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Drones deliver on student enthusiasm

Regional competition showcases the next frontier in education

Published June 4, 2021
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On a recent Saturday morning, student teams gathered at The Pitsco Idea Shop in Pittsburg, Kansas. After weeks of practice and prep, their piloting and design skills were about to be put to the test.

Though drones aren’t new, their broad acceptance as a tool in STEM classrooms is fairly recent. This new educational frontier offers excitement and opportunity, but this newness can also feel daunting.

Anxious educators need not fear. Pitsco has their back with well-researched curriculum and product support. But watching the student teams in action, it becomes clear there is another reason to breathe easy: no matter the challenges, this is one activity where student enthusiasm will lead the way.

DRONES AND STUDENTS BELONG TOGETHER

Fredonia (Kansas) Junior and Senior High School teacher Regina Thompson had zero experience with drones when she took on the coaching role for her school’s drone team. So, has this been an intimidating experience? Not at all. “These guys are so confident, we just let them do what they do,” she stated.

Thompson enlisted the first two team members, Noah and Wyatt, because she was impressed with their technical aptitude. (The two friends had been helping her assemble TETRIX® robotics sets for an upcoming STEM class.) When a third student, Harley, expressed interest, the boys were happy to bring her aboard their fledgling drone team.

Watching the three in action is inspiring. One student piloted with the remote control, while the other two ran along the Pitsco Drone Arena perimeter, acting as the eyes and ears for the pilot as the drone was navigated under, over, and through various obstacles. Teams were tasked not only with piloting through a simulated scenario but also with designing a course that other teams would pilot.

Payton – a middle school student on the Fort Scott, Kansas, team – explains the appeal of drones from his own perspective. “When you read a book, it takes you off in your own world. Flying a drone is the same. I love watching them fly. It blows my mind.”

He and his teammates give the Tello EDU Drones, available from Pitsco, high marks for their intuitive controls and especially for their ability to do mid-air flips and 360s.

Their coach, teacher Paulette Howard, said that her team of students took to the activity “like fish to water.” It was a family friend of Howard who first opened her mind to the potential of the activity. “She became a drone operator and was using it to take pictures. I thought, wow, this is a new career. And I am interested in new and upcoming careers for my students.”

DRONES ARE THE FUTURE

Drones are now common in workplaces. For this reason, Pitsco’s drone curricula and competitions lean heavily into the real-world aspects.

“Students who go through our curriculum have the advantage of understanding the use and application of drones in various career fields,” said Curriculum Writer David Meador, who recently earned FAA certification to improve his skill writing about drones. “They are able to realize that drones can apply to many career situations. As they get that instruction, they also have the opportunity to practice real-world scenarios and fly drone missions, accomplishing tasks required of a drone pilot in different career areas.”

When prompted, the students are quick to describe career applications for drones, everything from terrain mapping to search and rescue. Payton even had a specific vision of how drones might play into his future: “Two years ago at church camp I was called to be a missionary. If I was in a dangerous location, I could use a drone to quietly scout out the place first.”

Whether it is career relevancy or fun at the heart of drones’ appeal, teachers have taken notice. “They thank me all the time for this,” said Thompson. “I say, ‘You guys are doing all the work!’ They love it. They are excited about coming here and doing this.”

“The level of individualized support you offer our teacher is amazing. It’s like having another instructional coach on our staff. Your relationship and ability to coach with empathy is appreciated. You took time to not only see a successful launch, but ongoing implementation; that level of capacity building is needed to sustain a successful program.”

– Sharrah Pharr, PhD, director of federal programs and grants, Hays CISD, Kyle, Texas

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