STEM and drones: Drone lesson plans for kids (and adults!)
Perhaps you’re looking to start an after-school STEM program as part of a Girl or Boy Scout troop, YMCA, or other program for kids. Maybe you’re a teacher looking to incorporate drones into your everyday lesson plans. Or maybe you’re a parent of grade-school kid just looking for supplemental enrichment programming for the kids to do over summer or winter break. These drone lesson plans from some of the most reputable sources out there including Khan Academy and NASA should help.
Drones are an excellent way to keep kids both engaged with learning and entertained. And luckily, there’s tons of drone-based educational content, most of which is free and available online, designed for kids (okay, and adults too!).
Here are the best at-home drone lesson plans and other activities for parents to share with their kids:
1. For older students learning about Raspberry Pi: Drone Dojo
Whether you already have your own parts to build your own drone and want straightforward guidance via a perfectly laid out video tutorial, or you want to order a ready-to-build Raspberry Pi drone kit, Drone Dojo is your source.
Drone Dojo is an incredible learning hub with video DIY drone courses on topics including “How to build a Raspberry Pi drone,” and “How to program a drone using Python,” There’s even a deep-dive, capstone-type course on “Precision Landing and Drone Delivery.”
Most of his courses are around building drones using Raspberry Pi, a popular line of small, single-board computers about the size of a credit card used among STEM classrooms and even small businesses. These days, the Raspberry Pi is one of the best-selling British computers, with more than 30 million boards sold as of December 2019.
Drone Dojo has learning opportunities for all price points. The “How to build a Raspberry Pi drone” course is only $100, though you’ll need to supply your own materials. Or if you have a bigger budget, you’ll find the $900 Raspberry Pi drone kit to be well worth it, as it includes all the supplies you need — and video tutorials teaching you how to put them together.
While the course itself is easy to follow, this is not a kids’ project. Use this one for advanced high school students, or young adults (and old adults!).
2. For detailed drone lesson plans designed for grade-school classrooms: She Maps
She Maps is an educational site that provides programming both in-person and in the form of drone lesson plans for teachers. One of their premier offerings is a program where students “become” a Geospatial Scientist for the day by flying a drone to complete a survey mission to gather data.
But they also offer a number of online teacher resources. Their programming includes:
- Drones: Learn how to bring drones into your classroom with no stress
- Digital Tech: Practical lessons on using digital technology to its potential
- Coding: Teach your students real-life problem solving through code
- Mapping and Data: Run Geospatial lessons and projects with your students
Normally, access to that programming costs $170 a year. But given the need for schools to consider distance learning in response to the Coronavirus threat, She Maps is offering additional resources, free of charge. The team said they intend to add more resources over the coming weeks.
Age group: Grade school
Cost: Free to $170 annually
How to access: Visit the She Maps website here.
3. For older kids (high-school age and up) seeking a career in drones: Drone Pilot Ground School
Under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107, anyone in the U.S. wanting to operate a drone commercially needs to obtain a drone pilot license, which you get by passing an in-person written exam.
Whether your teen wants an awesome summer job (delivering pizzas via drone? Conducting roof inspections for neighbors?) or just wants to be ready for a career in drones, use this time to start studying for the Part 107 test.
You must be at least 16 years old to qualify for a remote pilot certificate, so it might make sense for 14 or 15 year olds to start taking the course now so they’re ready to take and pass the test when they turn 16.
To study, I recommend online learning platform Drone Pilot Ground School (it’s what I, The Drone Girl, used to pass my Part 107 test on the first try) for a trove of videos, practice questions, a cram sheet, a forum, weekly newsletter, 1:1 customer support and more. The program typically takes about 15-20 hours to complete.
It usually costs $300, but you can use coupon code DRONEGIRL50 to save $50 and bring your price down to just $249.
Plus, it gets better for high school students. They offer a scholarship program that awards recipients not just free access to their course, but also reimbursement for the $150 FAA exam fee. Apply here, and apply now, as the submission deadline is rolling.
