STEM Learning Using Code-able Drones

The 8th graders in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering have just completed a six-week project where they learned to code and fly small, indoor quad-rotor helicopters, or “drones.” These drones are essentially flying robots. They are Codrones by Robolink, a startup company featuring products for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning. I started using them with students last year, and we spent about one month with them, but this year I wanted to extend this time to give the students more opportunity and challenge–this ended up working out very well. The Codrone comes with a kit to make a small controller which can be used to fly the Codrone manually, but mainly features an Arduino device to allow the user to code the drone, hence the name, Codrone. Students first go to the Robolink website for tutorials on the Codrone and the Arduino programming. Then they download and use an Arduino coding platform on a laptop, then upload the code to the Arduino device and into the Codrone. Students learned to code the Codrone to fly on a set path.

I gave the 8th graders a culminating challenge to fly the Codrone around an obstacle to land on a small platform–this setup simulated a real-world scenario where an astronaut was hiking in a remote area to simulate conditions on Mars, but slipped and fell into a ravine from which a helicopter could not rescue him. A hiking rescue team was dispatched, but would take several hours to get to him. In the meantime, he was suffering from the fall and needed emergency medical supplies. The Codrone was the delivery vehicle for these emergency supplies. One crew managed to code their drone to fly and land within six inches, or about one simulated body length, from the wounded astronaut–they are featured in the photo in this post. Other crews did almost as well. Overall, the students found the scenario fun and challenging. Here are some comments the students had in their reflection after we concluded this project:

Overall I believe that working with the Codrone’s was good because I learned a lot. My crew especially learned a lot about teamwork and persistence. My crew had a lot of issues with code and having persistence and working as a team really helped us…We realized coding is not easy at all, and you have to code exactly what you want the drone to do because otherwise it will not work. My favorite part of the project was probably just when we actually got something done. Even if it was the smallest thing it made my group proud since we had a lot of issues. We had a lot of struggles but it was just great when we could actually get something done. 

Overall I learned a lot from participating in CoDrone. I learned not only about coding but also about teamwork, and how helpful it can be to have multiple people looking at the same code when trying to figure it out. Before beginning this project, I had very little knowledge of how to code, what coding was and what kinds of commands/variables could be used while coding. After we finished the final fly-off challenge though, i have a much clearer understanding of coding.

I learned a lot from the CoDrone experience. At first, it was hard to even get it off the ground. But we got through that problem in the first couple days. Our next goal was to get it turning and we were able to get it to do what we wanted. Lastly, we were challenged with doing the obstacle course. Our closest distance was 1.5 ft away from the target. I mainly learned that getting frustrated to easily never helps anything. We worked better when we were all calm and focused. My favorite part of this process was actually getting close to the target. I know that’s probably everyone’s favorite part but it was really exciting.

I learned a lot about coding while doing Co-Drone. I learned about how coding works, and how to understand what each line of code does. I think this EDP took a lot of teamwork and persistence since it was so challenging. I think that it was really important to understand that coding a machine to do something is very difficult because it is almost like learning another language (Code). Although our crew struggled with a lot doing this, in the end, we did really good. It just took a little time to get the angle and distance right but with a lot of trials we were able to get it about 6 inches away.

CoDrone was very useful and helped me to learn a lot about coding. I was also very happy with the turnout of the EDP. This EDP allowed me to be able to see how an actual coder might work. Whenever I hear about coding, the fact that the coder must be very accurate with their code would always come up. I found this to be true as an extra space or a missing semi colon could easily change the outcome of the situation. I also really liked how there was a final challenge and that the situation that it was based upon a real life situation. Overall I really liked this challenge and i would participate in this again.

