Why we love our PD tools

Ask most teachers what they think of their district’s professional development (PD) and you’ll most likely get a grimace or an outright groan. But PD tools don’t have to be unproductive. With the right products, such as one of the ones below, your teachers will be grinning instead of groaning.

Teacher-recommended PD tools

“Video coaching with Edthena provides us with a sustainable and scalable professional development model. Teachers videotape themselves and then share it with their colleagues asking for specific feedback. Being able to leave timestamped comments has allowed us as coaches to create conversations at the specific point in time that we want the teacher to reflect on. This year, we will use video as an informal look at the level of math conversations going on in their classrooms.”
—Barb Corna, lead academic specialist for the Accelerate Math program. Northwood Elementary School, Napa, Calif.

“Originally we partnered with Education Elements to provide on-site personalized learning PD and consulting. We saw significant changes in our classrooms, but soon realized that we needed to improve our leadership practices and increase our capacity to make this and any future instructional initiatives sustainable. During their sessions and ongoing support, we witnessed the specific tactics the Education Elements team uses to work together efficiently, so we asked for their guidance on how we could adopt these ways ourselves. Education Elements’ leadership PD and consultative approach helped us change the way we run meetings—they’re efficient, more effective, and inclusive of all attendees. It also helped us change the way we organize schedules so that leaders and educators alike have more opportunities to collaborate. Education Elements has been a vital partner as we work toward our mission of flattening the district so we’re not a district of schools, but a cohesive school district.”
—Richard DelMoro, superintendent, Enlarged City School District of Middletown (NY)

“Oh my gosh! I love the edWeb platform for PD and a built-in collaborative community. This is the best idea I’ve seen in a while. I can watch relevant material at my leisure, take a quiz, and submit for staff-development credits, but I can also see archived resources and connect with other educators like me. I love this resource!”
—Kristen Koeller, RTI instructional coach, Livermore, Calif.

“With Frontline Education, we finally have amazing resources that we can bring to bear on the mentoring and support we’re trying to give our teachers. When you’ve experienced the micro-credentials, the collegial films, and collaborative groups that you can access through Frontline, you now know what good, consistent, yearlong PD looks like. And you actually impose that structure as much as possible on the traditional PD you’re bringing in. That has been one of the unexpected, delightful, and productive results it has had on other types of development and training that we do at the school.”
—Cindy Phillips, executive director, Weilenmann School of Discovery, Park City, Utah

“What I love about Hoonuit is that you’re working at your own pace. You don’t have to rush through it, you can revisit things, you can actually learn the material. Hoonuit also has a variety of different courses that can be used to address every situation possible. The feedback I’ve been getting from a lot of the teachers is, ‘I love this!’ It’s giving teachers a break. They don’t have to think in terms of ‘I can’t go on my vacation this summer because I have to attend face-to-face PD workshops.’ Instead, they can manage their own calendars.”
—Lisa Keith, blended learning specialist, Guilford County (NC) School District

LETRS, Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, from Voyager Sopris Learning, is truly life changing for an educator. It gives the teachers the ‘why’ but also the ‘how’—why students are struggling, why reading is complex, but also this is how you plan for instruction. LETRS truly allows you to be an informed educator when you’re determining what to do with students. It is the tool to change lives and change communities.”
—Dr. Ebony Lee, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, Clayton County (GA) Public Schools

“The project-based learning training I received from PBLWorks has empowered me in more ways than I ever imagined! PBLWorks helped me develop some incredibly impactful projects this year for my ELL students. These projects have kept them engaged and excited about content and connected them to their community. I teach a class for ELL students, some of whom came to the school knowing very little English. PBLWorks helped me provide personalized learning and I now feel equipped to meet the diverse needs of every learner—no matter where they are starting from. PBLWorks has also provided resources to support even the most creative educational initiatives in my classroom. Often I have had some extravagant project ideas and PBLWorks encouraged these and helped me find the resources to make them happen. I have reached out to my PBL PD instructors for guidance on many occasions. They have provided EL resources and professional conversation, and helped me problem solve.”
—Elizabeth Leone, EL teacher, Webster Elementary School, Manchester, New Hampshire

