Drones in the Classroom

Wooooooooow… that’s the sound of the classroom when you arrive with a drone for the start of the lesson. Like with much of the technology that is readily available to our students these days, drones provide a perfect tool with which to bring prior-knowledge and better yet, a large serving of intrinsic motivation to your lessons.

“But how can it be used for learning?”, is the common questions I get asked. Closely followed by, “How safe are they to use around a school?”.

Here are some successful suggestions based on my work in schools, with a few on the planning board:

  1. Design a Drone Race Obstacle Course: A great way for you and your students to start operating your drones whilst integrating Design Technologies with Science, Languages and more. Most importantly this provides for a meaningful and documented safe drone operating task via a ‘Drone Licence’, which is required for students to be able to ‘test’ other students Obstacle Courses. With all testing and racing designated to the ‘Drone-Zone’ everyone involved is working within the laws of drone operation. The Parrot Mambo Drone is an affordable and adaptable device for drone racing, especially with the VR headset and camera.
  2. Create Movies with Drone Footage: A great way to start or augment your students movie making and editing skills, video footage from a drone not only boosts the quality of the movie product being made but also the range of media skills your students will learn. Further, with nearly all forms of media utilising drone footage these days, the real-world application rating for creating and using drone footage is on the high end of the scale.
  3. Coding with Drones: As a logical extension to unplugged (on paper), physical (robotics) and digital (device based) coding, coding a drone provides further concrete scaffolding and linkages for students for their code language learning. A range of free apps such as Tynker work in with drones and an iPad via a bluetooth connection. Ranging from an open-ended design thinking challenge based on how to improve the safety and efficiency of tasks, to a specific challenge to incorporate data collection via coding a drone the possibilities for lessons are endless.
  4. Surveying for Purpose: More of a long-term engagement with drones, surveying land at school over a period of time (4 seasons) or in response to certain variables (after rainfall) can provide ample opportunities for getting students to investigate optimal planting locations, new shed location, drainage systems, wind turbine position, solar panel positioning and more. Of course a drone with camera would be a necessity for this one.
  5. Creating Homes for Birds: Armed with a good drone with camera attachment, along with some solid research about the types of nesting homes that native endangered birds require, your class could become an important weapon in the fight to preserve native birds. Either on school grounds or at a location determined to be of high value to the cause, students can survey optimal sites for nesting trees at the location. Further, students can make design suggestions using apps such as Explain Everything or even make a proposal using drone footage among others in an iMovie and convey their work to organisations in the community or Universities etc who could put their great work into action.
  6. Persuasive Writing: After engaging with drones in different contexts simply get your students to develop an argument for a persuasive writing piece or debate. Prompt students towards investigating further – responsibility, environmental impact, artificial intelligence or lay out a summative path towards reflecting on their experiences directly.

So what of the safety aspects and curriculum links? Well the International Society for Technology Educators has developed a workable framework for assisting educators in K-12 to integrate drones in their learning design – The SOAR Model.

Safety                   –  Consider the ethics and legal issues prior to starting.

Operation            –  Consider flight, maintenance and troubleshooting in learning phases.

Active Learning  –  Aim to maximise student engagement in designing solutions to real world problems.

Research              –  Ensure practical applications are the focal point and meaningful research will flow.

Finally, one of the most important outcomes that can be achieved through designing learning engagements with drones, as suggested in this article or otherwise, is the skills and redefined approaches to learning that emerge. Ranging from collaboration to planning to empathy, drones provide for a focused application of these skills in a context that students feel motivated by and related to.

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