STEMpower

The Best Drone for STEM Education

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 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 incredibly versatile tools of our not-too-distant-future.

Now, on top of being thrilling,100mph manipulatable and modifiable machines, the aerial robotics platform drones offer your students provides them 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, competitions, curriculum, first-person view and so much more, The Best Drone for STEM Education chart is your answer to the proverbial question, “Where do I begin?”


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 check marks 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, their drone experience will need to be a solid one, and it’s your job to provide just that.

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 a 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.

Students Build, Program, 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 taking things apart. By utilizing a STEM drone that can be taken apart, rebuilt, programmed, 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 eureka moment will come from programming your quadcopter, or, perhaps, from 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 introduction to the wide world of winged robotics! 

 

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 reconstruction or fix 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 assembly, 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 between 251 grams and 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
  • Obstacle Sensors
  • Prop Guards

Competitions and Curriculum

While drones have exploded into the market place, they've also been making a name for themselves in various competition settings. Recently, Idaho’s Technology Student Association (TSA) Advisor Justin Touchstone developed a Competition Framework, his innovative approach to technical education and the expansive STEM career landscape of the future. Hot off the presses, Mr. Touchstone has teamed up with PCS Edventures for the Flying Into The Future Webinar, where he will be debuting the Competition Framework. For more information and to register for the completely FREE webinar, follow this link!

Not only have drones made their way into classrooms, but they’ve burst onto the sports scene, bringing 100mph FPV drone racing to the adrenaline seekers of the world. FPV drone racing provides students with a total STEM solution, engaging learners in challenges of engineering, physics, math, coding and more!

Realizing the need for a concrete STEM program that prepares learners for the future of unmanned aerial operations, PCS Edventures and MultiGP Racing League teamed up for the world’s first-ever high school UAV racing program, The Scholastic Drone Racing Series.

 

With a growing network of programs across the nation, The Scholastic Drone Racing Series couples MultiGP’s world-class race management software, skills and extensive member network and PCS Edventures’ state-of-the-art curriculum, innovative Discover Drones program and the Riot 250R Pro - a near indestructible racing drone ideal for school programs. For more information, head over to the full Scholastic Drone Racing Series blog here!

Along with an outlet for friendly competition, your drone kit’s curriculum needs to be as cutting-edge as the technology — the easiest way to dull your quadcopter is by bogging it down with boring, lengthy curriculum. 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 a textbook.

In the Discover Drones package, we’ve managed to spread the drone curriculum across multiple platforms, integrating it into the entire experience as a learn-as-you-progress solution. 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, to the innovative student curriculum known as LABCards, learning about the drone is as fun as speeding through the sky!

The LABCard approach is intended to provide a tool that enables a more student-directed experience. Educators are empowered 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.


In projects, students are introduced to new skills and concepts. 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. In a more student-driven environment, students can read through the projects independently and 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 initiative, curiosity and openness to learning you’d 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. 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 move forward. 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.

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

 

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 — your job as implementer or instructor is to make sure your curriculum matches the thrills of super-charged STEM.

Flight Simulator, FPV & GPS

Along with learning the ins-and-outs of a drone, students need time to practice their piloting skills! The Airforce 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 First-Person View (FPV).

 When flying FPV, a pilot wears a pair of goggles — similar in design to virtual reality goggles — which has 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 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? Do you just search for the answer online and purchase for replacement parts from a hobby store? What about when you need to answer a question on the physics of flight dynamics? What if your instruction pack only holds directions? Drones house incredibly advanced technologies and advancements, and to give your students the best experience with them that you can, you need to be an expert in all things drone. But, what if you’re not?

This is when a package’s professional development and support capabilities become invaluable. 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 held the world’s 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!


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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?

To find out how to best implement your drone program and to learn how drones are revolutionizing STEM education, register for the FREE

Flying Into The Future Webinar! 

     

Written By Thayne Casper

Chief Author and Editor of Creative Content

 

 

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