The following is a guest post by Emily Folk. You can read more of her work on her blog, Conservation Folks.
Drones can be a useful tool that science teachers can use to spark interest in various subjects and demonstrate concepts to their students — and it’s not just flying.
You hear about STEM, and while drones certainly can teach kids about engineering or computer programming, you can use drones for a variety of science-related lesson plans. Drones are being used for everything from environmental science to animal studies. And even though drones don’t fly more than a few hundred feet off the ground, they’re even a useful tool in astronomy.
Here are four ways you can use drones to teach your kids about science:
Get outside, and get active, while using a drone to learn about cells. In this lesson plan, you could have students create a large-scale model of a cell structure outside on the school athletic field or in another open area. Once the model is finished, you can fly the drone over the model to get an image of the whole cell. You can use the drone as an analogy for a microscope, flying in closer to zoom in. You can have students build models of different types of cells. To make the activity into a game, you can have students compete to see who can build a model fastest and most accurately. You can fly your drone over the models to find out who the winner is.
Drones also provide an opportunity to see principles of physics in action. You can teach kids about physics concepts using a UAV as an example and then demonstrate those concepts by flying one. UAVs are an excellent way to learn about concepts such as angular momentum, lift, thrust, drag and more. For example, drones use the spinning blades of their rotors to push air down. As the rotor pushes the air down, the air also pushes up on the rotor — the basic concept behind lift. Have students analyze how a drone moves vertically and horizontally and how it turns. They can then use what they’ve learned to explain what forces are at play.
You can also use drones in astronomy to help provide a perspective that makes understanding concepts easier, and to help students get an understanding of the layout of the solar system. Have students create a to-scale model of the solar system by marking the relative distances of the planets on the ground. You can then fly the drone above the model to get a full picture of the model. You can then have students measure how long it takes the drone to fly to between the various planets. This can help them to understand how far apart the planets are and give them an idea of how a spacecraft might travel from earth.
4. Environmental Education
Drones are also a useful tool for exploring your local environment. You can fly your drone over the area near your school or travel to another location nearby. This will provide an overhead of the terrain and vegetation in your area. Have students identify different types of vegetation structures and species of trees. This can also be useful for showing the impact of development on the local terrain and vegetation.
Which drone should I use to teach these lessons?
Most of the activities described above can be carried out by a low-cost, ready-to-fly drone with minimal installation (besides charging the battery). Look to products made by DJI, such as the Mavic Air or DJI Phantom if you’re looking to bring a drone into your classroom.
Pro-tip: the DJI Educational Discount allows customers with a “.edu” email address and who successfully fill out DJI’s online form to get a 10% discount on a select group of items. The items available for purchase include everything from drones like the Mavic Pro, accessories like DJI Goggles and –for those who prefer shooting from the ground — the Osmo Mobile.
An increasing amount of drone makers are capitalizing on the kid’s STEM-education market to build drones targeted at young people. A company called Flybrix makes build-your-own-drone kits for kids, which are actually made out of LEGO bricks. The $99 Tello drone is a high-quality drone designed in partnership with DJI with kids in mind. And if your kid just wants a fun toy, even Barbie has her own drone.
Before You Fly
Drones can be a fun and informative tool for science education. Just make sure you check all local laws as well as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules before you purchase and fly a drone. Laws can differ based on where you live, but many localities prohibit flying over public property or private property without the owner’s consent. The FAA has rules for the educational use of drones. Make sure you follow all requirements to avoid potential legal trouble. Also, you should always review safety guidelines and operational instructions before flying a drone. If your students will be operating a drone, make sure they understand the rules, safety guidelines and operational instructions as well.
Once those preliminary steps are complete, you’re ready to start using your UAV to teach your students about science. From biology to physics to astronomy to environmental science, drones are an excellent learning tool that will get students interested and involved in learning.
–By Emily Folk
Emily is a sustainability writer who covers topics in green living and green technology. You can read more of her work on her blog, Conservation Folks.