Olympia School District is diving in early with Aerial Robotics 101
By Jennifer Ferrero, APR
Randy Steele, STEM Curriculum Support with Olympia School District (OSD) believes that robotics and STEM skills need to start earlier. He has been working with the Center of Excellence for Aerospace on Mechatronics and robotics curriculum using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® EV3 Education Core Set for elementary, middle and high school students. The curriculum developed in Olympia, STEM Robotics 101
, is used by nearly 4,000 teachers around the world and over 450 Washington teachers have been trained in its use. This work included building and programming robots, applying math and science concepts to robots, sensors and circuits, and learning the engineering process. Students may then use these classroom-based skills to participate in STEM varsity sports, like FIRST Robotics – a sport where every student can go pro.
He is now turning his attention to developing curriculum for middle school students called Aerial Robotics 101 with UAVs, or drones. His hope is that by the time students are in high school their skills will be established, “We tell students, ‘When you are 16 years old, in high school, you can get your Commercial UAV pilot license,’” Steele said.
He said, “The idea is to expose students to UAVs as young as possible – to pique their interest – prior to high school,” Steele added. But this will not be drone playtime, just like STEM Robotics 101 is not LEGO playtime.
The first unit being developed will operate under FAA Section 336 (Recreational Rules) and will cover:
- Introduction to UAVs
- UAV Equipment
- Basic Piloting Skills (indoors)
- Advanced UAV Operations (incl. outdoors on school property)
- UAV Aerodynamics
- UAV Technology modeling with LEGO Robots
- UAV Programming
- UAV Cinematography
Each lesson will include Overview and Student Objectives, Instructor’s Guide, Primary Instructional Material, Differentiated Instructional Material as well as Formative and Summative Assessments.
The goal is to increase STEM access and equity statewide by reducing barriers-to-entry for districts/schools/teachers through working with low cost drones operating under Section 336 and offering free curriculum and professional development across Washington. This is a model that started with the STEM Robotics 101 Professional Development Program
(a partnership of FIRST Washington, OSD, OSPI and the statewide Educational Service Districts network), and due to its success, and the changing industry landscape, the new Aerial Robotics curriculum was developed.
The inaugural professional development was held on August 31 for 8 teachers from Olympia and Tacoma school district (see photos). The emerging Aerial Robotics 101 curriculum
, under development, will be refined by feedback from these teachers throughout this school year using the collaboration features of the curriculum site.
Future units are envisioned for UAV Engineering (building UAVs) and UAV Commercial Piloting (Part 107) as the program extends into high school. As a result, this middle school course will begin instilling a mindset that includes safety standards (3-person crews, safety gear, checklists), aviation protocols (flight plans, pilot logs, incident reports) and FAA regulations to prepare these students for opportunities beyond middle school.