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Flying Educational Drones with Pymble Ladies College

Katie Vidal
29 Mar 2021
a black and white drone flying inside a school gymnasium

A typical day in the life of a drone education instructor – 130 students, 10 drones, 4 programs!

Sounds intimidating?  As a certified drone instructor this is not something new.  I didn’t realise how much I had missed it until I started with the first class of students.

Taking the First Step in Drone Education – Flying for Success

Flying a drone with up to 30 students is not easy, but it’s all about keeping the flights simple and the pilots curious.  By providing simple instructions to get pilots off the ground all of a sudden there is a realisation of just how much control they have over the DJI Tellos. 

Thanks to the stability and ease with which a Tello hovers, pilots are put at ease very quickly.  It is not long before boundaries of flight lanes are being tested, figure of eights are being attempted and the level of noise has increased dramatically from nervousness to excitement and exclamations of achievement. 

With any technology there is always a certain amount of room for a wifi failure or some other issue.  But throughout the four programs, I was able to assess that every student flew a drone successfully.  The first flights manually are always the most exciting and it shows in the increase in excited conversation and the intermittent exclamations as students challenge themselves to fly more complicated flights.  

I really enjoy the first flights as you can see the groups working together to achieve successful flights and the initial uncertainty of a crash is soon replaced with more discussion as they work out what happened and how to rectify the problem.

Working together as a group allows pilots to get an understanding of how a drone pilot operates in the real world. Below are two effective teaching strategies that you may want to incorporate into your own drone STEM curriculum.

  1. Have someone watching your back – having a co-pilot is invaluable.  They are there to keep an eye on battery life, and make sure the pilot is safe.  While you’re flying the rest of the world tends to fade into the background.  Having someone to keep an eye out for your safety is really important.
  2. Learning points – not all flights are successful and it’s always good to have someone around to bounce your thoughts and ideas off.  Why did the drone react that way?  How could I change the way I use the controller? How can I maneuver the drone more effectively to reach my flight goal.

an image mat and a black and white drone parked on a basketball hardcourt

Work Opportunities With Drones

Pymble Ladies College wanted a drone curriculum to introduce their students to drones and the industry opportunities that they provide.  It was the Commerce and Economics department that had organised these programs.  They could see the possibilities with flying drones and the multiple uses within the curriculum.  Achieving learning outcomes from a different perspective.

The face-to-face programs were more than just flying drones; it was about looking beyond the skills and considering the different applications and where a drone could take you.

At the beginning of each program the students were asked where they had seen educational drones.  The answers were short and usually related to photography, social media or defence.  What She Maps was able to do in a small amount of time was to expose students to where drones are being incorporated into industry and how it is growing exponentially.  

 For example:

  • Agriculture
  • Medical
  • Emergency Services
  • Delivery
  • Architecture and Construction
  • Drones as a service
  • Engineering
  • Media
  • Training
  • Environmental monitoring and conservation
  • Security

It’s Not Just About the Drone

Each of these industries have or will have drones as part of the workforce, but what about all of the support behind them.  From hardware and software, insurance, OHS, training, designing and building.

I was able to have short discussions with students and also staff who popped their heads in to take a look at the drones flying in the gym.  There were many chats about personal experiences, but also what they could see drones doing in the future and especially with the teachers as to which subjects drones can branch into, not only digital technologies, but commerce, design technologies, maths and science.

Coding and Flying in the Real World 

Every Classroom Drone Essentials program has a real world challenge.  This lent itself really well to the connection between drones and industry.

Before being involved in the She Maps drone lessons, many PLC students had a narrow concept of how drones are used in industry, but by being exposed and engaged in a real world problem that can only be solved with a drone, the students were able to then expand their knowledge and understanding of what drones are capable of.

Students are more likely to be involved in a drone education challenge if they can see a real world application.  A simulation creates an effective learning environment that students can see themselves involved in.  She Maps aims to create real world challenges that make students think about where drones might fit in the world and how they, the students, can be involved.

Initially it is a simple coding challenge with an emergency and rescue background. There are very little boundaries in regards to what students have to achieve. That sense of achievement when a coded drone completes a flight successfully or not successfully is not being assessed.  What we want students to explore is what is possible with a drone.

Why Teach Drones in Schools?

Flying with PLC allowed me to get back into the classroom with a technology that I really enjoy using.  There is instant gratification for myself and the students I’m instructing.  

The biggest memory I will take from the 4 programs was that I was able to not only show students how to fly, but also how drones can take you to many different career paths, whether you want to fly them, support them, or use the data that they collect.

If you’d like to read more about drones in education, then check out the following articles that talks about what students can learn from educational drones and understand how you can fly drones indoors at schools.

 

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