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Students’ Imaginations Take Flight with Drones

Students’ Imaginations Take Flight with Drones

For the last four years, students at W.R. Thomas Middle School in Miami, Florida, have experienced drone flight thanks to the initiative of PLTW Master Teacher Adam Mack.

We recently announced the addition of drones as an optional activity where students will explore the forces of flight specific to drone flight, learn how to pilot a mini drone, and apply those skills to complete a simulated real-world challenge. When Adam heard that PLTW incorporated drones into the Flight and Space unit of PLTW Gateway for the 2021-22 school year, he couldn’t wait to share his school’s story! Adam and two of his eighth-grade students chatted with us about their program and the incorporation of drones.

Adam uses drones both in his PLTW class during the school day, as well as an after-school club. While he currently uses his own knowledge and experience to incorporate the drones, he recently shared with a PLTW Team Member, “Man, it would be really nice if we could get drones inside a curriculum.”

Knowing the irreplaceable appeal and impact of hands-on learning that is the foundation of PLTW curriculum, Adam is excited to hear that this is now a reality and can’t wait to participate in the associated training. “I have no doubt whatever comes out is going to be fantastic,” he said. “I love the whole APB (activity-, problem-, and project-based) approach.”

“I feel like anyone would like the opportunity to fly a drone,” Michael Garcia, one of Adam’s students, said about having drone flight included in learning. “There’s a lot of things you can do with drones other than just fly them.”

As part of the drone classwork, Adam helps students see the business and career opportunities associated with drone flight. Michael is particularly interested in the opportunities for businesses to use drones in product delivery and cited examples such as Amazon and FedEx that are already using drone technology for this purpose.

“It’s fun,” Anthony Lopez, another W.R. Thomas student, said. “It’s a great learning experience. I can learn how to work with them (drones) and help people with them.”

Currently, drone programming and flight is “just” a passion for both students – Anthony plans to become a lawyer, and Michael is interested in architecture or animation – but the addition of drones in their learning, and in curriculum like PLTW Gateway, opens their world to possibilities.

“I never knew that you could fly drones professionally (before this class),” Michael said. Of course, opportunities like this can spark interests in careers students hadn’t yet imagined. And even as they explore aviation, the students are gaining valuable knowledge about technology, innovation, and problem-solving that will impact any career path they take.

“I have no doubt that whatever these two gentlemen down the road finally decide to do, if there is some way that drones could be applied in their area of expertise, they will figure out a way to use it,” Adam said.

And there’s no doubt, whatever career they choose, they’ll use what they’ve gained from teachers like Adam Mack.

W.R. Thomas Middle School currently offers Automation and Robotics, App Creators, and Computer Science for Innovators and Makers. The school initially implemented their PLTW Gateway program with a PLTW School Grant made possible by Verizon