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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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7 Ways to Use Drones in the Classroom

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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I flew our shiny new drone up through the umbrellas on the quad, up past the roof of the gym, and into the low scattered clouds. The camera projected back to my iPhone, and I could see my school site in a totally different way. I saw the newly planted trees in our quad, the only green for miles in the Mondrian-like concrete grid that is our local community.

The students were in class, and the few teachers during their preparation period all peered up, shielding their eyes to see it fly. The custodian pulled up with his cart, and my assistant principal whooped like one of the middle school students on my campus.

As I moved the joysticks, the drone descended, and I sent it bobbing and weaving through the open hallways, back across the quad, over the tennis courts, and back to hover before us.

"So, what are we going to use it for?" one teacher asked me, hands in his pockets, looking at the screen on my device. It was sending a close-up of cracks on the pavement to my screen. I slowly moved the drone up and the cracks, like an impressionist painting, disappeared.

It's my job this year to answer this kind of question. As a curriculum coordinator, I get to learn what's coming our way and devise methods of implementation. This year, I get to teach three periods a day and develop customized curriculum for teachers. I specialize in technology and project-based learning, but I geek out on all kinds of things, and when I learned the district had purchased a drone, I had begun thinking about its implementation immediately.

Ways to Use Drones in the Classroom

As I listed a number of ways I could see using drones in our school, I flew ours into the sky as if to illustrate my dreaming.

1. Social Studies: Have students participate in kinesthetic mapping. Photograph or record their movements to chronicle changes in history over time. Draw a map of the world in chalk and have the students "migrate" across the Bering Strait. Create a map of Europe and have students conquer areas and show the spread of the Roman Empire.

2. Language Arts: Illustrate different points of view. Photograph the school close up and from far away to see the school from a different perspective. Take photos of little seen areas of the school, and have students write predictions about where the photo might have been taken.

3. P.E.: Send the drone up during PE class to watch students demonstrate a particular play. Then land it and hook your device to an LCD projector so the kids can see what they did. Have them discuss where they should have been and what they can do better. Run the drill again, and see if their reflection improved their performance.

4. Math: Recreate the Powers of 10 video. Remember? The camera started at ground level and pulled back illustrating what the world looked like zooming out by the power of 10. The drones only go so far, so kids can incorporate the footage with their own illustrations in post.

5. Science: Look at the micro world and the macro world. Have a few kids be "cells" of an unknown creature. Pin signs to them with different labels giving hints as to what the broader organism might be. Slowly zoom out and at each 10 feet of distance or so learn a little more about the macro environment in which the cells live. Zoom out entirely to see the plant or creatures in which the cells function.

6. ASB, Community Building: Produce a video. We've all seen lipdub videos on YouTube. Drones give you interesting camera angles. You no longer need to rent a crane (expensive) or (what I once did to shoot a student video) borrow a wheelchair to use as a cheap, but bumpy, steady cam. Drones, however, allow you to see the school from above -- and that can be somehow very celebratory.

7. Current Events: Debate. Form a student congress. What about privacy issues? What is the future of our workforce if companies like Amazon use drones for deliveries? Are drones a good technology, or are we one step closer to automaton domination?

I dreamed of how we could use this new piece of technology in terms of social and emotional learning, too. It gives students glimpses of themselves and their place in the world. Many tweens, for instance, rarely think about the macro while living the micro. This technology could help students visualize themselves as being a part of something greater while also helping them keep their own me-me-me-ness in perspective. For tweens at least, feeling a little "smaller" might help their own decision making in such a self-centric time of life.

The End of a Dream

I saw the drone hover about 60 feet off the ground, and it made me smile at the possibilities it represented. The people around me stood nodding, lost in the dreams I had shared.

And then it crashed.

The damn drone fell like a stone from the sky. The other teachers scattered, and the custodial cart left a trail of dust in its wake. They had all abandoned me to the broken pieces of plastic hull and crushed curricular dreams.

I carried the corpse of the drone to my principal and wondered if this was a sign that it didn't belong in schools. I wonder though if drones will inevitably be here, and if so, how teachers can be proactive in how to use them.

How would you use drones in your school? Please share in the comments section below.

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Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA

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nlsmith's picture

In February, 2016, the FAA rules say:
"Can I fly a model aircraft or UAS over a stadium or at airshows or sporting events for hobby or recreation?
No. FAA guidance says that model aircraft flights should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas." It is really irresponsible to be listing ways to fly drones over the heads of children when the regulations aren't decided yet. It doesn't matter if the FAA is taking too long, people have already gotten hurt, drones have crashed over stadiums, and parents would be stunned at the casual and careless use of flying blades.

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

So right, nlsmith. Hobby drones should always be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas. Have I ever learned that lesson. However, I still think there's a place for drones in teaching and learning. Certainly, I think getting students to debate and discuss the question of what should the law of hobby drones be, is a good thing. I also think that there are some great teaching and learning opportunities that can take place with a drone that has camera capability. From you post, however, it sounds like you can't think of one. True?

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

Interesting articles on drones in education - if only to keep the conversation going:

Drones for Schools
http://robohub.org/drones-for-schools/

Students using Drones to Learn High Tech Jobs
http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/news/local-education/students-using-...

Maryland High School Now Offers Drone 101
http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/maryland-high-school-now-offers...

The Good Drones - PBL Project
http://pblproject.com/page.aspx?pageid=PBL-ww-Drones

nlsmith's picture

Peter Paccone - Drones are a major development in my business as a journalist and media teacher. I am also a farm kid and drones are already changing agriculture dramatically for the better. Had we had drones to watch the cattle in the spring when I was a kid, my father wouldn't have had to be out in the pasture at 2am, watching for new calves. So I absolutely can think of many uses for Ag teachers, Media teachers, Utility line teachers, Wind Energy teachers, and many more. But you can't fly drones over little kids, period. And I see that being done constantly on Youtube. Responsible drone use now will make it better for all educators in the future. But the lawsuits are on the way because of teachers like the one who wrote this article who said so cavalierly, "The damn drone fell like a stone from the sky. The other teachers scattered, and the custodial cart left a trail of dust in its wake. They had all abandoned me..." She easily could have hurt someone and she doesn't seem to understand that, meaning she shouldn't use one around children.

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

I agree, as I said before in my 4/26 post.

Gary Hall's picture
Gary Hall
Primary School Teacher

I disagree - as I mentioned in my post on 4/23 we are teaching children as young as 9 to fly drones in the school grounds. I am based in the UK so am not familiar with the US law regarding flyiing drones. Full details of why we do this. what we use the footage for and how we do it can be found here: http://garyhall.org.uk/uses-of-drones-in-schools.html

Jason Hershcopf's picture

Another option to using real drones is using a simulator, such as droneSim Pro (https://www.dronesimpro.com). We developed this computer based solution, so we could train people without risking injury and damage to people and property. Since it uses USB game controllers, it has an interface that a lot of people and kids are used to. Obviously, we think getting kids involved early is going to help them in the future, but it is also something fun and different to add to their educational experience.

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