Discover Drones, STEM & The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Drones are innovating our lives, and their progress isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. From ecological research to providing aid to the most remote areas of the globe, drones are solving problems and providing solutions to some of our nation’s toughest challenges — particularly when it comes to education.

In today’s classrooms, more and more students are seeking higher education. Drop-out statistics are at a national low, and university applications are at an all-time high. The facts are that students are eager to learn, and they want to pursue degrees that prepare them for flourishing lives. This idea was realized early on in 2010 by the Obama administration when the first discussions took place of how to best provide students with equal opportunities for future success.

Known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), this law builds upon key areas of progress in recent years, placing a strong emphasis on the use of evidence-based activities, strategies and interventions in the classroom. This emphasis is one of the major differences between past educational laws, and it’s one that educators and administrators are today using to evaluate emerging learning products.

As a resource for educators looking to evaluate the Discover Drones materials available from PCS Edventures, this document provides:

  1. an overview of the ESSA
  2. an explanation of how Discover Drones falls into the fourth tier of ESSA evidence evaluation, and
  3. an exploration of the studies, resources and research supporting that claim

What is the ESSA?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was a new education law signed by President Obama on December 10th, 2015. This law was a bipartisan measure that represented great news for students across the nation as it reauthorized the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students (U.S. Dept. of Ed).

Following the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, a law (originally scheduled for revision in 2007) where prescriptive requirements became increasingly unworkable for schools and educators, the ESSA was the Obama administration’s answer to educators and families asking for better focus on the clear goal of fully preparing all students for success in college and careers.

The ESSA, among other things:

  • Advances equity by upholding critical protections for America's disadvantaged and high-need students.
  • Requires—for the first time—that all students in America be taught to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers.
  • Ensures that vital information is provided to educators, families, students, and communities through annual statewide assessments that measure students' progress toward those high standards.
  • Helps to support and grow local innovations—including evidence-based and place-based interventions developed by local leaders and educators—consistent with Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods
  • Maintains an expectation that there will be accountability and action to effect positive change in our lowest-performing schools, where groups of students are not making progress, and where graduation rates are low over extended periods of time (U.S. Dept. of Ed).

Since its inception, the ESSA has been working well to prepare all students for a successful future, a sentiment and longstanding goal of PCS Edventures. As developers of STEM learning solutions, it has always been our dream to inspire learners across the nation and around the globe. From developing lifelong interest in STEM to opening new vocational pathways, we’ve always placed providing the best future possible for students at the top of our to-do list. We started this over 30 years ago when Pat’s Computer School (PCS) first opened its doors, and we continue to do that today, especially when it comes to our drone learning initiatives.

A Tier 4 Assertion of Discover Drones

Under ESSA, there are four tiers of evidence.

Tier 1 – Strong Evidence: supported by one or more well-designed and well-implemented randomized control experimental studies.

Tier 2 – Moderate Evidence: supported by one or more well-designed and well-implemented quasi-experimental studies.

Tier 3 – Promising Evidence: supported by one or more well-designed and well-implemented

correlational studies (with statistical controls for selection bias).

Tier 4 – Demonstrates a Rationale: practices that have a well-defined logic model or theory of action, are supported by research, and have ongoing efforts to examine the effects of the activity or curriculum on relevant student outcomes.

The Discover Drones materials from PCS Edventures quality as Tier 4: a well-defined theory of action, supported by research and with ongoing efforts to examine the effects of the activity or curriculum on relevant student outcomes.

As a STEM learning solution, Discover Drones promotes exciting, hands-on learning, which has been shown to have a positive effect on learning, engagement and 21st-century skills.(1) As an easy entry point for teachers, drones are highly engaging, encourage critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity, and are critical for college and career STEM readiness.(2)

Engaging with drones in a learning environment also showed a positive effect on student perception of STEM studies,(3) and in a side-by-side study, it’s shown that students who learn through hands-on lessons in drones perform better on tests than students who were taught with conventional learning methods.(4)

1. Bass, K., Yumol, D., & Hazer, J. (2011). The Effect of RAFT Hands-on Activities on Student Learning, Engagement, and 21st Century Skills. Raft Student Impact Study.

