Teachers learn to pilot and code drones

Sharlyn Jackson reaches out to catch a drone that has been decorated to look like a shark during the drone performance showcase at Lowell Middle School on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Nik Streng/Idaho Education News

The cafeteria and gym at Lowell Scott Middle School were roaring with sounds that many would find familiar. In the gym, Harry Potter and a member of Slytherin chased the Golden Snitch. In one corner of the cafeteria, SpongeBob Squarepants danced with his jellyfish friends while another corner saw a shark chasing its prey.

That’s what the teachers put on display during the drone performance showcase, one of the culminating events for a three-day drone training for Idaho teachers. The drone training was hosted by PCS Edventures with funding by the Idaho STEM Action Center.

In total, 46 teachers took the training, which had locations in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello. The teachers left with a classroom kit that came with six drones and curriculum to implement in their schools.

A drone made to look like Harry Potter was tasked with chasing a golden snitch, which was coded to fly in a certain pattern. Nik Streng/Idaho Education News

Michelle Victor, the director of STEM development for PCS Edventues, said the drone class was focused on approaching drone technology from an arts angle and most of the teachers at Wednesday’s showcase were at the elementary level. The training was modeled after what is done at Verity Studios, which uses drones for shows like concerts or even as art installations.

“We are always looking to find ways to get all kids encouraged into STEM,” she said.

Victor added that looking at drones from this angle adds a new world of STEM jobs that many might not even know exist. Verity Studios employs people whose job title is “drone costume designer,” which Victor said with a laugh.

The teachers went through a training to learn how to pilot the drones manually and also learned how to code the drones so they could fly without a pilot.

Educators from Idaho, including Caldwell’s Sacajawea Elementary Principal Paul Webster, middle, and physical education teacher Endy De La Cruz, left, showcase their performance, which was entirely programmed. Nik Streng/Idaho Education News

Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind librarian Sharlyn Jackson and assistant technician specialist Tom Jackson both took part in the training, and finished their Shark Week-themed performance beaming over the thought of using the technology in their school.

With the ability to use the code to pilot the drones, the loud buzzing of the propellors and the tactile feeling around the decorations used, the Jacksons agreed that the training they took is something they can have both the deaf and blind students do in class.

“It’s an opportunity for them to be successful at something that others do as well,” she said.

Tom Jackson said many of the students they work with need assistive technology in their everyday lives to function in school, but the drones would be a new inclusive technology that they want to use.

“It keeps building from there. They can be more effective users of technology in the future.”

While it struggled to take off at first, a drone decorated as a bee and one dressed as a flower took flight side by side. Nik Streng/Idaho Education News
Nik Streng

About Nik Streng

Nik Streng graduated with his bachelors degree in creative writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., in 2013 and graduated with his master’s in journalism from the University of Oregon. 

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