The Best Drone for STEM Education

So, you want to bring cutting-edge STEM solutions to your students. You’ve leafed through pamphlets and sales catalogs, weighed the pros and cons of different programs and finally decided that this is the semester you bring the people what they want — drones.

For the past few years, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been taking over the hobby stores and Christmas wish-lists, and it seems like every week there’s a fresh news story about an incredible feat of a drone. They capture stunning aerial photography, aide in online shopping delivery, rescue lost hikers and bring innovative solutions to agriculture issues — in short, drones are cementing themselves as the incredibly versatile tools of our not-too-distant-future.

Now, on top of being thrilling,100mph manipulatable and modifiable machines, drones provide high school and college students with hands-on experience in technologies they are actually interested in — only, there’s one problem.

With so many drone products on the market, how do you know what drone is right for you, your program and your students?

Well, you’re in luck! We’ve done the work for you, and assembled a comparison chart of the industry leaders in drone education. Showcasing price, age range, curriculum, first-person view and so much more, The Best Drone for STEM Education charts are your answer to the proverbial question, “Where do I begin?”

Drone Comparisons

 

Outdoor Drones

This comparison chart takes a side-by-side look at the most popular STEM drones on the market. With an analysis of drone capabilities, curriculum options, professional development and price, you'll be flying in no time!


 

Indoor Drones

Take a look at another class of drones with this comparison of indoor fliers. Contrast the options for programming, photography, curriculum and professional development to choose which drone is best for you.


Price

When you’re looking at the list prices on the chart, there are a lot of variables to consider:

  • How many drones am I getting?
  • How involved is the kit?
  • Are my students interacting with, building and configuring? Or is this a ready-to-fly drone?
  • How safe is the product?
  • Can the drones fly using first-person view?
  • When I open the package, does it have everything I need to get started, or is a trip to the tech-store in order?
  • Will I need to develop my own curriculum?

After weighing your options, there is one final question to ask yourself: “what package is going to provide my students with the best educational experience?” Now, this is a crucial inquiry — a positive, immersive drone experience not only has a beneficial impact on a pupil’s learning, but it sets them up for the extensive future of drones. From career opportunities, technical functionality and checkmarks on employer applications, you’re preparing your students for the careers of the future. We are in the Age of Technology, and the workforce is struggling to keep up with the world’s innovations. To give your students a leg-up in the technical career race and to help them reach their full potential, they need a thorough introduction and hands-on experience with drones.

Number of Drones and Age Range

In these categories, it’s important to consider your students; how big is your class size, and what age range do your students fall into? A drone with elementary school applications is an excellent introduction to the world’s fastest-growing technology, but it probably wouldn’t serve as more than a toy in a high school advanced robotics setting. On the other hand, a very advanced and involved drone product won’t reach its full potential in an early education setting. Drones are also invigorating collegiate classrooms, which makes it even more important that your program is fully addressing the needs of your learners. 

Students Build, Tune and Configure

When you’re searching for the right drone package for your students, an important feature to consider is the buildability of the drone. If you’re looking for a ready-to-fly drone, a modular quadcopter probably isn’t the best idea, just as a drone not meant to be deconstructed doesn’t serve its full purpose in a robotics classroom looking to investigate. By utilizing a STEM drone that can be taken apart, rebuilt, tuned and configured, you’re providing your students with a fully immersive educational experience. It’s these experiences that, down the road, translate to career interest opportunities. Maybe a student’s eureka moment will come from tinkering with your quadcopter, or, perhaps building a modular drone will spark the fire of an engineer-in-training.

In Discover Drones, students experience this with RubiQ, the world’s first modular, open-source educational drone. RubiQ is tried, tested and ready for the unrelenting hands of pilots-in-training.  As a build-from-the-ground-up kit, RubiQ gives students unparalleled, hands-on STEM experiences in areas like robotics, electronics, wave dynamics and physics. With built-in safety features such as a programmable failsafe, return to home and altitude and position hold, RubiQ is the perfect student introduction to the wide world of winged robotics! To get a taste of what drones can do for your classroom, check out the PCS Edventures Instructor Drone Kit, a single drone package intended for professional development and a hands-on look at the power of UAV education.