2. Carnahan, C., Crowley, K., Hummel, L. & Sheehy ‎, L. (2016). New Perspectives on Education: Drones in the Classroom. In G. Chamblee & L. Langub (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 1920-1924). Savannah, GA, United States: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

3. Aji, C., Khan, M., (2017). Impact of Programming Robots and Drones on STEM Attitudes. American Society for Engineering Education.

4. Fokides, E., Papadakis, D. & Kourtis-Kazoullis, V. J. Comput. Educ. (2017) 4: 339.

Exploring the Research

The Effects of RAFT Hands-On Activities on Student Learning, Engagement, and 21st Century Skills

Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT) is an educational resource company offering STEM activities, resources and educator training. Their activity kits and idea sheets have been successfully utilized by over 8,000 educators in the Bay Area. In 2017, an independent research study evaluated RAFT’s hands-on learning activities and found that they engage students and improve academic performance. Rockman et al., a respected education research firm,

“concluded a study demonstrating that RAFT’s hands-on teaching materials help students gain subject knowledge, apply that knowledge to solve “real world” problems and improve their academic performance. The study was conducted in 17 Bay Area 5th and 6th grade classrooms comprised of students from diverse socioeconomic, ethnic and language backgrounds. RAFT materials used in the study focused on important math concepts and are representative of RAFT hands-on education kits in general (Dave, 2018).”

The RAFT teaching materials the study focused on are similar to PCS products in that each learning solution centers around hands-on instruction as a facilitator of extended learning. PCS STEM programs promote exciting, hands-on learning to develop scientific inquiry, problem-solving, communication, reflection and collaboration skills. With content designed to integrate instructional goals into application-based learning experiences, PCS hands-on learning solutions mirror those of RAFT’s in that they equally help students gain subject knowledge to be applied to solving “real world” problems. By providing students with the freedom to experiment and design, PCS products have students gain the tangible benefits that come from frequent analysis and reflection, increasing retention and engagement, all while adhering to 21st-Century Skills, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards.

In Discover Drones, students are tasked with building, configuring and learning to fly a drone. With hands-on lessons crossing multiple learning platforms, one of the primary objectives of Discover Drones is to challenge students to explore and expand their knowledge of drones by asking them how they would use drones to solve global issues. By asking students to solve real-world problems, Discover Drones positively affects academic performance through scientific inquiry and hands-on learning with emerging technology.

Hands-on learning has consistently been shown to be a better facilitator of education than conventional teaching methods. For more information on how hands-on learning promotes engagement, visit the Drones and Hands-On Education blog.

New Perspectives on Education: Drones in the Classroom

As Carnahan, et al., say, “the use of drones in the classroom is an emerging trend in education. This technology is growing in popularity in the workplace so it is critical to incorporate these technologies into instructional practices so that students are college and career ready. Additionally, these quad-copters are highly engaging for students to use in the classroom. The integration of drones provides students with STEM technology to inspire critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. The ability to integrate a singular technology into a classroom that has a broad range of applications is beneficial for students and has an easy entry point for teachers” (Carnahan, 2016).

As a growing technology, drones are continuing to invigorate industries. From delivery to search and rescue, every day, UAVs are bringing new innovations to light. In the Carnahan paper, the authors explore this idea, centering in on how critical it is that these new drone technologies make their way into the educational landscape. In order to prepare the minds of today for the landscape of the future, students need to have full access to the technologies they will be interacting within the workplace. Not only are drones preparing learners for the drone-centered careers of the future, but they are providing students with new, engaging ways to interact with STEM.


Impact of Programming Robots and Drones on STEM Attitudes

The Khan and Aji paper presents the results of “a one-week long summer camp for middle school students. The objective was to impact the attitudes of the participants towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The participants of the camp were from underrepresented groups from two rural school districts. The camp provided opportunities to the participants to learn programming of robots for a maze running competition. This activity was followed by learning how to program quadcopter drones. Several teams of participants then programmed their drones to fly an obstacle course to compete in a ‘drone-derby’. The research design was a within-subject pre-post design. Participants of the camp were administered a validated math and science attitude survey at the beginning and after completion of the camp. This survey measured several dimensions of attitudes. The differences in attitudes between male and female participants were observed. In addition, a survey to determine the effectiveness of the camp was given to the students at the end of the camp. This work was supported by a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)” (Aji, 2017).

