Page 19 - THE Journal, May/June 2018
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highest one, students need to go through 10 days of supervised drone flight practice, and they have to pass an advanced drone flight performance test, as well as a comprehensive test on ethics, law, careers and university opportunities. In other words, it’s not just book learning; at least half of every class is spent flying, too. “If they’re not flying drones every day, you’re not doing what the kids want you to do,” Giles warned. And most of the students do make it to level 3.
Now the school is planning for a second course, Drone Tech II, which will use “more sophisticated devices” and add “first-person view” flying. “It’s like you’re sitting in the drone’s cockpit. You see what it sees — like you’re Han Solo in the Millen- nium Falcon flying,” Giles marveled. “It’s so much cooler to do.”
Plus, his school has introduced a
drone racing league, which has generated participation from other middle schools
in the area. Students vie in two divisions. “Precision flying” takes place in a gym on a u-shaped course and requires students to maneuver drones through windows, land them on small tables and weave through
a slalom. “Speed racing” happens on the football field. Four students at a time race their drones through PVC-built goals multiple times. So far Long Cane has dominated the podium. However, admitted Giles, a competing school that didn’t show great flying at the beginning of the year
“Our attendance has improved. Our referrals have probably dropped almost in half. And student satisfaction has gone way up.” — Long Cane Middle School Principal Chip Giles
had two pilots win first-place medals in the latest set of contests.
About Those FAA Regulations
Neither educator is overly concerned about federal drone regulations that have dogged professional and hobbyist drone pilots. First, said Crowley, a lot of drone flying can take place right inside the classroom, which isn’t under the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration. Once the students take them outside, the rules get a bit stickier. However, any drone except the very cheapest ones come with a setting to configure the maximum altitude. Set it to 10 feet, and it’ll work in a classroom; set it to 20, and it’ll work in a gym; set it 30 feet, and the students will still be able to keep their eyes on it.
And unless the school is within five miles of an airport or in the vicinity of an emergen-
cy situation, its use will fall under the “special rule for model aircraft.” One caveat offered by Crowley to her teachers is not to fly the devices outside personally; leave that to the students. Because they’re “paid” as teachers, they’re no longer considered hobbyists (un- less they request a waiver from the FAA).
Impact on School Culture
The impact of drones shouldn’t be under- estimated, said Crowley. For example, one teacher within her district has a K–2 class of students with autism. Crowley worked with the teacher to introduce drone flying to them. Once they were proficient, second grade general education students came in to learn from them. As a result, a dialog was opened up between the students with the disabilities and the others that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. The drone initiative helped her students create friendships.
Likewise, Giles has seen a dramatic uplift in student motivation at his school. “They will get up and come to school if there’s a course here they don’t want to miss. Our attendance has improved. Our referrals have probably dropped almost in half. And student satisfaction has gone way up,” he asserted. As he observed, there aren’t many technologies in use today in school that can promise those kinds of results.
Dian Schaffhauser is senior contributing editor for 1105 Media’s education publications. She can be reached at or on
Twitter @schaffhauser.
Kimberly Crowley is one of three authors behind “Drones in Education,” published by ISTE in 2016. The book includes case studies of teachers’ use of drones, including in special education, safety and legal issues, how to choose and operate a drone, how to mesh it with state learning standards, how
to implement the use of drones for active learning, and how to fund drone programs. The book also includes real-world applications and 10 sample lesson plans (with more online) that Crowley personally tested in classrooms. ($21.95 in paperback; $10.95 in digital format)
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