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Classroom Drones and Improving STEAM Education

When most people think of drones, they think of photography, military use or the promise of having packages delivered to us automagically. However, another excellent use for drones is in education, specifically in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). The acronym was formerly known as STEM, but the “A” was added to include arts, and hey, drones fit with that too.  When students are introduced to drones and coding to control them, they get excited; excitement helps them learn and retain that learning. Drones allow teachers to impart new understanding and interaction with the world as a whole. Drones are currently being used for education in many ways. Here are a few:  

DIY Drone Building

SuccessDrone building is typically for more advanced or older students, but working to design and build a drone is a fantastic way to teach them about robotics, math, electronics, chemistry and programming. These skills can help create analytical thinking skills and combining disciplines to make a system work. They’ll learn mechanical skills, electronic skills and more. This “if, then” thinking forms the basis for programming and logic problems as well.

Land Surveying Practice

Land surveying is defined as the technique, profession, and science of determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them. Drones are used commercially to survey land, and students can get a taste of it by using drones in the classroom. Starting off with surveying the school grounds or a local park, students can check out the topography or monitor wildlife in the area. If the school has a garden, students can monitor it by using their drone. You can also capture seasonal landscape changes or unique geological formations.

Monitor Extreme Conditions

When there is a natural disaster, it can be nearly impossible to get all the details. Roads can be washed out and a drone can fly above the problems to get the information needed. They are easy to maneuver, versatile and fairly inexpensive. In the classroom, students can participate in preparedness exercises for disasters and help propose the best evacuation routes.    

Shooting Video & Creating Art

We’re seeing drones being used in Hollywood to capture chase scenes, explosions and breathtaking landscape scenes. Students can do similar video projects of local events or field trips.  Drones are really versatile, and you can add different tools to them, including paintbrushes and paint. Students can lay a sheet on the ground and then use their drones to air drop paint it. You could also do a drone mural on one of the school walls or an area of pavement.  

Treasure Hunting

As learning tools go, treasure hunts are one of the best. Adding a drone makes it more fun for the students and gives them extra eyes to use for their hunting projects.  

Environmental Education

Aerial view of autumn forestEnvironmental scientists are already using drones for a variety of purposes, ranging from measuring air quality and pollutants, to studying ecosystems and marine biology.  Students can use drones to learn about atmospheric science, learn about coastal erosion and climate change.

Educators can also brainstorm and discuss ways drones can help environmental causes in the future. 

For example: 

  • What are some ways drones could reduce transportation costs and fossil fuel consumption?
  • How can drones be used to monitor and protect endangered species?
  • What are some ways drones could be used to expand urban farming?


Ethical Debates

Drones do not come without lots of controversy, and this can be a great learning experience for students as well. They can learn about researching their side and debating. Students can learn a lot by embracing the controversy, figuring out all the pros and cons of using drones in many different situations, and presenting their positions on how they should be used.

Brainstorming Skills

For students, critical thinking is a vital skill and brainstorming can be a huge part of that. Students can brainstorm all of the different ways that this technology can be used. This list probably gives you some ideas, but there are literally endless practical uses. Students can be creative with their thinking, and those skills will help in today’s workplace, no matter what industry they aspire to.

Though drone technology is still in its infancy, there is so much potential for its use. Technology will improve, and students need to keep up with the advancements and learn to understand it, use it, and find positive ways to utilize the technology for the greater good.  Adding a drone curriculum to your classroom can be a great way to excite students and spark interest in each and all of the STEAM subjects.

About the Author

Adam Shore

Adam is a Central Florida alum who recently left the Orlando area to relocate to Denver, where he enjoys shooting aerial photography of the Rocky Mountains. And to ski. He is a member of the AMA and was been a drone photographer since the early days of the industry. Follow him @dronegenuity.