The results of the study show a positive effect on learning with all participants. Through the programming of robots and drones, participants in the camp began showcasing components of computational thinking, and after the completion of the post-test, the data showed a positive movement in the attitudes of camp participants towards STEM, particularly in the attitude of female participants towards the notion that one cannot get along in life without science. In general, the participants showed a positive change in all the attitudinal dimensions, with a statistically significant positive change for the males in math enjoyment and math and science instruction (Aji, 2017). As an important distinction, this study showcases how hands-on learning with drones increases student attitudes towards STEM.


To Drone or not to Drone? Results of a Pilot Study in Primary School Settings

“This study presents the results of a pilot project in which the use of drones for teaching primary school students was examined. In order to implement the project, a framework for their integration in teaching was developed, based on contemporary learning theories. Also, three short interventions were planned and carried out. Although teaching units from the mathematics, physics, and geography courses were selected, the underlying topic was common, namely, metric measurement conversions. The target group was 40 fifth-grade primary school students, divided into two groups. The first group was taught with the use of drones while the second was taught conventionally. Data were collected by means of evaluation sheets and a questionnaire. Results indicated that students in the drones group outperformed students in the conventional teaching group in the Maths evaluation sheet and in all the delayed post-tests. In the other two cases (Physics and Geography evaluation sheets), the results were the same. Students’ attitudes toward drones were highly positive” (Fokides, 2017).

As shown through this and multiple other studies, hands-on learning consistently outperforms conventional teaching methods. When drones are added into the picture, students not only perform better, but they have opportunities to engage with technology that is continually becoming a larger part of modern life. When drones are introduced to the classroom, students learn better and build connections STEM and drones, opening future career and interest pathways.


Tier 4: Demonstrating a Rationale

By building a learning program that adheres to 21st-century skills and NGSS and ISTE standards, Discover Drones is a research-backed, hands-on STEM solution which positively increases student STEM outlook, retention, engagement and learning. With a well-defined theory of action, the product speaks for itself. Whether it’s challenging students to solve global issues or building lifelong STEM connections through a modular, open-sourced program, Discover Drones is actively working to prepare students for success in college and in their careers. Just as the ESSA outlines, it’s a learning solution that, regardless of environment, provides students with equal access to emerging technological and vocational pathways.

On top of meeting ESSA Tier 4 guidelines, Discover Drones is downright fun. As a build from the ground up kit, it’s a program which fully and safely introduces students to the world of UAVs. By building, configuring and learning to fly with an educational drone, students also spend time practicing their piloting prowess on a flight simulator, interacting in groups, developing critical thinking skills, guiding their own inquiry and developing their own real-world solutions.

Across the nation, hundreds of educators are actively preparing their students for the future of drones, setting them up for lifelong STEM success. Are you ready to do the same? For more information on hands-on learning or how PCS Edventures products foster the ideal learn-by-doing environment, check out our STEMpower Webinar Series. With past and upcoming webinars hosting a wide range of topics and experts in the field, these recordings have everything you need to put your students on the right path towards 21st-century learning and the careers of the future.


To learn more about bringing Discover Drones to your learners or to speak with a STEM Program Specialist, contact, call 800-429-3110 or read more about it here.


If you’re interested in learning about or attending any intro or advanced drone professional development courses, head over to PCS’ UAV University:



Aji, C., Khan, M., (2017). Impact of Programming Robots and Drones on STEM Attitudes. American Society for Engineering Education.

Bass, K., Yumol, D., & Hazer, J. (2011). The Effect of RAFT Hands-on Activities on Student Learning, Engagement, and 21st Century Skills. Raft Student Impact Study.

Carnahan, C., Crowley, K., Hummel, L. & Sheehy ‎, L. (2016). New Perspectives on Education: Drones in the Classroom. In G. Chamblee & L. Langub (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 1920-1924). Savannah, GA, United States: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Dave. (2018, May 21). STUDENT IMPACT STUDY - RAFT. Retrieved August 22, 2018, from

Fokides, E., Papadakis, D. & Kourtis-Kazoullis, V. J. Comput. Educ. (2017) 4: 339.

U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Retrieved August 20, 2018, from



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