Integrating Drones into Primary Curriculum

In a previous post, I wrote about drones making their way into classrooms. Here, I’ll expand on that idea and dig deeper into how drones can impact curriculum in primary classrooms. Yes, these tools are useful simply for engagement, but they can also bring real learning substance to the classroom.

Mini drones (like the Parrot Mambo mentioned in my previous post) can be introduced to students starting at an early age. Toy companies are marketing directly to this clientele, and it’s not uncommon to see these toys become tools in the hands of Pre-K students. Flying them is quite simple, making them a great fit with this age group. All you need is a device (iPad, smartphone, etc.) on which to download the (usually free) aircraft control app. The easily recognizable controls hover the compact drone at around 3 feet upon takeoff, change its elevation, or move the aircraft in any direction.

At the primary grade levels, I like to use drones to get kids proving concepts. For instance, the instructor can ask, “Can you use the drone to show me below or above?”. The student then navigates the device to show understanding. But what if we took it further? We could mark spots on the floor and have the students fly the aircraft to a certain color, shape, or specific number; or we could have them fly the aircraft to a specified number of spots or tiles. Now they’re incorporating class curriculum directly into their flying. With camera-equipped drones (like the Parrot Mambo), students can fly over and take pictures of the correct shape, color, etc. Taking this a step further, the teacher could hold up a piece of paper with the name of a shape (“square”) and have the students fly over and capture a picture of something that represents that shape: a square desk, rug or other classroom object.

Infusing vocabulary or math into flying is simple as well. Imagine student copilots, directing each other where to fly based on instructions you’ve provided -- instructions that were the result of clues given to the copilots after they correctly answered vocab words or solved math problems. By this time, you’ve basically tricked the kids into learning without them even knowing it.

Coding lessons fit very nicely with mini drones as well. Apps for coding drones usually include a learning feature to ensure understanding of the process before attempting to code the drone. There is much value in learning to code a virtual drone before using the real thing. Assigning students to code an Orca drone to do different things using Tynker, for example, is a valuable experience for learning about the coding process and what each of the commands represents. Another advantage of these apps is that the tutorials help kids understand the coding language -- the process of giving directions in a way that the devices understand. The only potential downside is that the tutorials may require an advanced reading level. Nonetheless, the graphic directions are usually sufficient. If all else fails, teachers can jump in and learn the process along with the kids! There’s no need to be an expert in coding. Just jump in and give it a try; you may find help from unexpected places. I love my little techies that not only teach me new things, but can then help teach the class. This is particularly advantageous when the techie is a student who’s off task or doesn’t want to participate, and now has a role in the class.

As we get into writing, the kids usually love to write about their little drone. The ability to name the aircraft and talk about its attributes can really help them get into the writing process, and it’s always interesting when they write about or discuss perspective. A Kinder may not be at the level of writing about perspective, but they can definitely talk about it and record themselves trying to convince someone of their perspective. Consider this assignment to stimulate reflection and writing: “Can we imagine for a moment that we are eight feet tall. How might it change the way we see things? Let’s take our aircraft to that height and think about it. How would that change our day? The way we eat breakfast? Get dressed? Get into a car? See the world?”. We could go on for days... And did we relate this to Jack and the Beanstalk?

It is exciting for kids to use higher-order thinking skills while using tools they enjoy. Don’t be afraid to try something new -- go ahead, get your hands dirty and bring the experience and learning of drones to your classroom!

If you have any questions, need more ideas, please feel free to reach out to me. @TeCurator

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