Using “Drones” for Integrated STEM Lessons

Today at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, the students had their first experience flying radio controlled quad-rotor model aircraft, popularly known as “drones.” See my post from last summer on what drones really are, but we will use the term here. We used them today as part of an integrated set of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lessons. Our focus in science right now is on the Earth and its surface features, including plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, weathering, and erosion. The aerospace topic that I linked to this science topic is remote sensing, using aircraft and spacecraft to observe the surface of Earth. To prepare students to learn about remote sensing, we first studied wave motion and the electromagnetic spectrum. I explained this approach fully in my last post. We fit the model drone flying into this integrated learning in a few ways. First, the students learned the science of how a drone flies when we studied helicopters last fall, and we reviewed helicopter flying recently with flight simulator lessons and class discussions. They also have been studying remote sensing methods, and they understand how drones provide a remote sensing platform. The students followed standard steps that I require with every use of technology in the classroom: 1) study the operating procedures and the safety rules, 2) examine the technology up close and discuss the procedures, and 3) use the technology in a safe environment with everyone getting hands on experience. The specific steps we did were to read over the drone specifications and review model aircraft safety procedures last night and take a quiz today, then pick up the drone and look at all the parts in the classroom today while discussing safe flying operations, then go outside and fly while following Academy of Model Aeronautics safe flying procedures. For the engineering aspect of the lesson, we looked at the design of the drone in detail and discussed it. Next year these students will fly drones as their main focus for the aviation unit, and they will build an improved model of a drone. Finally, for math, we have been covering linear equations and algebraic problem solving, so I asked the students in the warmup to find the wavelength of the drone’s transmitter frequency, listed as 2.4 Gigahertz. The students had to think back to our study of the electromagnetic spectrum and remember to use the speed of light, approximately 300 million meters per second, and calculate the wavelength as we have practiced in class. They did this quickly and successfully. The following photos show the students flying the drones outside on our school playing field:


The drones have a simple camera, so these photos were taken by the drones of the students flying them:


Author: Bryan Holmes, Physics & Math Teacher, STEM Competition Mentor

Starting at Thomaston High School in Thomaston, Connecticut, in fall of 2018.

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