How to Improve Education Programs With Drones

At the start of the new millennium, academic research identified a potential problem for students in the United States.

Compared to their counterparts around the world, American students were becoming less prepared for the modern global workforce. Studies identified a particular shortfall in understanding science and math-related concepts.

In response to the problem, in 2001, the U.S. National Science Foundation coined the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics). The acronym became the foundation for a new approach to education.  

The U.S. Dept. of Education states that:

  • only 16% of high school students are interested in a STEM career and have proven a proficiency in mathematics
  • 57% of high school freshmen who declare an interest in a STEM-related field lose interest before they graduate high school
  • There is an estimated need for at least 8.65 million workers in STEM-related jobs
  • The skills gap in the manufacturing sector is significant. It faces a big shortage of skilled employees – nearly 600,000.

STEM-focused curriculum exposes students to a deeper understanding of technical concepts and careers in the industries related to STEM disciplines. Students who become excited about working in STEM industries at an early age are more likely to attend college and receive a bachelor’s degree.  

Since the development of STEM almost 20 years ago, numerous countries have adopted programs similar to the one developed in the United States. STEM centered education now exists in the United Kingdom, France, China, Australia, South Korean, and Taiwan.

In recent years, drones have begun to play a significant role in STEM curriculum and education in general. Drones can help teach a wide range of concepts and life lessons that otherwise might be difficult for students to understand. Most UAVs are easy to learn to fly, and many are inexpensive, making them accessible to everyone.

How Drones Benefit Education

Drones — ground based, submersible and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — offer many benefits to educators and students.  

Drones, and UAVs in particular, are excellent complementary tools for STEM education. Students benefit from exposure to technology, show signs of increased information retention rates, and can experience learning on an individual or group level. Educators benefit from high-quality resources, such as coding software with professionally built lesson plans.

As a form of technology, drones are simple and sophisticated at the same time. Studies have shown that the use of technology aids in the retention of information. As students use technology, they are often participating in groups or, at the very least, actively engage in the learning process.

When students are exposed to UAVs in the classroom, they can learn complex concepts, such as aeronautics, in an easily digestible format. Understanding the physics behind what makes an aircraft fly might be challenging to teach, at some grade levels, using traditional methods.  

If instead of reviewing the mathematics behind lift vs. drag, the student learns while flying a drone and the concept is often much clearer.

Additionally, drones are excellent tools for teaching the fundamentals of design. For a drone to submerge, drive, or fly, it must operate within specific parameters. The unmanned aircraft’s design must perform in a manner that adheres to principles such as lift vs. drag.

With a 3D printer, students learn why individual components, such as propellers, are designed a certain way, and can experiment independently with deviations on the design and how it affects performance.

Exposure to programming is another benefit. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer programmers had a median pay in 2019 of $41.61 per hour.

Drones bring programming into the classroom. Several high-quality software programs and applications help teach coding with UAS.

Some programs allow educators and students to complete a series of tasks with their drones through coding instructions. Others allow for the drone itself to “learn” how to fly.

In the ideal situation, students can design their drone and program as part of a project-based learning unit. Young children can even grasp programming through the use of drag-and-drop “blocks” of code which when plugged together can make the drone actually perform tasks in front of their eyes.

From an artistic perspective, drones can expose students to photography and videography. Much of our learning process deals with changing perspectives and challenging what is known about the world around us. Drones may be the first time a student sees the world from another viewpoint.  

Some educators are finding success in using aerial photography to aid in teaching map-making, as tools to learning new languages, graphing mathematical concepts, and much more.

Drones work well as tools for both individuals and groups. Students can learn responsibility from flying on their own and, in the process, gain confidence.

In a group, teamwork can showcase how, as a unit, students who know next to nothing about drones can start from scratch and design, build, program, and fly their team’s creation.

Educators are tireless professionals always searching for new methods to make the educational process stronger. With the right guidance, drones are easily integrated into the classroom. The benefits of UAV technology, particularly as a part of a STEM-curriculum, are well worth the investment.

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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