Drone Teaching

Drones Can Be Fun—and Educational

“What are we going to use it for?” a teacher said as I flew our new drone up between the umbrellas on the quad and past the roof of the gymnasium into the low dispersed clouds, which he could see from his classroom window. The image from the camera was projected onto my iPhone, and I could see the newly planted trees in our quad, which was the only green for miles in the Mondrian concrete grid that serves as our neighborhood.

Likewise, the children and teachers in the quad all raised their heads, covering their eyes from the drone’s flight. When our custodians pulled up on their cart, my assistant principal whooped like one of the middle schoolers on my campus, and I couldn’t stop laughing.
This year, it is my responsibility to respond to inquiries such as the one above. As a teacher on special assignment who is now serving as curriculum coordinator for my school, I have the opportunity to learn about new initiatives and to design strategies for putting them into action. I work in the field of technology and project-based learning, and when I saw that our district had purchased a drone, I immediately began thinking about how I could use it in my classroom.

And I’m not the only one who has been thinking about this topic recently. The International Society for Technology in Education, in their book Drones in Education, emphasizes the need for involvement, while also recognizing the potential for academic gains from the use of drones. The SOAR paradigm, which stands for Safety (ethical and legal use), Operation (flying and maintenance), Active learning (engagement in problem-solving), and Research, is promoted in the book as a way to lead schools through the process of successfully implementing the technology (practical applications).


The following are some suggestions about how to put this technology into practice in the spirit of SOAR:

Engage pupils in kinesthetic cartography as part of their social studies curriculum. In chalk, draw a map of the world and instruct the kids to “migrate” or “conquer” areas to demonstrate the spread of various civilizations. It is important to photograph or videotape their movements to document historical changes.

Different points of view should be illustrated in language arts. Photoshoots in less-frequented locations of the school, followed by a writing assignment in which students speculate about where the shot was taken

3. Physical education: Fly the drone overhead during physical education class to capture pupils exhibiting a certain play. Students should watch the tape and then evaluate where they should have been and what they can do better in the future to improve their performance.

4. Mathematics: Construct a massive graph. Speaking with Jim Bentley, a middle school teacher and national faculty member of the Buck Institute for Education, who has lately realized the potential of using his new school drone to teach arithmetic, I learned more about his experiences. “Filmmaking is an important component of our curriculum,” he explained. We recently purchased a drone, which will be used to gather overhead video for films that we are producing in collaboration with our city’s integrated waste management department. We could also use our drone to practice landing on different ordered pairs if we drew a giant four-quadrant graph on the playground using chalk and then practiced landing on different ordered pairings. If we have a drone, the sky’s the limit in terms of what we could discover.”

The science of it all is to look at the micro and macro worlds to see what patterns are repeated in both.

6. Community Building: Create a video to share with others. On YouTube, we’ve all seen videos with subtitles. In this day and age, you no longer need to rent a crane (which is expensive) or borrow a wheelchair (which I did once) to utilize it as an inexpensive but rough Steadicam. Drones allow you to have a bird’s eye view of the school, which may be highly festive.

7. Up-to-date information: Debate. What about the question of privacy? In a world where firms like Amazon utilize drones to carry packages, what is the future of our workforce? Are drones a good technology, or are we one step closer to automaton dominance as a result of their existence?

8. Social and Emotional Learning: Drones provide students with opportunities to have a better understanding of themselves and their role in the world. This technology has the potential to assist pupils in visualizing themselves as being a part of something greater while simultaneously helping them maintain a healthy sense of perspective on their individuality. At the very least, for tweens and teens, experiencing a sense of being “smaller” may aid in their decision-making during such a self-centered stage of life.

As I stood there watching the drone hover approximately 60 feet above the earth, I couldn’t help but smile at the potential it represented. The folks in my immediate vicinity were nodding, immersed in the dreams I had shared with them.

And suddenly it came crashing down.

The drone plummeted to the ground like a stone from the sky. There was chaos as the other teachers dispersed, and the custodian’s cart trailed a cloud of dust behind it. My friends and family abandoned me to my broken shards of the plastic hull and destroyed academic aspirations.

I took the drone’s body to my principal’s office, wondering whether this was a warning that drones were not appropriate for use in schools. It could have been an indication that I shouldn’t be the one to fly the plane.