When coding, tinkering, testing, and experiment with CoDones, I was able to learn information about coding that I would not be able to learn otherwise. To start, I had very little experience with any type of coding. Since I was able to gain experience with C++, I have an entirely new view on it. Most importantly, I learned that coding is essentially just logic. If you tell the drone to do something, it will do it, but it can’t tell the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ code. As for my favorite part, I liked the final fly-off. It was great to see all of what has been worked on for 2 months culminate together for a single flight. With improvements, there could be specific class periods dedicated to specific things, like actually learning to code or how to repair the drone, but most of it should be structured how it was already done. After this experience, I can now say that I done something few other people have.

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Students Design, Build, Launch Model Rockets to Augment Learning

During the last few weeks of the school year, the 7th graders in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering have been learning about rockets for  the aerospace component of the curriculum. Students have researched and learned about various rockets, they have studied how rockets work, and they have designed launch systems for specific requirements. To augment their learning, they have built and launched Estes Alpha model rockets. Before launching, every student had to pass a National Association of Rocketry safety test (minimum score = 100%). Then each student crew built two rockets and learned how to safely launch them. Additionally, students learned how to make and use an inclinometer, a tool to measure the angle of the rocket’s highest point versus the horizon, then use this angle to calculate the rocket’s altitude using simple trigonometry. During launches, the crews that were not launching their rockets were tasked to measure the altitude. Starting this week, students will begin an engineering design project to design, build and launch an improved model rocket that each crew makes from scratch and that goes higher than the Alpha rockets did. When these students return in the fall, they will get a chance to do one more model rocket project as they study the physics of rocket flight. Therefore, academy students become well versed in rockets both through research projects and through hands on projects.

Here are photos of the students building their Alpha rockets, displaying their rockets, preparing to launch their rocket, then using the inclinometers:

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Academy 8th Graders Doing Culminating STEM Activities

With about a month of school left, Ms. Garavel and I have been giving the 8th grade students in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering various culminating activities. These students have been in the academy for two years, and they are now very capable of rigorous, thoughtful work that integrates the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts and skills they have learned. In science, the students are wrapping up the last unit on earth science that focused on astronomy, especially of the Solar System. In math, most 8th graders will finish their last unit in the next week or two, then those taking high school-level classes, such as Algebra or Geometry, will take a final exam on June 14th. In the Principles of Aerospace Science Class, students are integrating these science and math concepts and skills in a unit on air navigation. Students learn first how to navigate by landmarks using pilotage, then using speed and distance and time using deductive or “dead” reckoning, then learn about celestial and radio navigation as ways to provide a fix, and finally they see how modern navigation systems have automated most of these skills. Here are photos of the students doing a dead reckoning lesson on the flight simulator:

Another culminating activity that the 8th graders are doing is to code and fly small indoor drones called Codrones by Robolink. Students have learned how to code an Arduino device that controls the Codrone, and now they are preparing to do a challenge where they will program the Codrone to fly a specific course. The course is laid out to simulate a rescue mission where the Codrone will deliver emergency medical supplies to a stranded hiker. All of the culminating activities the students do will help strengthen their learning over the past two years.

Academy Students Celebrate Completion of Sundial Project

Today students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering celebrated the completion of a sundial project started by last year’s academy class of 2017. The 8th graders last year got an assignment to design a sundial that could be a monument outside the academy to their class, the first group of students to complete the academy two-year program. The assignment integrated their studies of astronomy and the Solar System in 8th grade science, their study of circles in geometry, and their study of air navigation and celestial navigation in aerospace science. All six student crews (groups of four to five students) designed a sundial, then they presented their designs along with a scale model to Mr. Dias, Assistant Principal at that time. He chose the winning design. Then the winning crew had to present the design and a full-scale model to Dr. Collins, Superintendent, who approved the construction of the sundial. The district staff then helped us find an appropriate contractor for the sundial’s pavers, the Homer C. Godfrey Company of Bridgeport, and a contractor to install them this spring, Stonehedge Landscaping of Newington. Today we did a ribbon cutting ceremony to dedicate the opening of the sundial, almost a full year after the students initially designed it. The ribbon cutters were the original crew of student designers: Richard Greczkowski, Alek Jorge, Sydney Morgenthau, and Olivia Mullings. See my post from last year describing this project. After the ribbon cutting, they all said a few words expressing their amazement and pleasure at how well the sundial turned out.