“In addition to teaching students academic content, there are other skills and training teachers need in order to support students. For example, if a student is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts and a teacher is able to recognize the signs, they can get the student the professional help they need before something tragic happens. Using PublicSchoolWORKS’ EmployeeSafe Suite, educators are assigned online suicide prevention courses detailing the symptoms and signs of depression, as well as how to best intervene so the student seeks professional help. The system’s automation features make it easy to ensure all employees take the courses, too. We know when an employee completes a course because the system automatically updates their training transcript.”
—Eric Haley, superintendent, Waterville (ME) Public Schools


How one middle school is closing the technology achievement gap

There’s a widening technology achievement gap for minorities, despite blacks and Hispanics having more interest in learning computer science. So why is the field so dominated by whites?

eSchool News recently spoke with Mashea Ashton, who founded Washington, D.C.’s first computer science middle school last year in a struggling, historically black community to help bridge the technology achievement gap. Today, 99 percent of the students at Digital Pioneers Academy (DPA) are on a free lunch program. Ashton, who previously worked with Senator Cory Booker to create more educational options in Newark, N.J., talked about how innovative educators can help solve the racial achievement gap.

eSN: There are lots of cities with impoverished neighborhoods and poor public school systems, so why did you choose to start DPA in southeast D.C.?

Ashton: My husband’s family goes back six generations in southeast D.C. and I taught here early in my career. Southeast Washington, D.C.. is a unique and multifaceted community, where the talent pool is high, but access to transformational educational opportunities is often lacking. I love my community and know that our students can achieve anything they set their minds to accomplish. I saw DPA as a way to bridge the achievement and opportunity gap for scholars east of Washington D.C.’s Anacostia River, and for people of color who are disproportionately underrepresented in the technology field.

eSN: With your first year almost completed, what are some challenges you’ve encountered this year that you didn’t expect when DPA was starting?

Ashton: I’ve been working in public education for nearly 20 years, so not much surprised me when we opened DPA last year. One component of working with middle school students that continues to push my thinking around the work we are doing is the challenges and obstacles our scholars face outside of school. Some of our students have to carry adult responsibilities or have experienced trauma outside the classroom. I am constantly reminded of the importance of addressing the social-emotional needs of our scholars in an effort to achieve our academic goals.

eSN: How would you grade DPA on integrating computer science (CS) education into the curriculum this year? What makes DPA’s CS curriculum unique?

Ashton: Many believe that CS is simply too hard to teach, and believe you need very specific expertise in the field just to teach it at a K-12 level. DPA takes a non-expert-dependent approach to our CS curriculum: Our teachers come in with little to no background in the subject and the curriculum allows teachers to learn skills through projects before scholars. Both students and teachers start learning basic programs like Scratch before diving into the big coding languages like CSS and Javascript.

eSN: As you know, the tech field is largely dominated by men, while women and other demographics are not finding the same success in the field. What are you doing at DPA to include these groups of students?

Ashton: For us, it started with our name. We chose the name Digital Pioneers Academy because “pioneer” doesn’t suggest any specific gender or race. Leaders and innovators come from all kinds of backgrounds, just as our students and teachers do. In fact, girls make up more than half of our student body. While our faculty is diverse, we hire based solely on alignment with our mission and values. It’s important that our students know that no matter what their skin color or background, they know that if they believe in themselves and put in effective effort they can achieve their goals.


5 fun presentation tools for end-of-year projects

As the school year winds down, tests and final projects are looming. Class presentations can be a great way for students to synthesize knowledge, practice public speaking, and interact with their classmates. But there are also potential drawbacks: Standing up and speaking in front of peers can be nerve-racking (even for some adults!), and the presentations themselves can become repetitive and formulaic.

