. A few weeks ago I began ground training with a new flight instructor applicant and that caused me to think about changes I needed to make in my own course syllabi due to the FAA replacing the Practical Test Standards (PTS) with the Airmen Certification Standards (ACS).

For many flight and ground instructors, the first and last time they thought seriously about curriculum development and delivery was when they were studying to pass the FAA’s Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) knowledge exam. This is unfortunate because a well-designed curriculum is the basis for an effective transfer of knowledge. And unfortunately, the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook (FAA-H-8083-9A) really doesn’t say much about curriculum development.

Former Stanford University professor Elliot Eisner (1985) believed that there are actually three curricula being taught simultaneously during every lesson. These curricula are called the explicit, the implicit, and the null.

All educators are familiar with the explicit curriculum. This is the authorized or official course syllabus that, if properly constructed, clearly states the course objectives, elements of study, and learning evaluation criteria. The implicit curriculum is what is actually taught by the educator and consists of the particular information presented, examples provided, stories told, and answers given to student’s questions. But, as Eisner theorized, there is a third curriculum that isn’t talked about and often not even considered. Eisner called this the null curriculum, wherein “null” refers to what has been left out of the explicit and implicit curricula.

By now you may be wondering where this discussion is going because you pride yourself on being an excellent instructor who doesn’t leave anything important out of a lesson plan or presentation. However, we are imperfect human beings with different biases, opinions, and life experiences. Generally, we do not consciously leave important information out of the curriculum or lesson, but Eisner postulates that all educators, consciously or unconsciously, may leave out certain bits of information or values discussion when teaching.

An example of null curriculum at work would be a flight lesson focused on learning to fly the traffic pattern without the flight instructor mentioning the importance of being vigilant in watching for other traffic. I’m sure you can think of many other examples, but the big question is, “Why would any professional educator leave important information out of a lesson?”

I would like to believe that when important safety information is left out of a lesson, it is done so unconsciously and likely due to the inexperience of the instructor. However, some instructors and teachers intentionally leave out certain bits of information or avoid certain discussions because they don’t want to appear negative or controversial.” Unfortunately, this leaves students with potentially false impressions that could jeopardize their safety or inhibit their decision making process in the future.

When I think back to various aviation instructors I’ve learned from over the years, the ones who stand out as truly remarkable were not the ones who only taught the explicit (i.e., written) curriculum. The ones I learned the most from were instructors who supplemented the explicit curriculum with “cautionary tales” from their own aviation experience. They had a talent for breaking down complex information into easily digested bites. They weren’t afraid to give their opinion about which airplane they liked better – high wing or low wing. They were willing to explain, and then explain again and again, if I didn’t understand the first explanation. Whether in the classroom or in the cockpit, they gave their full attention to the teaching process. These aviation educators not only provided useful information to their students, but they also explained why that information or bit of knowledge was important. In short, these instructors were very conscious of the implicit curriculum – what was actually taught through words and actions.

But what about the null curriculum? How can we as aviation educators be sure we aren’t leaving out important bits of knowledge or safety-related information in our teaching efforts? The answer is that we can’t be absolutely sure, but we definitely should spend some time thinking about each lesson we deliver and ask ourselves if there is any other information our student can benefit from knowing.

We flight instructors sometimes take for granted what would be useful information for a student or inexperienced pilot to know. For example, knowing that the engine of an airplane with a gravity fed fuel system (like a Cessna 152 or 172) may sputter and even quit in an extreme side slip in a low fuel condition could be important information for a student to know, but I don’t recall ever being told this when I was learning to fly. If I had not experienced this for myself and then talked to another pilot about that experience, I would not have learned this useful bit of information.

Sometimes instructors are not as careful with giving directions to student pilots as they should be because they assume a certain level of knowledge and/or “common sense.” I’ll never forget a scene I watched unfold at the first flight school I worked at. Another flight instructor told his new student to “crawl on up that wing and check the fuel.” Then he went back into the office for some reason, but when he returned, the student was literally up on the wing peering into the fuel tank. While it is an amusing story to tell now, it could have been a story with a very unhappy ending if she had fallen off the wing. What this flight instructor learned was that words do matter and to never assume a student understands what you said.

While it is virtually impossible to insure that each flight lesson or classroom presentation includes every possible bit of information a student is going to need to stay safe in the air, aviation educators should be aware that what they say – or don’t say – has an impact on their student’s flight safety. For this reason, careful attention should be paid to all three curricula– explicit, implicit, and null.