If you’re on a budget and can’t get accepted for the scholarship program, also check out Drone Launch Academy. It’s another great Part 107 training course, and it’s slightly cheaper at just $199 (plus, use code DRONEGIRL50 to save an extra $50), bringing your total to just $149. No matter what course you use, I HIGHLY recommend Drone Launch Academy’s flashcards too!
Age group: 14+
Cost: Free to $300 (or $249 with coupon)
How to access: Visit Drone Pilot Ground School here.
4. For free online instruction in a range of topics: Khan Academy
Khan Academy is a free online site with lessons, exercises and quizzes, and I recommend their “Crash Course on Indoor Flying Robots.”
But that’s not all the drone-related course offered on Khan Academy.Electrical engineers might be interested in this course on home-made robots or this program on building motors. This photography course incorporates aerial photography.
And this one isn’t directly drone-related, but besides my love of drones, I love Disney…so I’m sharing it anyway! Disney developed their own series of 32 videos for Khan Academy called ‘Imagineering in a Box’ to show how Imagineers (that’s Disney’s term for their creative engineering team) use skills ranging from story development and conceptual design, to math, physics and engineering – to create immersive experiences. We know that Disney Imagineering is actively looking into drones themselves. They’ve filed patents for their own drone projects. And, they once teamed up with Intel to put on a drone light show for Disney World guests.
Age group: 4 to 18 years
How to access: Visit Khan Academy’s website here.
5. For drone lesson plans that integrate a 3D printer: NASA’s 3D Models
This is a little more space-oriented than drone, but it’s relevant, especially given that many dronies also own 3D printers.
NASA allows you to download tons of free digital 3D models so you can print your own miniature satellites, landing sites, asteroids, spacecraft, spacesuits and astronaut tools.
While most of the models for now are space-focused (NASA says they’re working on more) NASA has actually been quite active in the drone industry, working closely with the FAA on efforts related to drone air traffic control.
Age group: 13+
Cost: Free (if you don’t have a 3D printer yet, you can typically buy one for less than $200)
How to access: Download 3D models from NASA’s webpage here.
6. For high-achieving students seeking college-level drone lesson plans: Class Central
Online course aggregator Class Central has tons of online educational content on a range of topics (drones and beyond). And some of its best courses? More than 400, free Ivy League classes.
Older students who want to work in the drone industry might be especially interested in these ones:
- Robotics: Aerial Robotics from University of Pennsylvania
- Introduction to Engineering and Design from Brown University
- Introduction to Computer Science from Harvard University
- Exposing Digital Photography from Harvard University
- Entrepreneurship: Launching your Start-Up from University of Pennsylvania
Browse all of the free Ivy League courses here.
Age group: High school to college
How to access: Browse all of Class Central’s available classes here.
7. For the basics of learning how to code: Tello
The Tello drone is a low-cost yet high quality drone made by Ryze Technology, using DJI equipment. It’s great for learning how to fly and learning how to code, but perhaps its most unique asset is its ability to teach you how to code. The Tello drone integrates with a programming language called Scratch. With it, you can program the drone to fly certain directions based on the “code” you have written.
In fact, the Tello drone comes in at No. 1 in my recommendation list of the top educational drones for a STEM program. It’s also simply a great practice drone for anyone new to piloting, whether kid or adult.
Age group: Grade school to adult
How to access: Get your own Tello from DJI’s website ($99) or Amazon ($99).
If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate drones into the classroom, check out my guide to the best indoor drones, and my favorite free drone content online (for learning and entertainment).
What drone lesson plans do you recommend? Do you have any tips for starting (or growing) a STEM program? Leave a comment below!
Great write up, Sally! For a budget STEM drone program we offer a whole educational suite + drone for $25! Check us out! makeadrone.com/educational-content
I have a high school in Zimbabwe and I am interested in programs for the sake of my students. How do I go about it.