Multimedia presentation tools can reduce student anxiety by encouraging a creative approach that not only builds design and tech skills but also can turn an intimidating final assignment into a fun experience. Check out five of our top picks below:

5 fun presentation tools

1. Shadow Puppet Edu  
Price: Free
Platforms: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
Grades: 2–12

Using Shadow Puppet Edu, students can create video slideshows, adding their own narration and text. Videos can be up to 30 minutes long and include up to 100 images. Students pull images from the device or from several free in-app libraries like NASA, the Library of Congress, and more. Student creations automatically save to the device’s camera roll and online, accessible via a direct link. Shadow Puppet Edu has so many excellent features it’s a creative must-have for elementary school classrooms.

2. Screencastify 
Price: Free; premium version $24/yr.
Platforms: Website
Grades: 3–12

Screencastify is an extension for the Chrome web browser or Chrome devices that records the screen, voice, and more. Students can record what they’re doing on a single browser tab, record all activity on their screen, or add a video insert to include video of themselves using a webcam. While recording, they can use the drawing tool to write directly on the screen or the spotlight tool to highlight certain sections. Screencastify is a great tool for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned, give presentations, and more.

3. Office Sway
Price: Free
Platforms: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Chrome, Apps for Windows
Grades: 6–12

This free, one-stop shop for creating sleek graphics, web stories, and animated videos is incredibly easy to use and challenges students to think critically about visual presentation. Sway integrates with the online Office suite and allows students to share their creations publicly, privately, or to a limited group. Consider using Sway as a digital portfolio tool where students can offer highlights of their written and visual work on the web.

4. Adobe Spark
Price: Free
Platforms: Website
Grades: 8–12

Adobe Spark is a design and media-creation platform that’s easy to use and that offers plenty of inspiring templates to get started. With the tools’ three project types (Posts, Pages, and Videos), students could create collages and graphic images to accompany lessons, web stories to present their research or bring a narrative to life, and videos to argue a position or describe a research project. Adobe Spark offers rich opportunities to demonstrate learning while getting creative with design elements.

5. Clips
Price: Free
Platforms: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
Grades: 8–12

Clips is a video-creation and -editing app for iOS devices. Students can use existing photos or videos or create new ones from within the app. They can speak while recording video to add captions in a variety of styles and languages, layer on effects like filters and emojis, and add audio from a list of soundtracks or from their own music library. Students can use Clips as a creative way to demonstrate learning: to describe a concept, deliver a book report, or tell a story. Clips is also a great option for practicing and presenting in foreign language classes.

 [Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Common Sense Education.]


11 unique ideas to finish the school year strong

State testing is done (or will be), the weather is getting nicer, and the school year is coming to an end. It’s hard for students to stay focused and sometimes even harder for educators.

We cram in field trips and awards ceremonies after testing, and that can give the impression that “teaching is done.” Having been a principal for 10 years, I understand this time of year can be hectic, exhausting, and stressful for teachers and school leaders. Here are some ideas that can create a high level of energy to enhance learning and finish the school year strong.

11 ways to finish the school year strong

Classroom ideas

In a game, a race, or anything that have a start and finish, the finish is what we remember. We need to step up the intensity of learning and lessons—not step back.

1. Have students create units: Create an avenue for students to identify a topic (or topics) that highly interest them. This immediately adds relevance to learning. Ensure the topic matches the grade-level curriculum goals and assist students to frame the outcomes to match grade-level standards. If there is more than one topic, groups can prepare a full-fledged unit instructional plan on a specific topic and then teach a portion to the class or another small group. Allowing students to have a role in teaching is motivating and will provide intrinsic drive.

2. Unit trailers: Take student-created units to the next level. Once they design the goals, lesson ideas, and learning outcomes, students can use video or posters to create movie-like trailers. This activity will build excitement and put a little mystery into what is to come.

