There’s no better place for educators to learn than from other successful educators. Brandi Milliron, a talented and passionate teacher, uses the PCS Edventures Discover Drones learning solution in her STEM classes at West Minico Middle School. Recently, we had the chance to sit down with her as part of an educator tour where Teachers Got the Inside Scoop on Drones for Education. This training session was focused on learning how to implement drones in an educational setting, and Brandi had a lot of valuable insights to share from her personal experience teaching drones in the classroom.
Over my twenty years of teaching, I’ve taught a wide variety of subjects. My background is in agricultural science and technology. In fact, my dad was an ag teacher back in the day. When I first started, I taught ag, but not just crop science and animals—I taught welding and offered kids plenty of opportunities for hands-on projects including using a CNC plasma cutter to make pieces to repair an old truck. Eventually, I left my original school and transferred to West Minico Middle School where I’ve been teaching STEM ever since.
When I was preparing for my transfer, I received an email out of the blue informing me of a grant for the Discover Drones package from PCS. I asked my principal if I could apply for it, and he responded with only three words: “Go for it.” I had never applied for a grant before, but I’m all about learning new things, so I submitted an application. During class a few weeks later, I got an email in response stating that I had been awarded the grant. I was ecstatic, jumping up and down in excitement to the confusion of my students who were working diligently.
In June of 2017, I went to a professional development course that introduced me to the product. I sat in the very front and asked plenty of questions while our instructor, Nikki, taught about the drones. However, when we went outside, I laid low in the back, intimidated by the thought of flying. They made me try it out, but I was a basket case. When I took it home, the drones package was intimidating. I let it sit on my shelf for several weeks before taking it out to get started and see what it was capable of.
Armed with two days of training and a couple of months of practice, I went into my first class. Initially, the class was listed as Robotics. I told the kids, “We actually won’t be doing robotics this year.” The kids were visibly disappointed and began imagining the potential boredom in store before I added, “We’ll be building, configuring, and flying drones instead.” At the mention of drones, their faces lit up, and they started excitedly asking questions about everything we would be doing. I warned them that I only had a small headstart on them and that I would be learning alongside them.
And learn, I did. Throughout the school year, we were faced with a new set of obstacles, as expected when transferring to a new school, working with a new set of students, and implementing a new classroom technology. At first, we couldn’t find enough school computers to run the flight simulator software. Eventually, we acquired some old desktops that could run the program and created a rotation for students to practice. We also learned the importance of little things — pulling straight up when you unplug the battery, wiring motors correctly, and making sure middle schoolers listen carefully to instructions. Through all the little mishaps, PCS was a dependable source of help. I believe PCS has the best customer service, hands down, of any company I’ve dealt with. They are so willing to help or get back to me immediately. And they love what they’re doing — they’re passionate for education, and they want to help kids. They want to help the educators that help the kids, and that’s what I appreciate.
Throughout the process of building the drones and preparing to fly, kids began to flourish. Even the kids who gave other teachers grief or consistently ended up in the principal’s office were attentive and engaged in drone class. One student, in particular, had been a problem child for most of the trimester until it was time to fly the drones. The day we went out to start flying, he turned into a completely different kid. He became the first kid that wanted to pull the wagon outside and set things up. He became the first kid that wanted to set out the stakes for our flight area and to set up the course. He was the first one to volunteer for everything and hands down, one of the best pilots I’d had all year. This class created a fire in him and inspired him to pursue a career in drones. My classes were comprised of the troublemakers and the top-notch kids. All of them loved getting the hands-on experience with drones. It’s unlike any other class!
If I could give any advice to educators who want to implement drones, it would be this: don’t be afraid. I know it’s intimidating, but the kids are way more confident and way more proficient at this than adults are. Take advantage of professional development and learn along with them. Don’t let yourself become a stagnant pond. Keep learning and flowing like a river. If you get drones, don’t let them just sit. These are incredible tools! Use them and let the kids have the time of their lives!
Brandi’s story models the elements necessary to create a magnificent drones program in any school. First, you have to find your drones. If you don’t stumble upon a grant opportunity, look into the different options. We’ve published a guide on The Best Drone for STEM Education to help you out. Next, find supporters within your school administration to help make your program a success. Figure out the right number of students to have in your class or the space and equipment you’ll need to facilitate the drone operation. Finally, throw fears aside and dive in! This is an opportunity for you to learn and potentially create a life-changing experience for your students. Students get excited about this new technology and the future careers that it offers. What better reward for a teacher than to see students enthusiastically pursuing lifelong success using the skills and knowledge learned in your classroom.
We are so grateful that Brandi was willing to share her experience for the benefit of other teachers considering bringing drones into their classrooms. This story may have sparked some questions for you, if so — drop us a line, anytime.
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