I have an incredibly abundant list of things to be thankful for, but today I’m going to focus on just one:  I’m thankful for Mike Penn.

Mike was our very first Flight Director—with us right at the beginning.  He embraced this crazy concept with open arms and ran with it, making the IKS Titan a huge success.  He pioneered DFA flight directing, established our vibrant community of practice, and helped spread the program to thousands of students across two continents.

Mike wasn’t alone in this—we’ve all been surrounded by wonderful supporting partners all along the way—and we’re extremely thankful for them.  But today I’m focusing on Mike Penn, because within the next 48 hours Mike will be flying south for the winter.

WAY south.

He’ll fly so south he won’t be in winter anymore.

He’ll travel so south he won’t be able to go south anymore!

Mike’s PolarTREC expedition to the South Pole begins tomorrow.  And we’re going to miss him.

But fear not!  All is not lost.  Mike will be reporting about his journey, and we’ll be relaying his discoveries here on this blog.  Communications may be sporadic.  It’s hard to predict how often Mike will be able to send out his weather-hardened carrier pigeons with his latest field journals… but rest assured when they arrive we’ll be ready to receive them.

Mike, we’re completely thrilled about your upcoming adventure.  Thank you for everything you do!  You’re an amazing partner, teacher, and friend.  Good luck, try to stay warm, and God speed!

Today we’re delighted to highlight some of the exciting events that have been happening in the greater Washington D.C. area with the Explore! Children’s Museum’s Mission Mobile (a.k.a. IKS Horizon).

We all have a favorite artist and/or a favorite genre of music. Music’s inspiration comes from anywhere. We hear its varied inspirations in all music from the symphonies of Beethoven to the contemporary hip-hop on the radio. But how does that inspiration manifest? How does an artist move from inspiration to a fully realized composition that lives in our car or, alone, in our headphones?

Mission Mobile explores that very question. In its music composition activity, students draw inspiration from our very own Solar System. Mission Mobile invites students on board to create short compositions based upon each of the eight planets in our Solar System.

Utilizing the same critical-thinking, imagination, and collaboration that our simulated missions require, students answer and analyze questions like:

  • Saturn has rings made of ice. What does that sound like to you?
  • Mercury is the smallest and densest planet. Is that a big sound or a soft sound?
  • Venus’ day is longer than its year. Is that a slow or fast sound?

Guided by Mission Mobile’s Mobile Outreach Manager with his guitars and pedals, students build short compositions utilizing a
plethora of percussion instruments. In just under ten minutes time, students go from nothing at all to the beginnings of a full planetary suite!

Recently the Mission Mobile took its musical solar system adventure to two different community events. Children at both Riverdale Park Station and the Shiloh Community Festival went on a journey around the Galaxy with opportunities to compose their own instrumental pieces inspired by the planets.

We’ve dropped a few not-so-subtle hints about this over the past several weeks, but today we’re delighted to announce the construction of a brand new simulator—the IKS Marvel—at Dansville Elementary School in Dansville, Michigan!  Dansville Schools is an innovative, forward-thinking district, and we are delighted to be partnering with them on this exciting journey.

The IKS Marvel will be led by Angela St. Amant—a.k.a. Admiral Ameliorous—who has been an educator at Dansville Schools for over 15 years and currently serves as a technology and STEAM teacher, K-8.  She holds a B.S. in Elementary Education from Western Michigan University as well as an MA in Literacy Instruction and her Administration Certificate, both from Michigan State University.  She’s a perfect fit for Flight Director as the IKS Marvel takes off!

Construction of the simulator is well underway and is progressing nicely.

Here’s a view from the Captain’s level, looking down over the crew stations toward the front of the ship.

The ship is built by skilled craftsmen and artisans using only the finest in modern tritanium alloys.

Once the dust settles, what used to be a traditional classroom will be transformed into an out-of-this world learning environment!  We can’t wait to begin flying missions into the unknown with Dansville’s best and brightest!