There are many curriculum resources in our public area for everyone (and much more for SAFE members. Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Aviation Fun! Visit SAFE at AOPA Fly-Ins

Join SAFE at the AOPA Regional Fly-In at Camarillo April 28/9 if you are in the area. We support AOPA in their exciting regional shows as they become bigger and better…we want to meet our members too! This year AOPA is expanding the educational seminar selection and pumping up the fun with a barnstormer party Friday night. MCFI Michael Phillips will be at the show representing SAFE. (He could use some help if other SAFE members are willing!) Michael is a 50 year aviation addict and active CFI in the southern California region. Also at the show will be SAFE member (and winner of AMT of the Year) Adrian Eichorn. Adrian flew his V-Tail Bonanza around the world solo last year for his 60th birthday…talk about a bucket list item! Please support AOPAs energetic initiative and also our new SAFE commitment to meeting our members…stop by and have some aviation fun!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

PIREPS Save Lives; Please Report!

The pilot of a Cessna 310 lost his life on a missed approach while shooting an ILS in “VFR conditions.” He was current and fully briefed but the weather worsened enroute and no one reported the downpour at the airfield (or that the tower had been struck by lightning!) There is no way an FSS specialist developing a forecast in Kansas City can help you here. Your fancy internet-driven apps are blind if no one is talking. Even your nexrad is lagging by 20-30 minutes from collection to aggregation and display. This is where PIREPS, critical timely reports by actual observers, are essential to safety. All we need to do is take the time to report the conditions we see to save lives.

PIREPS are a tough sell for a CFI until you demonstrate their value. Our job as CFIs is building those insights in our clients and creating a safer flight environment. If the snowy clouds at your airport are at 800agl and you are wondering where the tops are, there is no reliable information (without a PIREP) You will be sitting (not flying) without that timely data. All our fancy app-driven data is useless without an observer willing to share their experience. And that is what a PIREP is; pilots talking to other pilots and advising them of the current conditions…”this is what I just saw.”

Automated “Official Weather” on http://1800wxbrief.com

As a flight school manager, my former students (now CFIs and regional airline captains) fly Dash 8s into home base and *always* give a tops and icing report when inbound in the winter. This is a personal gift. When the 7:08 Philly flight reports “top of overcast 4100, no ice in the descent” we can safely go flying instead of sitting; PIREPS are essential.

And not surprisingly, PIREPS are an increasing focus for safety professionals; see this recent NTSB special report. Rob Mark covered PIREPS in his recent article in Flying Magazine, which reported the Cessna accident above;

The NTSB revealed during last year’s forum that, “Between March 2012 and December 2015, the NTSB investigated 16 accidents and incidents that exposed pirep-related areas of concern,” adding that, “The pirep information, if disseminated, would have increased the weather situational awareness of the incident flight crews, which could have helped them avoid the weather hazards and prevent the aircraft-damaging events.”

We all need to promote a more active sharing of timely information through the PIREP system.

Aerovie App (free to SAFE members) allows the direct input of PIREP information to NWS.

If you are a CFI educating students, especially at the instrument level, get your clients in the habit of issuing and gathering PIREP information. This system is pilots directly informing their peers of unforecast situations from weather to “the runway lights inoperative” or even wind shear and turbulence on final. Be sure when issuing an advisory to mention “a PIREP” to insure it gets entered into the system and disseminated correctly. A simple “tops 4K” may be dropped if your controller is busy. Using the PIREP system also tunes up your local ATC staff to get in the habit of collecting and processing your reports. The information helps them when they are vectoring traffic and assigning visual approaches. If the radio is too busy call a briefer when you get landed. Newer applications like Aerovie (free to all SAFE members) allow you to input PIREPS directly to NWS right on the app. PIREPS are vital and a tool in a savvy pilots’ kit to assure and improve safety.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

“Google Planes;” Switch off “The Magic”

Aviation has always led the way in automation, with both the technology and also the challenges of our problematic “human interface.” As modern media is discussing the problems of “human accommodation” in self-driving automobiles, aviation has already handled similar challenges for over a century.

The first “autopilot” in an aircraft was actually demonstrated on June 18th 1914 in Paris by Lawrence Sperry. He flew his Curtis C-2 biplane with his hands in the air in front of an excited crowd at the Concours de la Sécurité which went wild for the show. On his second pass he climbed out on the wing as the plane executed complete “pilotless flight” past the assembled masses. This “gyroscopic stabilizer apparatus” continued to develop and Sperry’s “Mechanical Mike” aided Wiley Post on the first solo flight around the world in 1933. Captain Thomas J. Wells, of the U.S. Army Air Force demonstrated a completely autonomous flight, from take-off to landing in 1947 in a C-54 Skymaster from Newfoundland to Oxfordshire in England (the crew was reportedly not even told of the destination). The challenges we face now are largely not mechanical but how to interface the technology with the human pilot so vigilance and skill are retained despite hours of “monitoring.”