3. Create a talk show: Talk shows like Ellen, The Tonight Show, and Jimmy Kimmel Live often feature experts on a topic. Modeling this can occur two different ways. First, if students have a specific skill (e.g., academic area, sports, dance, acting, etc.) have a “show” to allow students to talk about the topic and showcase their skill(s). The audience (class) can ask questions and learn more about the skill. Teachers can set up a “This week’s episodes” and have panels of different skills.

Another option is to research and create “experts” on a variety of skills like “Achievements in Science” or “Space Exploration.” Again, make sure that the research topics match the grade-level scope and sequence. Students in content groups can research the topic, write a script on it, and go on the talk show as their characters to teach the class about the topic.

4. Top 10 List: In the spirit of late-night shows, one of David Letterman’s trademark bits was a top ten list. Have students reflect on their learning and create a list of their 10 favorite or most impactful things they did at school this year. This can start as an independent activity and then the whole class can try to create a class Top 10 List for the year.


Here’s how we’re preparing our students for workplace success

When I first mentioned the FlexFactor program to my students, they were concerned that they would not be able to “invent” anything new because they believed that everything had been invented already. But the program had a few surprises in store for them, showing them that technology holds endless possibilities if they can just picture them.

Being the lead teacher of California’s Santa Teresa High’s Computer Science Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathway means that I need to do more than just teach computer science: I also need to make sure that I give students the academic skills, technical chops, and employability needed for postsecondary and workplace success.

FlexFactor, a workforce development program created by NextFlex, America’s leading Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) institute, has been a boon in helping me provide my students with all the necessary skills they’ll need for any career position—all through a focus on the technology of tomorrow. Through the program, NextFlex sends instructors to classrooms to give short lectures on career readiness, entrepreneurship tips, block diagram development, and business pitch preparation. Students are required to work in teams, develop and pitch a business model idea associated with the use of FHE, and then create a technology with wide applications in health, infrastructure, and other industries. The program also includes field trips to companies like Jabil and DuPont, community colleges like Evergreen Valley Community College, and NextFlex’s headquarters and pilot-line fabrication facility.

Student excitement at an all-time high

As the FlexFactor instructors taught, I could see the students finally become excited about school work and what it means for their futures. Their fears gradually turned into confidence, and as the program progressed, they were able to dive into their respective projects with a fleshed-out plan.

In just a few weeks, my students developed their creativity and brainstorming skills. They had a chance to sit down and really think about world problems and how they could develop solutions for these problems. In particular, the field trip to Jabil helped them make connections between abstract concepts and real-world applications of the technology. Following the field trip, the students were teeming with big ideas. They ended up with potential projects such as headbands to detect epilepsy, sheets with self-adjusting warmth to ensure a good sleep, anxiety relief patches, foldable tents with preset accessories, and military helmets with injury recorders.


How student-created VR can enhance SEL and special ed

Quality social-emotional learning (SEL) and effective special education (SpEd) programming look remarkably similar. Each relies on a positive, safe learning environment and touts activities geared toward student strengths and weaknesses. Both types of programming facilitate a group experience where individual outcomes are designed to be disparate, be recorded, and used to track growth. Because these two types of programming are similar in philosophy, it should come as no surprise that both SEL and SpEd can be enhanced and expanded by innovative edtech solutions—most notably, student-created virtual reality (360 VR videos).

The benefits of VR

VR is proving to be an effective engagement tool in diverse ways: visiting museums around the world, blasting off into space, etc. But VR does not have to be limited to geography and science classrooms. By using student-created, perspective-taking videos, VR can be a powerful experiential tool that aligns with and augments both SEL and SpEd outcomes.

When students put on a headset to view these types of videos, they are stepping into another life, another story. They will find connection in the familiar and discover meaning in what they perceive to be different. Students then begin to develop perspective-taking skills, resulting in newfound levels of relationship skills (communication), self-management (emotional control in response to a story), and social awareness (empathizing with the storyteller). As a bonus, viewing VR films is an incredibly immersive experience, making student engagement—often a legitimate challenge—easier to achieve.

