Building STEAM Drones Online

August 25th

Students from all over the United States came together to participate in the Drone Forward's first online Drone Builder's Challenge. The event lasted one week and had many foreseen educational achievements but was most important were those lessons that Drone Forward hadn't planned for.

On the morning of August 3rd, students from all over the United States waited for the time to come when they could open the orange and white box that contained their Circuit Scribe Drone Builder’s Kit. That summer evening, the students logged into the Zoom classroom of Drone Forward Incorporated, ready to start the Drone Builder’s Challenge; but before opening their kits, the students would learn about principals of electricity and related career paths, and go over pre-flight safety checklists.

The Circuit Scribe Drone Builder’s Kit was chosen by Drone Forward Incorporated for its

ability to connect to so many important educational lessons outside of flying drones; any program focused on getting kids flight ready and sending them off on their own for hours of unencumbered flight time would be better served by more expensive kits in the market. With the Circuit Scribe kit coming in at a price of $50, it was an extremely attractive option for DFI; this price point allowed the nonprofit to introduce as many kids to the world of drones as possible. As a result of the relatively low cost of the Circuit Scribe kit, DFI was able to provide 70% of the participants in the Drone Builder’s Challenge with drones kits free of charge; while DFI also provided the week long online instruction to all students for free.

DFI’s target students are underrepresented and underprivileged youth who need every educational experience to pack as much valuable knowledge into lessons as possible. In connection, the CEO of Drone Forward, Jesse Pacheco, found the Circuit Scribe kit to be the best tool on the market to catalyze the multifaceted lessons DFI wanted to incorporate into the course.

DFI’s CEO, Jesse Pacheco, started his career out as a teacher of “at-risk” youth in Virginia and his efforts earned him an Outstanding Special Education Teacher Award from the National Special Education Teacher Association. Thus, Drone Forward is able to intertwine a multitude of valuable lessons into their curriculum because their leadership spent significant time in a high-stakes formal classroom setting developing the ability to do so.

DFI maximized the Circuit Scribe Drone Kit’s profound ability to spark student interest into the basics of electrical circuitry and the flow of electricity. Most importantly, the Circuit Scribe kit enabled students in the Drone Builder’s Challenge to see if they enjoyed working with electronics without risking electrical shock or having to solder components.

The circuitry and electricity basics portion of the Drone Forward’s course ended in a “Careers in Electricity” showcase which went over the requirements and yearly incomes of occupations such as home-electricians and electrical engineers. The careers DFI focused on ranged from roles students could begin out of high-school to career paths they could build upon in educational chunks while still earning salaries. Most importantly, all the electricity related job paths students learned about were careers with little chance of becoming automated in the future.

After the electricity based portion of the lesson, students were led by Nicole Abbett in a lesson on drone safety and the importance of a pre-flight checklist. Drone Forward is lucky to have professionals like Nicole Abbett volunteering their time; Nicole is a leader in the field of drone photography and currently does work for high-profile clients such as the National Hockey League (NHL). What is great about having someone like Nicole teach the safety portion of the Drone Builder’s Challenge is that she has a plethora of interesting on-the-job stories to enrich the content and it’s no surprise that many of the young-women in the course felt inspired by Nicole’s achievements in a drone photography industry that is 94% male.

Finally, the students got to open up their Circuit Scribe Drone Builder’s Kit and go through the process of building with Jeramy Davis. Jeramy is the owner of the drone data and

geographic information system (GIS) collection company Optic UNITY and he represents the entrepreneurial spirit that is lifting the drone industry to new heights. Most importantly, Jeramy instilled upon students the fundamental perspective of focusing more on what a drone can do than what it does; which is the best way to change the drone from a toy to a tool. Jeramy’s desire to empower DFI students by tapping into the entrepreneurial avenues that drones offer inspires students to seek personal autonomy with their career choices.

During the drone building portion of the course, the Circuit Scribe kit presented another hurdle that unearthed a major lesson for many students: The drone kit requires fairly advanced hand-eye coordination, motor skills, and reasoning. The kids that grew up in the Erector Set generation would have had their Circuit Scribe Drone Kits built in a matter of seconds but the majority of DFI students suffered from the non-transferable patterns and ease-of-use expectations touch screens and PlayStation controllers teach kids. The online build component of the Drone Builder’s Challenge was frustrating for teachers and students alike but it was essential for all students, especially those that may go on to careers in research and development, vocational trades, or who may someday want to complete do-it-yourself home projects.

Over the course of the week, the students would take their drones through a number of different challenges to become "Drone Forward Pilots" and compete for the “Heavy Lifter Award” at the end of the week. What DFI didn’t expect is that many of the Circuit Scribe Drone Builder’s Kits would not make it through the week and only 25% of the students were able to keep their drones working long enough to compe