Drones can be an excellent way to engage students in hard-to-teach subjects—here are some tips to start a classroom drone program

Starting a K-12 classroom drone program

Drones can be an excellent way to engage students in hard-to-teach subjects—here are some tips to start a classroom drone program

More K-12 schools are introducing drones into the classroom as educators discover how useful unattended vehicles can be to teach and strengthen science, technology, art, engineering, and mathematics (STEAM) skills. Students are engaged by the possibility of flying robots in their classrooms, but teachers will require support systems to understand how to best implement a classroom drone program.

Before investing in the hardware, K-12 educators can take essential steps to enhance their drone program’s success in getting off the ground.

Consider the drone objective for your classroom

Decisions about drones and drone curriculum should be based on the students who will be learning with the drones and on the learning objectives educators hope to achieve.

Before purchasing a drone, educators should identify the need, audience, and purpose of the program, including goals for student engagement, course achievement, and objectives.  

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offers a starting point here.

4 things to consider

Licensing: Teachers should consider acquiring a license as FAA Part 107–certified remote pilot to ensure they understand the safety and all the rules and regulations on drones. The certification is not required by the FAA for educational use.

Safety: Teachers should learn where drones can and cannot be flown to help maintain safe airspace for all involved. We are responsible for flying with the FAA guideline and regulations.

Picking a drone: In choosing the right drone to meet course or program objectives, teachers should ask questions like: 

  • Where will you be flying?
  • Is there enough space to fly the size drone you have looking to fly?
  • Does the drone have to be registered with the FAA because of its size?
  • How many drones per student are needed?
  • Is there an age requirement for the drone selected?
  • What type of media quality might be required?

Support staff: Teachers should also build a support staff in and outside of the school, including:

Drone pilots and experts: Developing relationships with local drone pilots would be beneficial to help with the guidance regarding rules, laws, and regulations. Forming an advisory board of drone experts can be very helpful.

IT department: Gaining the IT department’s support helps with software and devices used to control the drones. It’s good to ensure that students can access all the software, computers, and networks required to participate in the program.

Creating a budget

When starting a drone program, your budget should be centered around your objective. Your budget should consider not only the drones and curriculum but also should include things such as (but not limited to):

  • Drones (UAS Units)
  • Software
  • Controls (mobile devices)
  • Maintenance such as batteries and propellors
  • Insurance for drones
  • FAA licensing
  • Challenge and mission materials such as hoops, loops, and landing pads

Funding for educators can be minimal, but there are ways to fund a classroom drone program through classroom drone grants, STEM grants and local businesses.

Benefits of drones in the classroom

In previous years, drones were restricted to sci-fi or were products of thoughts of things to come. Today, Unmanned Aircraft Systems or drones are quickly turning into a piece of our regular day-to-day existence.

With drones used in agriculture, filmmaking, conservation, search and rescue, military operations, and energy infrastructure, an introduction to drone technology will help prepare students for the future. A classroom drone program can help teach students firsthand how drones can be useful in teaching, learning, research, and as a service to society.

Drone activities can be used across curriculums. Examples of classroom drone activities include:

  • Science: Studying the different types of landscapes and environmental features
  • Math: Studying measurements by estimating and measuring units of length
  • Language Arts: Studying traffic safety in the community; students create narrative essays on the traffic in the community.

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