How Teachers Can Use Drones as an Educational Tool in the Classroom

By Frankie Wallace

In recent years, drones have shed their military roots and joined the mainstream, used by businesses and individuals alike. Approximately 2.2 million drones were sold across the world in 2016 alone, according to Business Insider, and drone sales are expected to surpass $12 billion by 2021.

Those estimated sales numbers lump the three main types of drones together: Consumer, commercial (also called enterprise drones), and government. All facets of drone technology share similarities and benefit society in a number of ways. At the commercial level, drones have positively impacted many industries, such as real estate, agriculture, and cartography. Drone technology is so useful and ubiquitous, in fact, that it has even entered the classroom. 

Students of all ages are likely to be captivated and engaged by drones, and the academic value of drone technology cannot be denied. Today’s forward-thinking educators view drones as an educational tool that could steer their students toward a particular career path. No matter the age of your students, you can easily introduce them to the principles and applications of drones, and even show them the technology firsthand. 

Integrating Drones within the Classroom

Some educators are so dedicated to the use of drones in the classroom, in fact, that they have become Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified drone pilots. Two educators in Colorado Springs recently made headlines for doing just that. Ray Sevits and David Steele, who teach middle school and high school, respectively, spent two weeks during the summer of 2018 to learn about drone technology firsthand, and they now bring that knowledge to their classrooms.  

Their students learn to operate drones, design and build drones, and sometimes work as a team mechanic, maintaining and repairing any issues. But working directly with drones is just a small part of potential classroom applications. Students can also interact with flight simulation software, or study the myriad applications of drone technology. 

As an educator, you may choose to teach under the SOAR model of drone instruction. SOAR stands for:

  • Safety (ethics and legal use)
  • Operation (flight and maintenance)
  • Active learning (engagement in problem-solving)
  • Research (practical applications)

By adhering to the principles of SOAR, you can bring a well-rounded and comprehensive model to drone instruction for students of all ages.

Drone Technology in Commercial Industries

An understanding of drone technology and/or flight experience can give your students a leg up when they eventually enter the job market. Drones are used in a growing number of industries, and one of the most common uses for drones in commercial settings is in the realm of photography, especially for marketing purposes.

Within the real estate industry, drones are becoming an integral marketing tool that gives potential buyers a bird’s eye view of properties and the surrounding neighborhood. Real estate professionals report that successful commercial real estate drone photographers are those who have a keen eye for photography and can skillfully operate their own, quality drone. When those skills are honed in a primary- or secondary-level educational setting, students have a better chance of making a splash in the real estate photography industry.

Another industry that has a growing demand for drone operators is e-commerce, especially where shipping and logistics are concerned. Amazon is the biggest name in e-commerce within the U.S., accounting for a full 50% of total e-commerce growth in 2015 alone. The company continues to seek out innovative technology that can streamline its order fulfillment process, and drones have become part of the Amazon business plan. In the near future, autonomous delivery drones may carry packages from Amazon warehouses directly to consumer doorsteps. 

How Drones Can Benefit Society

Students with a background in drone operation may be able to quickly secure employment in the fields of real estate photography and e-commerce. But drone technology isn’t solely used for commercial purposes, and you can introduce your students to the potential humanitarian aspects of drone operation.

“Drones have shown particular promise in disaster recovery efforts and global health initiatives, becoming a key tool for public health and humanitarian agencies alike,” according to The Keck School of Medicine at USC. Drones have a number of uses within disaster recovery, such as assessing damage, locating victims who rescuers on the ground may have missed, and transporting supplies and medication to rural areas. 

In the classroom, you can initiate discussions about the use of drones in public health settings and encourage students to find similar applications in which drones could be beneficial. Further, students can test the efficiency of drones within disaster relief situations by performing mock supply drops. Teams of students can compare drone supply drop times with those of on-ground vehicle supply drops, and it can even become a race to see which team reaches victims more quickly.

Modern technology, from language learning apps to drones, continues to alter our classrooms in profound ways. Teachers have a responsibility to harness these technologies in order to improve the chances of future success among their students. Drone technology provides a fun, hands-on opportunity to prepare students for jobs in emerging industries.

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