Similarly, filming VR videos can be a vulnerable experience. When students get in front of the camera to share stories that are important to them, they’re developing self-awareness skills (recognizing personal values) and responsible decision-making skills (e.g., identifying problems and solutions around ethical responsibilities such as bullying intervention).

Do those skills sound familiar? That’s because they’re right in line with CASEL’s 5 major SEL competencies, along with the many goals associated with SpEd. In this way, VR can enhance the development of these competencies by providing teachers with new and exciting ways to approach their programming.


7 resources to help educators better understand anxiety

Mental illness is omnipresent in schools today, but it isn’t as well understood or managed as districts would hope. An October 2018 Education Week article stated that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 32 percent of adolescents have an anxiety disorder. This means that in a classroom of 24, eight students will suffer from clinical anxiety.

The difference between nervousness and anxiety

Often confused with nervousness, anxiety is believed to be a circumstantial, temporary feeling of worry that with coaching, breathing, and self-talk can be easily overcome. Unfortunately, although some iterations of anxiety present in such a fashion, most are generalized, overwhelming, and debilitating. Anxiety has triggers, which students can choose to work to avoid with strategies and support, but the existence of anxiety is not a choice.

Anxiety is a physiological imbalance in the brain, one that pumps too much serotonin through the nervous system. Although many of the things that provoke a student’s anxiety can be controlled, the onset of panic that comes from provocation cannot be regulated without professional interventions, medications, therapy, and/or counseling.

In schools today, anxiety is fast becoming a crisis. Unlike other illnesses, anxiety doesn’t present itself the same way in all students. For one, it may look like an upset stomach every morning; for another, it might be the inability to settle on which clothes to wear to school; and for a third, it could be shortness of breath and crying. Regardless of the symptoms, anxiety is an obstacle for anyone suffering.

Anxiety affects one out of every three students, so educators must prioritize the illness and find ways to help students be successful. Of course, this is much easier said than done. If anxiety looks different from one student to the next, then in a school of 900, it’s not a matter of coming up with one plan to help 300 students—it’s a matter of coming up with 300 different plans to help 300 different students.

Understanding anxiety—an illness unique to every sufferer—is a tall order for any educational leader. Finding impactful ways to address this crisis begins with having a wealth of practical resources.

7 resources to help us better understand anxiety

1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): an excellent resource for facts about, including tips to manage, anxiety. The ADAA also features success stories, podcasts, blogs, and webinars to promote wellness in the community.

2. The NAN Project: The story of this project is heart wrenching. In memory of Nancy “Nan” Cavanaugh, the NAN Project brings peer mentors to the community to talk about their personal stories of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Educators can contact the Nan Project through the website to schedule speakers to visit their schools for staff professional development, health classes, or school assemblies.

3. Exploring Mental Health: Raw, honest, and real, Exploring Mental Health explores emotional wellness from a multitude of angles. The hosts work together to remove the stigma of mental illness and educate listeners about the scope and pain of anxiety, depression, and mental illness. Past guests have included clinicians, mental-illness sufferers, co-founders of nonprofits raising money to promote emotional wellness, and experts on seasonal affect disorder.

4. The Anxiety Podcast: From breathing advice to discussions of the impact of certain foods on anxiety, creator and host Tim JP Collins is an open book when it comes to his personal story. Collin’s guests are experts on various aspects of mental illness, from PTSD to being a professional athlete with anxiety.

5. My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel: Stossel brings readers into his world of debilitating anxiety in this book that will teach even those who suffer with anxiety a thing or two about the disease, My Age of Anxiety is a must read for anyone afflicted with anxiety or working with those who are.

