Drones seem to be everywhere these days. These unmanned semi-autonomous vehicles, have seen a lot of hype recently, as they are becoming central (or at least potentially central) to a wide set of activities: from TV and online newscasting, to law enforcement, healthcare, and even goods delivery. But there’s a field where drones aren’t portrayed that often, but where some savvy teachers are starting to use them with some promising results. That field is education.
There are many benefits to using drones in the classroom. Whether we are speaking of a sophisticated multirotor vehicle that can be controlled from a computer and fly several hundred meters away, or a smaller, much cheaper quadcopter operated from a smartphone, these devices are certainly engaging, and can provide great opportunities to make classes more interactive, and relevant to students.
But drones can do a lot more than appealing students and catching their attention. Teachers are finding that they can help enhance students’ orientation and motor skills, to help them build a better understanding of the world around them, enrich their imagination, and spark their curiosity in ways that can be very beneficial, even when it comes to learning topics that may seem completely unrelated to this technology and its possibilities.
Today we will review five different ways on which teachers around the world are using drones to enhance their lessons, and help their students learn new skills and acquire knowledge.
THEY ARE A GREAT FIT FOR SOCIAL STUDIES CLASSES
Teaching Social Studies is, perhaps, the most obvious usage a teacher can give to a drone. By allowing students to operate these machines, educators can inspire students to learn about local geography, about cartography, and about the local history of their communities.
These tools can be very powerful to allow students to work on transmedia learning projects, creating their own videos, paintings, presentations, websites, and other kinds of contents derived from the images and the information captured with these flying machines.
DRONES ARE POWERFUL MATH TEACHING TOOLS
Being inherently abstract, math can be a challenging subject to teach to younger students. But using engaging tools like drones, teachers can give a real world application to mathematical problems and equations, and help students not only realize the great power of this subject, but also to see the actual result of their work.
Schools around the world are experimenting with drones for this very reason. A school in Bangkok, for instance, is having students learn how to make and read graphs, calculate distances, and acquire some basic trigonometry concepts by following the path of different drones operated by other students. In higher courses, drones can be used to engage students into dealing with more advanced equations, for example applying the Bernoulli principle to calculate stall speeds (the minimum speed at which an aerial vehicle loses lift and falls off the sky) and testing it in real life.
THEY PROVIDE A FRAME TO TEACH STEM RELATED TOPICS
Math is just the beginning. Drones can be very powerful tools to teach STEM related topics in general. Flying these devices can provide very real examples of how physical laws work, and building and enhancing them can also teach students about electronics, and even chemistry.
Many teachers are also using drones to teach programming. In the same way many schools have adopted robots in order to provide a frame that allows students to experience first-hand the effects of their code, many educators are using drones to engage students into writing programs that allow drones to conduct autonomous flights. This can be very useful to teach computational thinking, and help younger students realize the great power of those skills.
DRONES CAN HELP STUDENTS DEVELOP SOFT SKILLS
Social and emotional skills are becoming increasingly important, and in the context of a 21st century education that prepares students for an unforeseeable professional future, it has become a high priority for many schools to help their students acquire abilities such as communication, collaborative work, flexibility, self-learning, and empathy. And drones can be a powerful tool for their development.
Some educators are suggesting using drones as part of team projects that require students to work together toward achieving common goals, often in the form of creating shapes, building a structure, or performing a particular action that requires a certain coordination and can be viewed from above. By allowing students to visualize themselves from above, and from other different perspectives, drones can be very graphic in portraying students as part of something bigger, and as members of an organization, rather than as the center of it.
DRONES IN HIGHER EDUCATION
University courses can greatly benefit from the introduction of drones. Students from fields as varied as journalism, engineering, and even archeology have started using this technology to enhance their professional training and to add real-world examples to their studies.
For instance, Oregon State University’s Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center is using drones provided by Boeing to conduct studies on the effects of droughts and fertilizers on potato production. The drones make it easy for students and researchers to survey large fields and observe how different plantations react to different conditions, both from above and on close flybys. This would be much harder if it weren’t for these tools.
Architecture students, are also using drones. But they use them to conduct façade inspections on buildings, and learn more about structures and construction techniques. Botany, forestry and biology students are also benefiting from this technology, as it enables them to reach wildlife and plants that are otherwise harder to grasp.
And, while it may sound obvious, students from different engineering fields, including electronic engineering and, of course, aeronautical engineering are greatly benefiting from drones, as they allow them to build and test concepts at very low costs, and try them on real life environments and conditions.
Drones can be very powerful learning tools. And, unlike other technological innovations which are often developed or brought to market by entrepreneurs, it is teachers themselves who have are finding new uses and applications that can truly unveil their teaching potential.