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From the Ground Up: Teaching Engineering with Drones

Location: Posters; Level 3, Skyline Ballroom Pre-function, Table 5

Participate and share

Participate and share : Poster

Wednesday, June 27, 11:00 am–1:00 pm
Location: Posters; Level 3, Skyline Ballroom Pre-function, Table 5

John Ristvey   Dr. Randy Russell  
We've developed and tested a curriculum that uses inexpensive (<$100) drones/UAVs to teach engineering and science practices and concepts to upper elementary and middle school students. We'll demonstrate, describe and share the curriculum that's been tested and refined with multiple low-income student groups.

Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Project-, problem- and challenge-based learning
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: STEM/STEAM, Science
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.
  • Manage the use of technology and student learning strategies in digital platforms, virtual environments, hands-on makerspaces or in the field.
For Students:
Innovative Designer
  • Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Participants will learn how to implement an engineering and science curriculum using inexpensive UAVs/drones. The curriculum is suitable for novices who have never flown a drone before, and can be used in the classroom or informal educational settings such as after-school clubs. The series of more than a dozen hands-on lessons can be combined flexibly into a longer or shorter curriculum sequence. Advanced lessons in the sequence incorporate scientific and mathematical measurements, engineering design activities, and a capstone project of surveying and providing aid to a mock disaster scenario.

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation, Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL), # 1513102. For more information about Engineering Experiences ITEST project visit: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Although we expect we will NOT be able to fly drones in the convention center, we will use physical objects and video clips to demonstrate:
1) simple "flight school" and "first flight" activities that teach aviation concepts and the basics of flying a drone to novice pilots
2) science and math activities in support of future mission planning - measuring battery lifetime, determining weight carrying capacity, estimating altitude and speed, and simple statistics to understand variation in the measurments
3) engineering challenges such as designing, building, and revising a "sky hook" attachment to the drone that allows it to drop off and/or retrieve a payload
4) several activities around a theme of using drones to help people in a town struck by a disaster (tornado, flooding, volcanic eruption)
5) live demonstration of the inexpensive drones used in the project, the supplies used in the various activities, devices designed by students to solve the engineering challenges, the live camera view from the drone, and video clips of drones being flown during the activities
6) excerpts of research reports about the project and our work with multiple groups of students (mostly low-income, mostly hispanic) in various in-school and out-of-school settings

Supporting research

Carnahan, C., Zieger , L., Fernandez , N., Sheehy , L., & Crowley, K. (2016). Drones in Education: Let Your Students' Imaginations Soar. International Society for Technology in Education.

Crook, A. (2017). A STEM Approach to Integrate Drones as a Teaching and Technology Tool. NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) 2017 National Conference, 31 March 2017.

Armentrout, J., Carnahan, C., Crowley, K., & Zieger , L. (2016). Panel at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) 2016 Conference, Denver, Colorado; 29 June 2016

Dahlman, L., Olds, S., & Mooney, M. (2016). Got a drone? Try this… Learning Activities and Science Fair Project Suggestions for You and Your Recreational Drone. Retrieved July 7, 2017, from

Kefauver, S.C., Sanchez‐Bragado, R., El-Haddad, G., & Araus, J.L. (2016). Open source software and low cost sensors for teaching UAV science. Proceedings of the AGU Fall Meeting 2016; session ED33F-0920; 14 December 2016.

McGillivary, P.A., Lukaczyk, T., Brendan, B., Tomita, M., Ralston, T., & Purdy, G. (2016). Incorporating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into High School Curricula in Hawaii. Proceedings of the AGU (American Geophysical Union) Fall Meeting 2016; session ED33F-0924; 14 December 2016.

Mooney, M. (2016). Using Recreational UAVs (Drones) for STEM Activities and Science Fair Projects. NSTA 2016 Minneapolis Area Conference; 28 October 2016

Mooney, M., Olds, S., Dahlman, L., & Lewis, P. (2017) ESIP Education Drones in STEM Initiative. Proceedings of the 97th American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting, 26th Symposium on Education, Themed Joint Session 2: Remote Sensing Education Experiences.

Olds, S. (2016). Using Recreational UAVs (Drones) for STEM Activities and Science Fair Projects. NSTA 2016 STEM Forum & Expo; 28 July 2016.

Olds, S. (2016). Using Recreational UAVs (Drones) for STEM Activities and Science Fair Projects. NSTA 2016 Portland Area Conference; 11 November 2016.

Olds, S. (2016). Using Recreational UAVs (Drones) for STEM Activities and Science Fair Projects. NSTA 2016 Columbus Area Conference; 1 December 2016.

More [+]


person photo
John Ristvey, UCAR Center for Science Education
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Dr. Randy Russell, UCAR Center for Science Education

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