6. First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety by Sarah Wilson: Wilson uses her struggle with anxiety to help readers better understand the disease and those who suffer. From practical advice to studying the lives of other, famous anxiety sufferers to investigating the history and facts of anxiety via expert interviews, Wilson teaches her readers about the real “beast” in her life: overwhelming anxiety.

7. The Anxiety Journal: The Anxiety Journal is exactly what it sounds like—a journal to use to manage/cope with anxiety. Whether purchasing it for yourself or for someone else, The Anxiety Journal is a journal of gratitude, self-care, and optimism. Each day, users are presented with a new, inspiring quote and drawing. From there they will be asked to reflect on things in their life larger than themselves. This journal works to manage anxiety by forcing a focus on gratitude. Anxiety is an illness of perspective and this journal helps you to change perspective.

Each of the resources listed above will help educators begin to establish the wealth of practical strategies needed to tackle the mental health epidemic in schools. If our task is to come up with 300 different plans to help 300 different students, then we have to begin one resource at a time.


How we turned around our new teacher retention


Gaston County Schools, located in North Carolina, is the 10th-largest district in the state. We have a very diverse, economically challenged population in our school system, with roughly 65 percent of our student population eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Biggest challenge:

Three years ago, when I started as executive director for high school instruction, our state of student achievement was average. That was not good enough for us. Like districts all over North Carolina, we were also facing teacher shortages. We typically see 40 new teachers in our high schools each year. These include teachers new to the practice as well as those new to our district.

We had pockets of excellence happening inside of classrooms, but only a handful of students benefiting from them. We aimed to have 100 percent of our classrooms doing great things for children. The challenge was how to get 700 teachers to buy into that.


We have a nationally recognized teacher induction program series (TIPS), but we decided that we needed to take a harder look at how are we supporting our new and younger teachers in years two and three.

Rather than starting with those that some might identify as on the “struggling” end of the spectrum, we chose the opposite approach. Two years ago, we invited 50 teachers—some might say the best teachers in each of our high schools—to join professional learning communities (PLCs). Last year, we expanded to a second cohort of 30 teachers.

Professional learning communities often focus on classroom management, but we believe that if educators have the tools they need to build great lessons from start to finish and are able to connect that lesson to tomorrow’s lesson and to next week’s—if the focus is on building the framework of engaging experiences for students conceptually—then classroom management takes care of itself.

Our PLCs now focus on two particular instructional strategies: lesson design and information from learning. Our teachers use feedback captured on the Verso Learning platform to answer the following questions:

  • How do you know that kids are learning what you thought you taught in that particular lesson and in that particular community?
  • How are you assessing that on a daily basis and over time align to your lesson and unit design?
  • And most important, how are you responding to what that information is telling you?

In between meetings, we’ve seen five-minute interventions having a massive impact on our high school teachers. Just watching a bit of a lesson and giving five minutes that that teacher most needs can really improve their practice.

Lessons learned:

We use technology to support our teachers every day, but it’s not only about the technology. It’s really about how you integrate purposeful tech tools into what you’re trying to have your teachers teach and their students learn.

We’re asking teachers to think of themselves as intentional learning designers. Once they look at the curriculum with that mindset, they actually find themselves teaching very differently. Our teachers are now asking themselves, ‘What do I know about my practice and my context and my kids that’s informing the process’ We’re turning a group of fairly new teachers into reflective practitioners where that cycle of professional reflection is at the heart of everything they do.

Our teachers are not only growing when their administrator comes in and does an official observation. They’re connecting the dots of what they’re doing every day to discover what’s important from learning over time.

Next steps:

We never talk about test scores or use the word “achievement.” It’s really all about the word “learning,” because learning is what we want to happen in every single room. For that to happen, our goal is for students to go into their other classrooms and put pressure on their other teachers to do what this cohort of 80 teachers is doing. With this approach, student voice becomes the fuel for this transformative work.

Next week:

See how a district turned around its student tardy numbers.


