Drone technology and STEAM education
Because drones are miniature marvels, they’re the perfect size — and price — to bring into the classroom, offering a lot of bang for the educational buck. They can quickly capture students’ attention and spark their imaginations, which is a critical first step for any learning initiative. Once they’re hooked, students can use drones to explore many aspects of STEAM, including:
- Elements of design, especially in regard to how function dictates form
- Engineering modifications to change the drone’s performance
- Basics of building, including component parts
- Predictions and experimentation for flights
- Real-world problem-solving
- The physics of flight
Of course, drones can be used as a centrepiece for many more basic experiments that help students practice the scientific method. Even young students can design simple tests to see how much a drone can carry, find the most efficient flight route to deliver a package and more.
The Education Committee at the Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP), an American non-profit, volunteer and community-driven organisation that advances the use of Earth science data through meetings and virtual collaborations, has developed a curriculum full of drone-specific activities to guide student investigations and encourage science teachers to further explore the power of drones to inspire. Likewise, Benin Flying Labs (BFL) recently used drones to help break down barriers to STEAM for students in West Africa and spark interest in career paths related to aviation and other scientific fields.
Inspire Africa lighting the way for drone-based STEAM education in Africa
The Inspire Africa Group are doing their best ensure that African children today have the requisite academic knowledge in preparation for the world of tomorrow, where the jobs they will do are not even in existence yet.
“It used to be that in the past, one innovation led to another,” said Simon Robinson, founder of Inspire Africa. “But today’s technologies have abandoned the linear route and gone exponential. It started with automation, manufacturing, then went on to big data. Today, we have robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, 3D printing and Unmanned Aerial Systems. And now with cloud computing, the machines are getting smarter by the instant.
“The common denominator with all these technologies is computer programming/coding.”
Given these technological realities, Simon figures that it is only imperative that children understand the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) from a tender age.
The company is using drones and robotics as part of its STEAM education curriculum, which they have identified as critical to helping today’s children acquire critical skills for tomorrow’s world – which include complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with other people, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility.
Presenting a paper at an education technology conference recently, Simon said his organisation used small drones as part of the coding lessons in the classroom to improve the above skills in students, as well as their self-motivation and perseverance.
Why drones for coding, you might ask? Well, because Simon says, that’s why. A drone technology enthusiast himself, Simon reckons drones are easy to use for coding lessons and in the STEAM education value chain because they are fun, practical, offer an intrinsic value in both the teacher and his students in that they offer an active, reward-based learning.
Inspire Africa are proud of the feat of having so far taught STEAM education using drones and robotics to more than 12,000 from 31 primary and high school students across Africa, and also equipping nearly 100 teachers with the needed skills to teach their students.
The company has also roped in the services of American education services provider, DroneBlocks to help with the drone-based online curriculum.
With hobby drones forming an ever-increasing portion of the market share, plenty of entrepreneurs world wide have recognised the potential for success and have jumped into drone design and manufacturing. When it comes to drones in the classroom, there are overseas companies stand out for their thoughtful approach:
DroneBlocks has created an online curriculum and a free app to help students embrace the fascinating technology behind drones. With a focus on real-world coding, the app features an intuitive drag-and-drop interface that lets students easily build a plan for their drone. The company also offers a DroneBlocks Membership that provides access to online courses that walk students through coding drones — ideal for independent and remote learning during the pandemic. DroneBlocks is led by Marisa Vickery, Dennis Baldwin and Dave Erath.
Sanjay Chandiram is an entrepreneur who has managed to do what many thought was impossible. He built a $40 million business by becoming a top seller on Amazon — a space notorious for being a Wild West of independent sellers and a place where no one can stay on top for long. But Chandiram did just that.
Chandiram, who immigrated to the United States from India in 2004, got his start by snapping up products from Toys R Us locations and reselling them at a higher price on Amazon. He recognized that the now-bankrupt chain didn’t provide a fun or even a convenient shopping experience. And what good are toys if they’re not fun from start to finish?
Chandiram founded Kaliber Global in part to make shopping for toys more exciting. Over the years, Kaliber Global has brought many exciting products to market, including drones. In 2018, Kaliber Global’s Force1 drone series was featured in Khloe Kardashian’s holiday gift guide. This combination of affordable tech, easy ordering and a nod from one of the biggest pop culture influencers in the country pushed the hobby drone into the public consciousness like never before.
Led by CEO Robert Elwood, Drobots Company lives by its motto, “Where Technology Meets Fresh Air.” Drobots provides summer camps and teen programs designed to harness the excitement surrounding drones in service of a curriculum that gets kids off the couch and outdoors to solve problems with technology. Gamified learning and teamwork are the guideposts as students explore STEAM methods in a fun, hands-on environment. In addition to its offerings with drones, Drobots Company also runs programs about game development, artificial intelligence (AI), animation and more.
When it comes to flying toys, nobody does it better than Steve and Jeff Rehkemper of Rehco. In the early 2000s, these toy inventors developed — and wisely patented — a control system for a flying vehicle that uses infrared signals that reflect off objects. This system allows the user to control the toy without ever touching it or using a complicated remote control, making it a flying toy that children could easily enjoy. Though the technology is common now, the Rehkempers did it first, and today they’ve introduced the Hovertech Aero-Puck by Top Secret Toys, a state-of-the-art self-flying drone that’s perfectly safe for indoor play.
There are many STEAM-related products and companies out there looking to cash in on the STEAM label, and not all STEAM toys are created equal. However, drones truly do deserve a long look from educators, as they are naturally engaging and can be used to teach such a wide variety of skills. From coding to examining vast infrastructure projects, drones are sure to earn a place in homes, science classrooms and makerspaces across the country — especially if these enterprising entrepreneurs have anything to say about it.