Drones in Education

The extent to which drones (often referred to as quadcopters or UAS - Unmanned Aircraft Systems) have influenced our world over the past couple of years is truly amazing. While much of the press they’ve received is negative and has reduced them to toy status, I believe these devices can be valuable teaching tools with the ability to provide our students with many learning opportunities, as well as skill development for the jobs of tomorrow.

Leveraging drones for teaching requires us to think outside of the traditional classroom - a must-have skill educators will benefit from for years to come. In addition to benefiting students and helping us flex our creative muscles, drones provide a valuable opportunity for education and industry to find common ground. According to GoldmanSachs.com, the drone industry is forecast to be $100 billion dollar market and a significant driver of job growth by 2020. It makes sense to harness this opportunity for our students.

The ways in which we, as educators, can leverage drones as teaching tools can take many different forms. Drones can entice engagement in and of themselves: simply turning on the propellers will excite many students. Beyond this there are many ways to infuse drones into the curriculum. For use in calculating mathematical equations; as the basis for creating scale models based on different height and viewing perspectives; and for executing unique photography and video projects, to toss out just a few examples.

By exposing our students to drones we provide insight into what is predicted to be one of the largest growth industries over the next ten years, as drones are increasingly used to survey land, shoot aerial photography, document weddings and other celebrations, and assist with law enforcement surveillance. Enterprising online businesses are already marketing aerial pictures of businesses and residences, earning drone pilots a commission when their photo sells.

With prices starting at less than $100, it’s likely that many of our students will end up flying drones without understanding the legalities and responsibilities of a being a pilot. After three years of using drones in my curriculum, it’s become increasingly common for kids to show up to class saying they received a drone for a special holiday. Most have no understanding of legal flight limits, the repercussions of videoing neighbors, or their responsibility for damages caused by an aircraft crash. Many potentially problematic situations could be avoided through increased awareness of UAC rules and regulations, which are governed by the FAA - a vastly different situation than with any other toy on the market. Just as educators have taken on the challenge of promoting positive digital citizenship and making students aware of appropriate cyber and social media activities, we need to educate our students about drone responsibilities and rules.

If you’re considering a drone for your classroom, I suggest starting small, with a drone in the $100 range. I like the small Parrot Mambo drone; it’s a great “entry level” drone that’s ideal for introducing coding and flying in the same class. Plus, the controller that you get with the Parrot Mambo will use similar joystick controls as larger drones so you’ll be well along the learning curve when you move up to a more advanced model. After gaining some confidence and experience, I suggest moving to the DJI Phantom line, which offers a more formal experience and higher resolution videography.

The bottom line is that there are many applications for using drones in the classroom. It may require some outside-the-box thinking, but when used as a learning tool the possibilities are endless.

Blake Everhart, Google Certified Innovator, Apple Teacher and the Technology Director for the Indiana Migrant Education Program.
Twitter: @TeCurator