5 core computational thinking skills that strengthen humanities skills

Anyone who says you can’t apply computational thinking and digital learning strategies to strengthen students’ writing skills is wrong. To the contrary, this innovative learning style helps students hone critical-thinking skills across every discipline.

In my classroom, I teach students computational thinking through free materials from Ignite My Future in School, a partnership between Tata Consultancy Services and Discovery Education. I especially enjoy using their Curriculum Connectors, online resources for teachers across disciplines to help their students apply computational thinking techniques.

The core tenets of computational thinking are the building blocks that help my students become better learners and problem-solvers across every area of their work—from all areas of reading and language arts. Here’s how five core computational thinking approaches help my students build stronger critical thinking and writing skills:

5 core computational thinking skills every student needs

Collecting data
In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock famously says, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” This lesson is also true for students. When they read a new book or prepare to write an essay, their process must begin with finding data. However, the data in this case is not numbers and computer code, but examples present in a given work. It is essential to begin with quotes and examples from the text, which help students construct more compelling essays and arguments. With the computational thinking approach to collecting data, they become explorers who are sifting for the most compelling evidence to tell a story or make a point.



How we created a comprehensive drone curriculum

As educators, we are all continuously looking for interdisciplinary learning opportunities that will provide students with the most authentic learning experiences possible. With students’ hyper-exposure to the growing applications for technology, STEAM programs are one area in which real-world applications are readily apparent to students.

Here in Salamanca, New York, as we seek to ensure our students have the necessary marketable skills for the modern economy, we’ve chosen to incorporate a drone curriculum into our STEAM programs. With the core drone skills, our students open themselves to employment opportunities in diverse sectors such as cinematography, industrial inspections, public safety, agriculture, construction, specialized sciences, and much more.

Drone education starts early on

To deliver on this goal for our students, we have developed a comprehensive drone curriculum that will introduce students to drones as early as kindergarten and allow them to become more hands-on throughout their academic career. For juniors and seniors, that experience culminates with an immersive curriculum through which they become FAA-certified drone pilots, while also imparting the core skills in data collection analysis necessary to pursue careers in this rapidly evolving workforce.

Like many districts, most of our best ideas start with our teachers. Three years ago, it became clear to a group of our forward-thinking educators that the proliferation of drones offered a path not only to the workforce but for our students to contribute to their community. As a rural, small city school district nestled by the Allegany State Park, we saw opportunities for our students to work alongside law enforcement in search-and-rescue operations or assist local university researchers in land-surveying operations.

With little initial guidance on how to most effectively develop a drone-focused curriculum, we learned a few important lessons that other districts can apply should they choose to adopt drone training into their STEAM programs.

4 keys to developing a drone curriculum

1. Know your strengths

Initially, we brought in drone trainers to teach our teachers how to fly drones, enabling them to secure the necessary FAA Part 107 license. We quickly realized there was a lot more to the comprehensive curriculum we envisioned than simply having teachers that could pilot drones. While purchasing curricula is not always the ideal solution, we recognized that this was a case where the added expertise was necessary to develop a truly rich curriculum.

A serendipitous conversation with a colleague led us to SkyOp LLC, which has been training commercial drone instructors for years and had recently started to work with a local community college to incorporate drone training into its curriculum. Ultimately, the SkyOp Drone Training Curriculum gave us the tools we needed to provide the authentic learning experiences we and our students demanded.

While preparing students for the FAA Part 107 pilot exam is an initial objective of the curriculum, the customizable curriculum also incorporates hands-on flying time as well as work with the key data collection and analysis tools students will need in the drone industry. The industry’s rapid advancement meant the teaching resources also had to evolve to match, so SkyOp incorporated a learning management system that is updated in real time to ensure instructors are teaching from the most up-to-date course materials, drone regulations, etc.

Ultimately, we developed a semester-long elective course for juniors and seniors that combines daily 40-minute in-class lessons with dedicated flight time after school, and access to a drone so students can practice around their busy schedules.