As anyone who has followed the commands of a GPS navigator knows, there are many problems to totally trusting technology. First the device makes us totally dependent with it’s flawless operation. Then when you are confident and stupid, it has the potential to fail catastrophically and lead you completely astray. In humorous and benign situations, people have driven into the ocean trying to navigate to the next island (by car). Unfortunately, in more extreme examples of technological dependence following a failure, like Air France 447 or Air Asia 8501, many innocent lives have been lost. For pilots our major problems are the deterioration of our hand flying skills and mental disconnect as ‘the magic” flies our plane. This interface of human and machine cooperation has many problems and few solutions; perhaps caution and awareness of the perils are our best defenses.

The paradox of automation has three important aspects. First, as mentioned, automation removes responsibility from the operator diminishing skill levels by eliminating the opportunity for sufficient practice. Second, technology in it’s amazing precision and control can easily mask increasing mental and physical incompetence in the operator by automatically correcting mistakes. Third, automatic systems tune out and mask small errors in the control system until they ultimately disengage, usually at a critical point, and leave the startled human monitor with a huge problem at the worst time (with diminished skill and awareness levels). Ironically, the more reliable and capable the automatic system, the more vulnerable the human operator may become.

Pilatus PC-12 NG

We are all guilty of depending on technology when available. (Pilots tend to be geeks and predictably love new tools and toys) But thanks to automation, airline crews have evolved from five person operations in the 1950s to the current two person flight deck. In my 135 operation, we are allowed single-pilot IFR with a fully functioning autopilot! And not surprisingly, increasing dependence on automation is cited as a factor in the popular “loss of control” accidents. Consequently the recommendation is to switch off the magic more often and hand-fly (even in difficult situations) as a tonic for maintaining mechanical and mental acuity. Reverse the roles and hand-fly with the technology monitoring and backing you up. Hopefully you will sharpen or regain your skills as you practice your procedures and manage the greater workload; only the ego suffers 🙂

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Amazing Patty! Lessons for Learning…

Patty is a learning monster, transitioning from new private pilot to National Aerobatic Team in only five years! That is commitment!

Patty Wagstaff is an amazing aerobatic performer and person. Her record of achievements is unmatched in our industry. Her Extra 260 hangs next to Amelia Earheart’s plane in the Smithsonian National Museum! After achieving so many trophies and shattering records, she continues to perform and thrill crowds with her aggressive yet beautifully smooth aerobatic flying. (see her perform at Sun ‘N Fun again this year) Her flight school in St. Augustine is a resource for all pilots seeking to hone their piloting skills.

But the real question for SAFE, with the stated mission of promoting excellence in aviation, is how does a person go from new private pilot to a member of the US National Aerobatic Team in only five years? How does someone maintain this super human level of performance, and what is the take-away for mere mortals to improve our flying? It is not for no reason Patty Wagstaff is featured on Mentor Insight as a “Supernova” and recognized learning and motivational coach. Patty is not only an amazing flier, she is a professional at learning and training.

One answer to achieving optimal human performance is it takes lots of hard work. Patty trained full speed, full-time, with a grueling schedule of practice to achieve her level of mastery. And though most of us cannot devote our lives to training (and nope, we probably will not become aerobatic champions), “Maintain a commitment and passion for improvement and a set schedule for skill and knowledge growth in your flying.”

Patty sought out and learned from professionals instructors and mentors. She was an aggressive student good friend of seven-time National Aerobatic Champion Leo Loudenslager and the amazing lifetime aerobatic performer Bob Hoover. She sought out and accepted critique from every professional she could find. “Seek out qualified mentors; gratefully accepting advice is essential to honing your professionalism and growth.”

And part of the above initiative and consistent with learning theory is the need to “surround yourself with professionals and people with the same high standards.” A professional community inspires and motivates continual learning. Though the aerobatic world is a highly competitive forum, behind the scenes, the performers support and help each others continually. Join a support group (local club, EAA Chapter, or SAFE) and build your professional attitude and assist others on the way up…we are a group of passionate professionals.

Join us at the SAFE booth A-59 at Sun ‘N Fun Thursday April 6th, 9:30am and meet Patty Wagstaff. Have her autograph your logbook and use this for inspiration in your commitment pursuing professionalism. SAFE celebrates aviation excellence and thanks Patty for all she has done for aviation (and for SAFE).

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

 

Combat Advice for Pilots (Mario’s Rules)

We do not fly in combat but these are great ideas for every pilot!