Here are photos of today’s ribbon cutting, as well as a series of photos taken each hour on the hour to show the sundial’s almost perfect accuracy.

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Academy Students Win Awards at Connecticut Invention Convention

Seven students from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering competed in the state finals competition at Connecticut Invention Convention on Saturday, April 27th, at UCONN in Storrs, Connecticut. Of these seven, four students earned awards and scored among the top inventors. Nevertheless, all seven deserve recognition–there were over 17,000 students statewide that began as competitors in local Invention Conventions, and only about 850 made it to the state finals, or about 5%. Therefore, as the leaders of Connecticut Invention Convention stated during the opening and closing ceremonies, all of the students present at the competition had showed success in making it there. Ms. Garavel and I are proud of all of them!

7th grade Academy winner:
Julia Remiszewski – Bungee Buckle (bungee cord device to hold swim goggles on better) – Recognized Inventor Award.

8th grade Academy winners:
Jasmine Barber – EasyClean (cube of non-toxic chemicals that clean greasy pots and pans) – Recognized Inventor Award.

Alyse Karanian – SolarShade (window shade or blinds that have solar cells to absorb heat and generate electricity) – Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering Award, Eversource Energy Award, and Stanley Black & Decker Award.

Vidhisha Thakkar – Flow Alert (water activated alarm to warn of a flood) – Recognized Inventor Award and Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering Award.

We will know within the next week if any of these students were selected to progress to the National Invention Convention.

Here are photos of the Academy students at the Connecticut Invention Convention:

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Building Science Learning by Having Students Teach

Eighth grade students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering are beginning an earth science unit that focuses on the Solar System. To help them build and reinforce their learning, Ms. Garavel had the students design a series of activities that they could use to teach fifth graders about the Moon. The project required the eighth graders to research a topic, then design a fun way to teach that topic. They then hosted a series of fifth grade student tours where the younger students rotated through the activities. All the students agreed the activities were educational and fun.

The seventh grade students have also been learning by teaching. They invited their seventh grade teachers to the academy and taught them how to fly the flight simulators. This reinforced their knowledge of flight, as they had to explain how to operate and control an airplane.

Here are some photos of these events–first are the 8th graders teaching the 5th graders about the Moon:

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Here are the 7th graders teaching their teachers to fly the flight simulators:

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Academy Students Advance to State Finals in Connecticut Invention Convention

Eight students from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering who were selected as the best inventors at the Newington Invention Convention on March 1st competed in the Regional Connecticut Invention Conventions over the past two weekends. Out of these eight students, seven were selected to advance to the state finals at Connecticut Invention Convention. The state competition is Saturday, April 28, 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM in UCONN’s Gampel Pavilion. This is the second year in a row that seven out of eight academy students, or 88%, have advanced to state finals–the overall percentage of students who advance from the regionals to the state finals is less than 50%. I believe one reason for our high success rate is the academy’s integrated curriculum that includes quite a bit of engineering design, and another reason is that we just have great students!

These state finalists are:

7th graders:
Ryan Claffey – Field Tripper – organizes materials for students on a field trip.
Eli Johnson – Solar Water Purifier – purifies water using just sunlight.
Julia Remiszewski – Bungee Buckle – holds swim goggles in place better than a strap.
Jack Stair – EZ Jacket – allows people with disability to put on and fasten a jacket easily.

8th graders:
Jasmine Barber – EasyClean – uses safe chemicals to thoroughly clean dirty pots & pans.
Alyse Karanian – SolarShade – uses solar cells on window shades to generate electricity.
Vidhisha Thakkar – Flow Alert – provides a warning during a flood.

Here are photos of the state finalists just before they competed at the Regional Invention Convention:

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