A group of middle-schoolers sat quietly at their tables in South Fayette Intermediate School this past June, while getting some last minute programing and building instructions from teacher Michael Lincoln. He was all that stood between them and a pile of still-boxed, black drones.
Lincoln, who usually teaches at Avonworth Middle School, encouraged the kids: “Use everything you’ve learned,” he said. “Don’t just start doing things. Think before you do.”
Sixteen students from Avonworth and South Fayette School Districts employed the drones to perform specific tasks at South Fayette’s week-long STEAM Innovation Summer Institute where Lincoln was teaching the students to "code their world."
“They are no longer just coding on the screen, which many of them have become accustom to doing in their classrooms,” he said. “But now we are getting them to understand the possibilities of designing an environment where a robot and drones can interact and accomplish tasks based on the code that they design.”
South Fayette sixth-graders A.J. Dolence and Elizabeth Adams designed a law enforcement scenario.
“We’re planning a car chase-type thing, because it’s a SWAT-type drone,” Dolence said. “It’s going to be chasing (another drone) around on a … map we make.”
Four teachers down the hall focused on a similar integration model. They were learning how to add STEM concepts to environmental literacy education.
West Virginia University School of Education visiting assistant professor Laurie Ruberg, who taught the teacher workshop, said she wants to offer educators better options to enhance existing lesson plans.
Teachers have too much going on to integrate a new program into their schedule, Ruberg said, but with new skills and ideas in their arsenal, they can drop in extra lessons where it’s convenient.
“One day you can review the water quality measures in your lab and then another day you can take them out into the field where they do those same analyses,” Ruberg said.
Jason Beall, a North Hills Middle School teacher attending the workshop, said students need that kind of hands-on learning.
“This type of stuff is nice because it is actually doing the science as opposed to kids just reading about it like a lot of us did when we were in school,” Beall said.
Ruberg brought a few backpacks stuffed with testers for water quality, pH levels and electrical conductivity, as well as vials of dead bugs for the teachers to try to identify using field guides.
Lincoln’s summer class joined the teachers exploring outside, too. Students gathered temperature data using thermometers anchored to the drones.
After building a mount for the thermometer, two high school students helping the class went outside with the environmental workshop where they helped students and teachers take temperature readings at four elevations in six locations.
“They’re here to teach teachers about how to collect data from their areas,” Lincoln said. “One of those pieces of data is going to be temperature and we thought it would be a great idea to equip the drones with a sensor to gather data.”
Once integrated, the two classes helped students young and old learn outside of the classroom, instructors said.
Beall said he’ll take his experience back to his supervisors and fellow teachers to see if it can be added to their curriculum.
“I think it would certainly be pretty cool,” Beall said. “You know, I don’t think a lot of kids go out to any of their surroundings and look at things scientifically. I think they just go out and run around and have fun. But they could do both with a trip like this.”