Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — more commonly known as drones — are becoming more and more popular among flight enthusiasts. And it’s not hard to see why. The thrill of being able to take amazing photos and stunning videos from above is what motivates most drone hobbyists. Drones have also been used for rescue missions, to survey crops, gather data for conservation, and will continue to improve over the years to be indispensable for many industries.
As this type of technology becomes more budget friendly and accessible, some schools have taken a particular interest in its potential uses in education. In fact, Carnahan, Zieger and Crowley have written a guide for schools that want to incorporate drones into learning and teaching with the SOAR model:
- Safety: the safety and legal issues to consider
- Operation: flying and maintaining the drone
- Active learning: students should be actively engaged in the project
- Research: practical applications in the classroom
Aside from the major benefit of getting students into STEAM, drone technology is suitable for all subjects, ages and grade levels if operated under teacher supervision. It won’t be long until operating a drone is considered a good skill to have on your teacher resume.
6 reasons why drones are landing in schools
However, there’s still the question of including drones in the curriculum without disrupting the learning process. In other words, how do we create good learning experiences with drones?
To learn is to see in Geography
Drones have a high potential of becoming a staple in Geography classes. Aside from field trips, which are time consuming, drones can be effective when used to survey an area, capture footage of places that would otherwise be inaccessible for your class, and teach students valuable mapping skills. Not only do drones collect data, but they also offer a much more detailed image or footage of an area, which Google Earth can’t do at the moment.
For example, a fun exercise is to observe the same location over the course of a semester to notice the change in the landscape, then discuss the phenomenon of changing vegetation or structure as the seasons go by.
The practical application of the theory, plus the technical and data interpretation skills make for a great learning experience for all students.
Go on a (Virtual) field trip
Technology can’t replace the actual field trips - yet. However, as these trips can be costly and time consuming, drones can be used to offer virtual field trips (VFTs). Among the many advantages of using a drone for this is the fact that they offer a unique perspective, a bird’s eye view, for example.
There’s also the novelty aspect of VFTs as students will be more engaged when using a drone, having the chance to explore what is happening in real time. Take for example a project about sustainability and the availability of green spaces in the city in which they could survey a large area of land and then discuss the importance of vegetation in an urban area.
Other advantages for schools is the offering VFTs for students with low mobility or other health problems, who perhaps would have limited access to traditional field trips.
Soar with STEAM
If there’s an area that can truly be enhanced by drone technology, that definitely has to be STEM. Teachers know the benefits of teaching science through active learning, meaning that students should be engaged in hands-on activities as much as possible. Even better, the use of drones directly demonstrates how they can use their knowledge in Math, Physics, Geography etc. to complete an assignment for an interdisciplinary approach.
First, students learn about programming and how they can directly command drones what to do. Some schools take a more direct approach by having drones that can be built in class. This accomplishes two things: students are more engaged in an activity when using technology that they’ve helped build and learn technical skills in a fun way.
There are numerous applications for Math and Physics, such as teaching ratios and unit rates, as well as measuring distances, for example. Even more, during art class students can learn about perspective in drawing as they use different images and angles to capture a landscape.
Fly by ear in English and social studies
As we’ve established above, the implementation of drones in education is the perfect opportunity to show students how their skills can transfer from one subject to another. It’s also a good opportunity to use them to find inspiration in day to day life.
During English class, students can take photos of an area and then write an essay or a creative piece based on an image. The new technology can also inspire debates on the ethics of using UAVs and on responsible use of tech in general.
A very fun activity is re-creating a battle in History class using drones and then discussing the combat tactics. Other drone activities include learning about journalism and how news stations now use them for reporting on different events. Discuss how technology has changed the way we report news and how we perceive current events.
Drones and spatial awareness
Flying drones requires good hand-eye coordination. Students gain a better understanding of their surroundings as they pilot a drone, as well as learn how to make decisions about takeover, flying, and landing safely.
They also learn orientation skills as they improve their spatial awareness, an ability that’s not only useful when travelling abroad, as many career paths such as being a landscape architecture, photography and aviation require people with strong spatial skills.
While some of us are better at it than others, these skills can also be trained and improved over time, meaning that it’s not just for younger students.
Improve students’ overall fitness and sports performance
Flying a drone is a fun way to get students outdoors and encourage them to be more active. At the same time, P.E. teachers can use drones to teach students valuable lessons about the best strategies to improve while playing a sport.
From baseball to football and even swimming, coaches are putting drones to good use by filming students while they are practicing. Then, students can watch the video and critique their own game play, movements, posture, and techniques. It’s a much better way of improving their skills since they can see for themselves what went wrong and right.
The coach can give feedback also based on the video and support students in various ways, including offering the best advice for preventing injuries while exercising.
Introducing new tech in the classroom can be an intimidating process. However, once you find out what are the regulations for flying drones in your country, you can look for a program or apply for a grant to use the technology in your school.
Plus, you don’t have to go at it alone. As we’ve established before, flying drones requires a multiple set of skills that can be used across the curriculum. Find the teachers that could be interested in this technology to help you at the beginning.
Most of all: have fun! Drones can really bring that element of novelty in your classroom to break the normal school routine and learn valuable lessons in the process.