Before choosing your drone, it’s also an excellent idea to look at how it’s assembled. Being that a quadcopter’s primary control board functions just like a computer’s motherboard, a classroom reconstruction or repair might require soldering, or the drone may not be rebuildable at all. If this is the case and your classroom is A.) lacking a soldering station and B.) tight on funds, a single-use drone won’t be the best idea. If you’re looking for a UAV that can be constructed and broken down multiple times, allowing it to be used over many years, look towards the units that don’t require soldering and whose parts are conducive to quick and easy replacement.

Safety Features

Once you’ve narrowed it down to the right age range and drone assembly type, you need to consider the safety of your learners.

To examine safety, we need to first explore a quadcopter (the most common type of drone) for what it really is:

“A quadcopter, also called a quadrotor helicopter or quadrotor, is a multirotor helicopter that is lifted and propelled by four rotors. Quadcopters are classified as rotorcraft, as opposed to fixed-wing aircraft, because their lift is generated by a set of rotors (vertically oriented propellers).”

To comply with personal drone use rules, quadcopters must weigh less than 55 lbs. Now, while most recreational and educational drones are near the lighter side, there is still a significant amount of weight that the propellers need to counteract to get the drone off the ground. Add in speeds reaching upwards of 80mph, and you’ve created a mobile, airborne machine with four propellers spinning fast enough to split skin and cause serious injury.

But, just like anything else that’s fun, there's a certain amount of risk taken by participants. In the case of drones, the risks associated with flight are easily mitigated with reliable and concise safety procedures. For example, the PCS Edventures Discover Drones educational package includes everything you need to place safety as your highest priority. Starting with clearly stated warnings on all curriculum and student pages, the kit includes safety glasses, LiPo battery security, pre-flight safety checklists and a multitude of other policies to ensure student well-being. When a kit integrates safety protocols into the daily use and operations of the drone, instructors focus their time on one thing — education.

The common types of safety features found on an educational drone:

  • Programmable Failsafe
  • Return to Home
  • Altitude Hold
  • Position Hold
  • Trainer Radios
  • Prop Guards

    Curriculum

    Your drone kit’s curriculum needs to be as cutting-edge as the technology — the easiest way to dull your quadcopter-learning is by bogging it down with boring, excessively lengthy curriculum. In the classroom, you want students to have a hands-on, immersive experience. It has to be something they can remember, that they can adapt to and build upon, all without spending hours inside of an impersonal textbook.

    In the Discover Drones package, we’ve managed to spread the drone curriculum across multiple platforms, integrating the crucial lessons into the entire flying experience as a learn-as-you-progress solution. One of the unique learning opportunities comes from an educational, interactive online app called Droneology which takes learners through the ins-and-outs of drone practices, regulations and history, giving them a well-rounded bank of unmanned aerial knowledge. Along with the online learning platform, Discover Drones utilizes the innovative student curriculum known as LABCards, learning about the drone is as fun as speeding through the sky!

    The LABCard approach provides a tool which enables a more student-directed classroom experience. This experience empowers educators to provide more facilitation, coaching and mentoring as students work independently and in their own fashion. Almost all learning environments, including after-school programs, clubs and a wide variety of classroom models, can utilize LABCard curriculum.

    With the PCS LABCards, educators can take advantage of a differentiated instruction model where challenging concepts are broken down so students can quickly master skills and progress through the curriculum. Each LABCard is assigned a point value for quick and easy assessment of progress through each level and to provide students with immediate recognition of their accomplishments.

     

     

    In the LABCard projects, students are introduced to new drone skills and concepts. Each LABCard is highly flexible, so, depending on your teaching style and the learning environment where you work, you might choose to lead a mini-lesson that guides the group through each project before breaking apart to explore the challenges, or in a more student-driven environment, students can read through the projects independently or in groups. This arrangement leaves you free to serve as a coach and facilitator. If students aren’t sure what to do next, pick up the LABCard and read it through with them, modeling the initial curiosity and openness to learning you want to cultivate in all your students. Don’t feel constrained to using one model exclusively — if you see an opportunity to expand on a particularly interesting topic or notice that students need more support in a few areas, step in and take the lead. Other times, step back and let your students guide their own learning.

    To keep student interest piqued, each card includes a mix of different activities for learners to flow between. From whole group discussions and time for teams to work together on their drones to individual Droneology quizzes and flight simulator practice, each activity is unique and engaging.

    Racing through the skies at 80mph, making pinpoint turns, surveying landscapes, capturing stunning photography — drones are high-octane education at its finest. They’re interactive, exciting and keep student interest and interaction at an all-time high. Let the drone do its thing — emerging technology deserves innovative curriculum; we'll help you make sure your teaching resources as every bit as engaging and effective as the drones themselves.

