Come Fly with Me! The Power of Drones in the Classroom
The following is a guest post from educator Gabrielle Sipe. She is the K-12 Technology Integrator for the Littlestown Area School District, a Tynker Blue Ribbon Educator, and an Apple Teacher certified in iPads, MacBooks, and Swift Playgrounds. She started her career as a science teacher at the York County School of Technology before moving into technology integration. You can reach her on Twitter @SipeGabrielle.
This year I had the pleasure of being introduced to a very gifted third grade student. Earlier in the school year, I visited his classroom to complete an Hour of Code activity and he fell in love with coding! If you are unfamiliar with the Hour of Code, their website describes it as follows: “The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify ‘code,’ to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science.” He was so talented that he was getting 100% on his pre-tests and far exceeding third grade expectations. This resulted in his teacher asking me if I could come up with a coding activity we could work on twice a week for the remainder of the school year. I had access to the Tynker Drones 101 program and decided to test this with him before deploying it to our middle school students. He became my “pilot,” no pun intended!
We started working through the online curriculum to prepare him for flying the actual drone. He took to the calculations like a fish to water and was programming within minutes. He worked to adjust the speed to avoid being crushed by pillars, navigating courses, and even avoiding being blown up by evil spaceships! In order to complete the previously listed tasks, he needed to carefully measure distance and speed to successfully control the drone. Other skills he acquired along the way were persistence, grit, critical thinking, and creativity.
I was impressed to see a student work through something so difficult his first time. He showed persistence and grit by trying multiple times to code the drone through several tough courses. He struggled at first to time the drone to fly from point A to B without getting crushed. This type of perseverance is something that employers value in employees. He really showed grit when he got to the Medusa level and had to avoid the ‘evil spaceships” shooting him down. These levels took him several tries, but he never gave up. He had to adjust his way of thinking to successfully navigate these tough levels.
His critical thinking and creativity were exposed when he was asked to create and then navigate an obstacle course. We turned the entire library into an obstacle course because it was filled with natural obstacles like bookshelves, columns, and laminators. Then he decided he wanted more obstacles, so he used masking tape to line the floors with “chutes” the drone would fly through. He also decided to put some tape on the walls to create different heights the drone would have to fly over and under. These ideas were all his. I only provided him the room to use. His imagination let him create a drone world in which to play!
This student LOVED the obstacle course idea so much he wanted to share it with his classmates. We took turns bringing small groups to see what he was doing in hopes of inspiring others to want to learn to code. He created obstacle courses in the hallways, classrooms, and anywhere we could find to use! His classmates were so impressed that he wasn’t just flying a drone, but rather coding it. He showed them the code he wrote to make the drone move up, down, back, and forth, as well as advanced maneuvers such as flips and other stunts.
The most rewarding part of this experience was not only getting to code with this one student, but also inspiring several others to learn to code. Students have shown such a great interest that I will be hosting a Community Coding Event next year as well as a Hackathon. In the future, I would also like to be able to create an after-school coding club. I find these skills so invaluable because of how many jobs are currently unfilled in the programming world. I would love to inspire students to help fill those positions and make the world a better place!