I am a sponge for advice from qualified people. In aviation, these “been there, done that” people possess a wealth of knowledge that is usually overlooked in our modern pursuit of the “new and shiny.” The finer points and greater general truths in aviation are subtle and obscure. True learning in our world is an apprenticeship that never ends. So when I present safety seminars and need fresh material, I often solicit “best practices” from these proven aviators. The stories and advice are often amazingly helpful. One such man, a veteran of 125 combat missions over Vietnam (and still flying) shared these three fine rules to apply to your flying for greater safety.

Never assume you know it all, there is always more to learn and in fact, situations continually change so more study is essential. Mario Tomei is an older gentleman who gives knowledge tests for the FAA at our flying club. When some aviator rejoices at barely passing with the minimal 70 points (mensa!) Mario usually sighs quietly and conveys his important counsel; “You proved you know enough to pass, but not enough to fly safely…please go home and study more, you will need this knowledge at some point” And as a pilot examiner I can second that advice. There are some applicants who might scare us a little but by the FAA rules of engagement are entitled to pass (we administer the government’s test). They may skate along the edge of failure for a whole evaluation but also barely tumble over the bar. These people, just like the lowest score in medical school, are “fully qualified” and no will know how marginal their skills might be. Same advice, “for safety, more study and practice is essential.” And to be a safe pilot at any level, we are always studying and learning.

Always rely on standard operating procedures and a checklist. This is especially helpful when the fertilizer hits the fan. When I inquired about this advice, Mario mentioned being inverted in formation in a high performance jet fighter when an engine flamed out. “Disengage the formation, descend below 30,000 ft and attempt a restart.” (I am paraphrasing here but apparently it worked, and he convinced me) How many accidents could be avoided by simple reliance on standard, operating procedures and checklist guidance? A basic humility is required to accept that we are human and consequently subject to mental errors. Most pilots seem uniformly “alpha” and inclined toward over confidence. Only our better nature can control this “inner child” and apply discipline to everyday flying for safety.

Always maintain a sense of wonder at what we accomplish daily as aviators when we defy gravity. A little fear is a good thing. It is essential to always keep your guard up and entertain a little fear (or healthy concern if you prefer) to maintain your vigilance in aviation. The Marine Combat Hunter Program calls this “Operating in the Condition Yellow” for optimal situational awareness. If you perceive no threat there will be no awareness. Applying this precept has saved many lives in all areas where danger lurks. Always entertain the possibility of surprises and failures because nothing about “it worked before” really means it will work this time! “Fat, dumb and happy” is a sure recipe to turn a shiny aluminum plane into future beer cans. Thank you Mario Tomei for all you have taught me. Let’s all fly safe out there!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Trump Proposes Corporate ATC

By any measure the US air traffic control system is the envy of the world for travel efficiency and safety. As GA pilots we enjoy the benefits of this huge managed system. But paying the huge bill for these services becomes a political football every year with congressional squabbles that create continual budgetary uncertainties, sequestration and great inefficiencies for that system. AOPA is a critical voice in the defense of General Aviation pilots in this squabble as is NBNA representing corporate aviation.

Obviously, secure funding of some form is needed to create long-term stability, efficiency and progress for the current ATC system. Additionally, though financially bloated and occasionally controversial, the FAA’s multi-year modernization program called NextGen, (the upgrading from ground-based radar to satellite-based GPS systems) is the obvious next step in air traffic control. Whether we want the airlines running our ATC as a private corporation is obviously a question of concern for those of us in the General Aviation arena.

The Trump proposal is part of a $1.2 trillion discretionary budget blueprint for the year starting Oct. 1 to “Make America Great Again.” The proposal would have the Transportation Department start moving controllers “to an independent, non-governmental organization” claiming the move would “make the system more efficient and innovative while maintaining safety.”

These proposals are nothing new in Washington. Last year President Obama proposed the same thing and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed legislation that would have privatized air traffic control and imposed user fees on Part 135 charter operations based outside Alaska and Hawaii. This legislation was supported by the major airlines and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association but failed to make it to the floor and died amidst intense bipartisan criticism.

This year however, privatization is a more solid keystone of President Trump’s mission and this adds strength to these proposals to “corporatize” ATC and fund it through user fees. We will see how this plays out in the coming months. I would advise all concerned pilots to be vigilant and active in protecting the rights of general aviation (less than 1% of the electorate) or our future will soon  resemble the European model.

(BTW; these are *my* comments and may or may not represent the official viewpoint of SAFE. Approving every sentence included here would sure slow our ability to stay current with the evolving issues. We appreciate *your* comments below.)

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!