by Anthony Johnson
"I wanted to create an environment that would get kids excited."
by Lance Schreiber | 10.26.16
Lance Schreiber is a Think It Up award-winning engineering and innovation educator at Oasis Charter High School in Cape Coral, Florida. Last year, Lance launched the Drone Academy, an extracurricular club with a focus on drones. This year, Lance teaches a class on drones and sponsors a new club, The OHS STEAM Team, which touches on everything from drone rules and regulations to video and photography.
Last year, I was teaching at Florida Southwestern Collegiate High School, which has a unique setup. We only had freshman and sophomores in our building—the juniors and seniors are over at the college—and they didn’t have any sports programs. So, I wanted to those kids to have something to do after school. That’s why I started the Drone Academy.
The year before, I had used DonorsChoose.org to get drones, a couple of little robots and some other cool technology, which I brought into the classroom. The second week of school, I did a lesson [using the drones]. The point of the lesson was to learn how to write a review [and] how to peer edit, but I was also thinking technology. I had 100 students and I let them fly these drones that [had been] donated by a company. (I had written to them saying, “Hey, I want to do this—we’ll be able to put reviews on Amazon for you.”) I saw the spark and all the kids were like, “We want to fly drones—we want to learn more.” And that’s how the Drone Academy was born.
I wanted this core group of kids that really took it seriously, so by the time the school year ended, there were 11 kids who were there every day. They were committed. But I had to explain to them, “Hey, we’re not just going to sit and fly drones every day—this is a learning opportunity. You’re going to learn business skills.” [Skills like] the four “Cs”: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.
It seemed like every weekend we were doing something. We were at the farmer’s market talking about drones, educating the public—maybe doing a raffle to try to raise money (the students learned how to make beef jerky and sold that). At the Barnes and Noble Maker Faire, the kids presented. It was a small “stage” with about 10 rows of seating in front of them. [They] held up the drones as they discussed the concepts, then they flew them in the front area. We went to an event, STEMtastic, and they got to be center stage. Here these kids were, inside this big event center, flying drones through hula hoops. We had a line for three hours; little kids were lining up to learn how to fly drones.
They even made their own video for a retirement community—these were retired aviators and pilots. [The retirees] wanted to learn more about drones, but we couldn’t make it out there because of our schedule. So my kids dressed up in their club shirts and made a video discussing all the different parts and rules—how to fly them. All these 60-, 70-year-olds, they wanted to know what all the fuss was about.
Many of the events that the students went to, they didn’t even fly the drones. They would put the drones on the table and talk to people about them, working on their speaking skills. And drones were exciting. Whenever we went to events, students from other schools would say, “We want to join your Drone Academy.” We hosted an event during the year and other kids came to learn. My students taught them a piloting lesson; then they got to compete in an obstacle course. [My students] learned about event planning and training—they were even teaching adults how to fly drones. That led to many other student-led projects, sometimes through DonorsChoose.org, so they were getting more and more drones as well as different types of equipment and parts.
It was a great program and I just loved what was going on because my kids were learning so much more than how to fly a drone. [Drones] got them behind [the program], but I could write down more than 20 different academic and career skills that they were making progress on. If they were setting up events, they [were learning about] marketing, sales—including how to handle money—people skills, planning, organization, research and presentations. [Through studying drones], they were learning about physics, energy, momentum, rotation, lift, electricity and a slew of math concepts.They were making videos for social media, they built a website—by the end of the year, they were even building their own racing drones.
When the school year ended I decided that I needed to take a little break from teaching—I was going to work to finish up my Ph.D. Then, this awesome opportunity popped up. I was looking for a job for my son when I saw this ad, “Teacher needed—innovation and engineering program.” It was at a school a mile and a half from my house. I came out of retirement a week after I retired.
Now I actually get to teach a class on drones. I also have older kids—juniors and seniors—who I can work with as well, along with this brand-new curriculum. But I love the extracurricular. I loved going to competitions on Saturdays with the kids, I loved seeing them speak at the farmer’s market. I really just think that goes miles beyond the classroom. So I started [to sponsor] what I call the STEAM Team [a student-led tech organization]. [Recently] we had a day off, so eight students came in on a day off from school and we were flying the drones, learning about video and photography.
My [worry] was I’ve abandoned all these kids that put a year into [the Drone Academy], and now they’re all wondering, “What now?” I’ve waited a while, but my [thought] is that this is the perfect opportunity to start a collaboration among schools—to bring some of these ideas and practices together. I still have the equipment from DonorsChoose.org, [my former students] still have what they were working on last year. Plus, they know a lot about drones, and my new students are older, so they’ll bring something to the table, too. I even have a student at another school that I didn’t teach—we just happened to meet at an event last year, and he started coming to our school to teach the kids how to build drones.
Ideally, [we would] pool our resources and rotate, most likely [between] school spaces where resources are located. So, we’d spend one meeting at School A, because they have a laser cutter that everyone could learn about and use. The next week, School B, because they have six 3D printers for everyone to use. Then, School C, which [might have] more soldering equipment and workspace to build in. The whole goal is to get these different schools together to do some great things because not everybody can buy these drones. And why not share the wealth? If we can all get together and we’re all learning, then it’s a passion group.
[A drone] isn’t just a toy anymore—it’s a skillset. It’s something that colleges are giving degrees in [and] employers are paying good money for. All these kids, I just can’t wait to see in four years what they can do.
Below, Lance offers advice on how to launch, fund and gather support for a largely unprecedented program:
1. You’ve got to have a passion for it because you’re going to put in a lot of time. I made drones my own hobby, a part of my Ph.D. program (I completely switched topics) and a part of my classroom environment. When I’m in class, I’m talking about drones. When I’m doing my Ph.D. work, I’m talking about drones. When I’m bored on a Sunday, I’m talking about drones. The more you can take something and incorporate it into your daily life, the less it feels like extra work.
2. A lot of my time last year was spent reading about and understanding things like DonorsChoose.org—researching what grants are out there and who’s willing to help. A lot of the stuff I got was because there was a program where the kids could earn funding. For example, there was a coding program that they did. For every 15 kids who participated, we received a $750 DonorsChoose.org gift card. Well, that $750 combined with something else? That buys you a whole new drone. So, read and pay attention. There’s a lot of corporations out there that are willing to help—it just takes a little bit of effort on the teacher’s part.
by Anthony Johnson
"I wanted to create an environment that would get kids excited."
by LaVondia Menephee
“Celebrate the hard moments ... For teachers, victories are everywhere if we look for them.”
by Julie Hembree
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