    Head to the Drone Careers of the Future blog to learn how UAVs are preparing learners for the vocations of tomorrow.

    Flight Simulator, FPV & GPS

    Along with learning the ins-and-outs of a drone, students need time to practice their piloting skills! The Air Force doesn’t immediately put pilots-in-training into a cockpit, just as you shouldn’t hand a radio controller to a novice student pilot. This is where flight simulator software comes in. Professional drone pilots log hundreds of hours on flight simulators — they want to keep their skills sharp. On a simulator, you can try out risky maneuvers without worrying about obliterating a brand new drone. The FPV (first-person view) displayed by the simulator even matches the perspective seen by drone racers wearing FPV goggles.

    Now, one of the most unique qualities of drones is their ability to give pilots a birds-eye view of their surroundings. Nearly all drones can be outfitted with a camera to record video or take pictures, but only a handful of packages are capable of true FPV. When flying FPV, a pilot wears a pair of goggles — similar in design to virtual reality goggles — which have a direct link to the camera feed coming from the drone. This feed is real-time, showing the pilot exactly what the drone is seeing, as it sees it. Utilized in drone racing, FPV has also revolutionized surveillance systems, agriculture, video production and rescue efforts. With an overhead view of areas that were once untouched by humans, drones and FPV have made previously taxing tasks exceptionally easier — not to mention, much cheaper. Compared to the funds needed for a helicopter rental, drones are making an impact simply through their simplistic affordability.

    Along with FPV, only a handful of drones offer GPS functionality. While it’s not needed to get a drone into the air, a quadcopter with GPS connectivity opens the doors to increased safety and educational opportunities. In Discover Drones, students spend time learning about the science behind satellites and GPS. Here’s an excerpt from what students encounter in the curriculum:

    The GPS units connected to drones are actually GPS receivers. The true GPS is the Global Positioning System, which is a network of around 31 satellites (the number varies over time) that orbit the Earth and transmit high-frequency, lower power radio signals. As electromagnetic radiation, these signals travel at the speed of light. They can easily pass through clouds, glass or plastic, but are blocked or deflected by solids like tall buildings or leafy trees.

    Flight simulators, FPV and GPS aren’t needed for drone flight — but their adaptability, functionality and expandability are what you need to bump your learning program into an expansive, cross-disciplinary experience.

    Professional Development and Support Available

    So, you’ve chosen your drone. The price is right, the features are perfect for your students, and this semester, you’re looking to take to the skies. But, what happens when a student asks why a drone needs to be connected to a minimum of seven GPS satellites to achieve a GPS Lock? What happens when your drone hugs a tree and you need to replace two of its arms? How do you know if your drone is properly build and 100% flight-worthy? What if you have 5 drones and 30 kids? How does this awesome new technology integrate with all the other standards you're already trying to teach? Drones house incredibly advanced technologies, and there is a lot to learn and prepare for when you’re bringing drones into the classroom.

    This is where a package’s professional development and support capabilities come in. When those questions come up, when a drone isn’t functioning properly or when you need to replace a critical component, you need a drone-professional safety net. From webinars to in-house training, it’s important to be comfortable with your drone before it enters the hands of students. At PCS Edventures, the Discover Drones package offers a dedicated support line, webinar training, in-house teaching and much more. Recently, we even held the our first ever Drone Institute.

    On June 13th and 14th, 22 Idaho schools and libraries and visitors from California and Texas gathered together for The Idaho Drone Institute, an educational UAV training workshop. There, instructors received hands-on training in the latest drone technology, preparing them for the implementation of the PCS Edventures! Discover Drones package in classrooms this fall. From assembling modular drones to an in-depth Flight School instructed by Thrust-UAV professional drone racing pilots, the Idaho Drone Institute prepared instructors to build, operate, maintain, modify and teach the cutting-edge technology of drones. With two training's held simultaneously in Boise, Idaho, the Institute was an intensive, high-flying STEMventure.

    Read up on the entire institute at The Drone Institute blog here!


    As you can see, there’s a lot more to choosing your STEM solution than just sticker shopping. From the quadcopter’s functionality and design to its safety features and professional development, your drone package needs to fit your needs to a T. Will your choice provide your students with the best drone experience possible? 

    More insights on Discover Drones

     

    Other Drone Articles:

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