Compiling the Data
We can’t deny it. We’ve all seen the reports, the statistics, the news stories — for the last few decades, the Math, Science and Reading scores of American students have continued to drop at a staggering rate. According to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test administered every three years to 72 nations and regions around the globe to 15-year-old students, in 2015, the U.S. ranked 41st in Math, 24th in Reading and 25th in Science.
With the first PISA administered in 2000, the U.S. has scored near the global average, but since 2012, the scores have continued to drop, with the 2015 results ranking American students among the bottom half of the world. So, why are U.S. students slipping?
Well, one theory surrounds the way our students interact with media, technology and each other. We are living in the tech age, and for the youngest members of our society, interaction happens almost entirely through the aid of technology. Social media, video games, online learning, robotics — even our refrigerators require a wifi connection. Soon, the tech age will integrate itself into every aspect of our lives. While most of these areas welcome the change with open arms, in the United States, one of slowest landscapes to accept change is education. For those of us who grew up nose-deep in the books, libraries, textbooks and the other bastions of traditional learning, we can’t help but react a little adversely towards the newest trends. For us “old-folks,” there’s nothing better than hands-on learning.
But, isn’t that where the problem lies? In every aspect of their day, today’s students are utilizing some form of technology, usually multiple at a time, and a traditional learning mindset directly conflicts with that. From handheld computers and tablets, most students find the switch to a textbook directly conflicts with the daily actions they’re most used to. According to a study from the analytics firm Flurry, “U.S. consumers now spend at least 5 hours a day on a mobile device.”
Inside of this instant-gratification, presses-for-success mindset, it stands to reason that making the switch to a traditional education staple — textbook homework — will not only be competing for face-time, but it will be competing as a habit-breaking activity. Just as an addict will crave their poison, replacing the gadget in the hands of our students with something concrete, that let alone needs to be read, continues to be an uphill battle.
Variety might be the spice of life, but to boost the U.S. global statistics, the educational systems need to start embracing the advancements of the technological age — a change that some classrooms, and companies, have already started tackling head on.
Embracing the Trends
One way that classrooms are looking to embrace the tech-age is with the aerial robotics platform of UAVs — drones. From drone races on ESPN to news stories about their use in search and rescue missions, drones have clawed their way into the attention of the mainstream consumers. With tiny, indoor drones making their way onto wish-lists across the nation, educators, robotics programs and learning solution specialists across the globe have started recognizing drones for what they really are — an opportunity.
On the surface, drones are a fast-paced, hand-held thrill ride. But beneath the pinpoint turns and high-speed maneuvers, there is a lot of science going on. From the physics of flight to the engineering principles of a multirotor vehicle, drones are a STEM gold mine. Although, there is one caveat. Drones can’t be utilized in the traditional educational way. The system needs to be innovated.
An innovation that, this year, occurred when PCS Edventures released the Discover Drones package.
As a learning solution that provides students with hands-on lessons in physics, mathematics, coding, engineering and more, this package looked to turn the traditional learning module on its head. Focused on the training, building, configuring, maintenance and flight of a modular educational drone, the Discover Drones package keys in on the quick, consumable instant gratification nuggets our students are so used to.
Beginning with an online app, Droneology, students first learn the history, safe practice procedures and local laws and regulations of drones. Divided into short, 10-minute lessons primarily focused around a short video, Droneology is an on-the-go learning app that seamlessly integrates into any student’s life.
The package also utilizes a video game-style flight trainer software. Just as an airline pilot is required to log hundreds of hours on a flight simulator, Discover Drones first get’s students flying in the virtual world. In the software, learners use the same controls they would as with a normal drone, all without the added stress of actually flying a drone. While logging time on the simulator is a requirement for advancement to a real drone, actually flying and conquering the challenges of the software doesn’t feel like homework — it’s a video game. With the plug-and-play approach to training, students don’t recognize that while they’re having fun, they’re also learning.
After training on the flight simulator, it’s time to move onto the actual drone, RubiQ. As a modular kit, RubiQ is accompanied by simple, single pages of curriculum. Known as LABCards, this innovative approach to necessary curriculum looks to streamline the learning process. Each LABCard includes:
- Two step-by-step projects that introduce new concepts and skills by guiding students through self-driven activities.
- Two engaging challenges that take learners through the completion of Droneology, training on the flight simulator and the honing of their piloting skills.
- A final design project that gives students an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in an open-ended way.
- Key Terms are listed at the end of each card for reference.
- Along the bottom of most cards is a Droneology checklist, listing videos to watch and quizzes to pass before moving onto the next card.
- At the end of every level, an End Design Project challenges students to synthesize their learning with creativity, critical thinking and real-world relevance.
The LABCard approach is intended to provide a tool that enables a more student-directed experience. After building the drone, students also utilize an easy-to-use online application to configure the drone before heading to the flight field for STEM at 75mph.
By understanding the technological trends our students are so enamored with, the Discover Drones package embraces the technologies and student habits of today by making Unmanned Aerial Robotics an easily approachable subject. No longer reserved for advanced-robotics classrooms or makerspaces, the incredible learning opportunities of drones are now available to students around the world.
Why Are Drones So STEMgaging?
Now, while cutting-edge products have made drones more accessible to students, the biggest questions is, “how do we know students will be interested?” And, to put it simply, drones are FUN. Drones are multifaceted, high-speed, learning powerhouses.
As the educational website Tynker says:
Students are naturally curious and excited about experimentation, so drones offer a chance to learn by solving concrete problems and experimenting with hands-on activities. The exciting thing about STEM is that you’re teaching a new way to understand and interact with the world around them. Drones make STEM learning relevant and fun by allowing students to become creators of technology and by allowing them to collaborate, build off each others’ creative ideas, and share enthusiasm. They show students they can use the sometimes abstract concepts they learn in class to engineer solutions to real problems. Students come away from these experiences having engaged more deeply with the STEM concepts from class and inspired to continue learning.