Incoming encrypted transmission… please stand by.

Data stream encrypted:  01000100 01100001 01101110 01110011 01110110 01101001 01101100 01101100 01100101


Where did the ceiling go?  That’s probably normal.

And now the floor’s gone too?  Very strange…

What’s this?  The typical summer cleaning?

Nah, it’s probably nothing…

With summer break right around the corner, we’re delighted to share the “vacation” plans of one of our fabulous Flight Directors!  While Mike Penn prepares for his expedition to the icy Antarctic, Debbie Reynolds is zooming around the globe teaching tomorrow’s astronauts all about the final frontier—space!

Debbie was selected as a new Teacher Liaison for the Space Foundation, and as part of that role she was invited to this year’s Space Symposium, the largest space-focused conference in the world!  It was a wonderful experience and she had the opportunity to hear from experts in the field from commercial sectors, the military, and NASA.  Debbie loved seeing the new Dream Chaser space plane.

In June Debbie will head to Huntsville for the Honeywell Educators Space Academy, followed by a brief layover for her son’s wedding (congrats Debbie!), and then she’ll head to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to attend the first-ever Space Port Area Conference for Educators (SPACE) in July.

And if that’s not enough for an out-of-this-world summer “vacation,” Debbie will fly from Orlando to Shenzhen, China to teach a space and STEM camp to Chinese students for a month.  Congrats Debbie for doing amazing work to promote STEM education all around to globe!

Debbie with retired Astronaut Ronald M. Sega, Ph. D.

At Dream Flight Adventures we typically report on daring missions brimming with educational value—all set in a fictional universe.  Today, however, we’re celebrating a real-life mission of epic proportions.  Mike Penn—a.k.a. Admiral Rigorious—has been selected to join a PolarTREC expedition to Antarctica during the 2018-19 Austral summer.

Mike will be working with a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin installing and maintaining Automatic Weather Stations all over the continent—sometimes where no human has ever been!

The team extends the AWS (Automatic Weather Station) using the tripod. At South Dome on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Photo by Jim Pottinger (PolarTREC 2011)

Mike will teach his students (and students all over the country) about Antarctica, meteorology, geography and all of the science that he and his team will be doing.

This past week Mike ventured into the bitter cold of Fairbanks, Alaska to begin training for his adventure.

You can follow Mike’s expedition and journals here as they unfold over the course of the year.  We’ll post periodic highlights here on our cozy, warm, but not-so-adventurous blog, but be sure to check out Mike’s journals for all the exciting sub-zero details!

Have you ever moderated tense peace negotiations—or had to discover the cause of an epidemic? Have you helped create a new government or used science to stop a natural disaster? This is exactly what our students at Shaler Area Elementary get to do!

This week Mike Penn attended the Ohio Educational Technology Conference to share how his simulator classroom, the IKS Titan, uses death, destruction, and mayhem to prepare his students for success.

By the time Mike’s presentation kicked off there was standing room only.  Every seat in the room was filled with enthusiastic educators from all across Ohio eager to bring hands-on immersive education to their students.

Mike described how when the hatch door closes, the simulation suddenly becomes real. The students are no longer fifth graders—but heroes, leaders, scientists, and engineers. They take ownership over their roles and they kick their brains into full gear. Students have risen to the challenge, found their inner leadership skills, and worked together as a team to save the day.

“What a great way to get kids involved!” commented one inspired teacher.

It was a joy to meet with everyone at OETC, and we hope our story gives rise to all new epic adventures for their students!

Hi Troops, today we’re delighted to share a few photos from the new IKS Niagara.  This simulator has been flying under the radar lately, as ships are wont to do when the school year kicks off, but Admiral Rigorious paid them a visit earlier this month and brought back a few juicy photos to share.

The ship is brand new, so Larry, Jerry (Will), Tanya, and Mike had the pleasure of sending the very first crew of test pilots on a dangerous mission.

The experience was hair-raising for the new Flight Directors, but the kids absolutely loved it!