Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as ‘drones’, are aircraft that can be piloted remotely by an operator. Drones have many practical uses in a diverse array of industries, including agriculture, construction and security. Increasingly, drones are also being used in response to environmental and humanitarian challenges. Giving operators a birds-eye view of events – as they unfold – today’s drones can record vast amounts of high-quality aerial photographs and videos.
A less obvious use for drones is in the area of education, to help facilitate teaching and learning. Certainly, drones have been useful in many schools for the purpose of educating students in the fields of science, technology, art, engineering and mathematics (STEAM).
For example, I had gained some experience with drones several years ago in El Salvador, using the DJI Phantom 2 as a hook to get students interested in programming and robotics.
Since then, having bought the DJI mini 2 last year, I have become somewhat of a drone enthusiast! As I regularly take my drone with me on trips, for example, around Brazil, or in the UK, I have been able to capture some fantastic images to share with friends and family. I love to make educational videos (as I have written about previously, when I made a documentary about the Brazilian Amazon). These experiences have enabled me to reflect on additional ways of using aerial photos and videos in education – to teach important concepts while captivating students’ attention.
Example 1 – Using Drones to Teach Maths:
For maths, we were recently able to plan for the drone to be used to teach our Class 3 students the topic of angles. Getting students to move together in unison, simulating different angles in the playground, the drone was able to capture this brilliant footage:
Watching the video recorded of the childrens’ movements themselves, helped convey for the students, in an engaging and novel way, the concept of angles and how they are measured.
Example 2 – Using Drones to Teach Geography:
In geography, our Class 4 students have learnt how to draw and read maps. In order to help students with their learning of this topic, class teachers led a walk around the school block in which students had to make notes and rough sketches that would later form part of their mapwork. Meanwhile, I was able to capture some high resolution aerial photos of the school and its grounds – which would come in useful later on to help students visualise the walk they had done around the school block:
Example 3 – Using Drones to Teach Environmental Science:
Climate change is a key topic that we revisit with students several times during the year. Having visited the Pantanal last year, I was able to capture firsthand some compelling video footage of the forest fires that had been ravaging through the area:
It is estimated that fires burnt through some 1.7 million acres of the Pantanal last year. Shown from above though, these drone images of scorched earth served as a powerful way for me to communicate, during one of our assemblies, this idea of climate change and the effects it is having on wildlife.
Example 4 – Using Drones for School Trips:
One of the school residential trips I organise is to Paraty, which is a municipality located on a lush green coastline in the state of Rio de Janeiro. As well as its historical significance, the region is famous for the environmentally protected area of Saco do Mamanguá.
Saco do Mamanguá is a peculiar geographical feature, which resembles a fjord. It has an 8 km inlet of ocean water and mountains on either side. At its innermost point of this inlet, there is a preserved mangrove which meets multiple rivers running down from the mountains. These mangroves provide a buffer between the mountain sediments and the sea, serving as a ‘marine nursery’ for a variety of small creatures such as crabs, shrimps and fish.
In order to help students better visualise (and understand) the environmental science and geography of this protected area, I took my drone to the region during a recent previsit. In this same video, I was able to record other places that the students would visit on this trip such as the Gold Trail and Quilombo community. Such videos are also great to show parents during information sessions about upcoming school trips.
It has been my experience that drones can increase students’ engagement in their learning while providing them with a richer insight and understanding into key concepts. In the future, as drones become easier to fly and cheaper to buy, there will be increasingly more scope for them to be used in education to enhance teaching and learning. Aside from the obvious application for drones to be used in programming and robotics, the images and videos that they can obtain from otherwise impossible to reach places, can add value to any curriculum subject.