Mini Drone Classroom Kit Example

Designed for teacher classroom checkout

In case it helped others think about how to incorporate mini drones at their school I thought I’d share this design. Not presenting this as an ultimate solution, just as an example to build on. Please share links to designs you might have in the comments. As an aside I want to stress: I don’t train teachers that students should never fly drones via a joystick … but I am pretty frank that piloting via joystick is more just play – and that is not a bad thing – it has its place. Having students use apps like Tynker where they have to learn programing skills and problem solve to navigate their drone is really the point.

One awesome unintended consequence of receiving a grant is that sometimes there is “money leftover” – usually because of a cost savings or other circumstance. I just came into some “leftover” funds from 2 grants we have going. Some of that money I spent to get more Parrot Rolling Spider Minidrones. When I wrote the NSUAVCSI grant these drones were $99.99 each, the bid we negotiated got the price down to $62 (we bought 65 of them at once) and now the price is down to $49. Parrot has discontinued this model apparently, and the new models don’t have the wheels and are more than double the $$$ that I can get The Rolling Spiders for … so 62 new ones just arrived.IMG_7229


Now that I have some experience with checking out “kits” of drones for teachers to use in their classrooms, I re-designed the kits to make them easier for teachers and students to utilize.



The plastic tubs we have fit about 8 mini drones each, but since many class sizes here can be 30 students or more, each kit consists of 2 tubs (16 drones total) figuring 2 students per drone.IMG_7227 BTW – 3 students per drone works too, but I like to provide as much flexibility as possible.

As with almost anything that runs on batteries, you can never have too many. So each kit has 4 battery chargers that each charge 4 batteries at a time – as well as 16 extra batteries. The USB cable that comes with each mini drone also fits the charger (which didn’t come with a cable). Removing batteries from the drones with just your fingers to recharge them in a charger is a bit of a struggle and tends to  foster anxiety that something is going to break – so each kit also contains popsicle sticks that work well to gently pry the batteries from their confines.


A power strip with both regular  3-prong sockets and USB ports rounds out the kit for now.  One thing that is missing are iPads to program and run the drones. I do have 20 on the way, but that is short of what is needed. A fair number of local schools have iPads, but they tend to be older, non-Bluetooth iPads that won’t work with the mini drones. 20 iPads was as far as I could squeeze the “leftover money”.

Hope that helps anyone looking into adding a programming component to your curriculum that also teaches students the care and feeding of aerial robots!

Learning is messy!





NSUAVCSI Classroom Re-Visit

Dilworth STEM Academy

I’ve written about Mike Ismari’s class before (here and here). He received a grant last summer to buy several models of drones and flight simulators to use with students.

ABOVE: Mike’s drones finally arrived and are stored on shelves his students are building.

Since he had little to no experience with drones he signed up for our institute. His plan was to learn the safety, ethics, programming and operation of UAV’s and then when his drones arrived he’d be ready to go. But, one thing after another delayed his purchase, so he kept checking out NSUAVCSI drones … finally his have arrived along with iPads to operate them. He stopped by my office yesterday to return some Phantom 3’s he’d checked out and told me I had to come by again and check out what his students were up to.

10 students were flying Parrot Air Cargo Minidrones using Tynker to program them. Mike rotates his students through these different activities. Students were paired up – a student that had experience programming the drones with an inexperienced student. The experienced student talked and prodded the new student through the steps to program the drone “around the mountain” -portrayed by a chair on a table. The goal is to take off, fly around the mountain making specific maneuvers meant to keep a front pointing camera (which these don’t have – only down-looking) pointed at the mountain and eventually land back on the spot where it launched. I shot some video of 2 students doing just that.

In this first video (less than a minute long) they are troubleshooting their most recent flight: IMG_7219

Now they run the program with the changes they just made (about 20 seconds)
Some students were learning and practicing computer programming on the NCLab program our grant provided:IMG_7218

Others were constructing vehicles: DSCF0473

Others were practicing with RealFlight flight simulators (not pictured).

Great “messy” things happening! More photos and videos on the link below:

Flickr Album from the visit

Learning is messy!

Another Teacher Checks in on Progress with the NSUAVCSI

Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute

DSCF0003[1] Sarah Richardson, a high school science teacher at Virginia City High School in Nevada, and also a participant in our NSUAVCSI program checked in with me while I happen to be writing my last post. Virginia City, Nevada is in the Storey County School District, a very rural school district that also happens to be home to the new Tesla Gigafactory and the largest data center in the world the Switch Supernap. And yes, it’s the same Virginia City made famous by the TV show Bonanza.

I delivered Parrot, Phantom 3 and OpenROV drones, 10 Chromebooks, and other materials the grant provided, to Sarah in mid January which was later than planned because of the historic rain and snow we’ve had. Sarah took it from there. Today she emailed me this update on what she and her students have been up to:

 I am having the students (well I am trying to get the students) to make videos about what they have been doing. We have come up with a few road blocks with the drones that they have problem solved. We could not get the drones to pair with the controllers. I told them to figure out what to do, and they did it. I was excited that they actually did it! Once paired they played with the flight simulator. I am hoping that once the weather clears up, we will get them piloting outside!

After they get comfortable with the controls, they are figuring out how to code a course that will take a panoramic picture of the school. Our final project… hopefully, will be to create a topographical map of the school grounds. Then I have grand ideas of using that map to design a sustainable slope in the front of the school. As we have one side of the front of the school that is covered in rocks that flooded the walkway and the other side is full of weeds. I am hoping to have them design a sustainable slope or create a terrace garden of sorts with a native plant garden. That is my vision, but the second part might take a while to do.

As far as the ROVs, (Editor’s note from Brian – she is referring to – OpenROV 2.8 Underwater robots) I have a small group still coming in and working on building their own. We just received the thruster packs from SeaPerch… it took about three weeks to get them from the time I ordered them. So, I think by next week we will have a few homemade ROVs. Then we will focus on building the controllers.

Can’t wait to hear what others in the program have been up to when we meet up for our first follow-up class.

Learning is messy!

NSUAVCSI Classroom Visit SMS

Although classroom visits are not actually required by the Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute (NSUAVCSI) “College and Career Ready” grant I wrote last summer, I believe visits and mentoring are a vital pieces of quality professional development. I’ve done about 4 visits so far and plan to do many more. Back in December (Yes I’m late getting this posted – Urgh!) I visited Carrie Mieras’s class at Sparks Middle School. They were experiencing using the Parrot Spider Minidrones for the first time although they had used another type of drone that only allows controlling via a joystick controller, so this would be their first attempt at writing a program to fly.


They worked in pairs and “3’s” to assemble the wheels that allow these drones to roll on the ground ceiling or walls, but also perform as blade guards. While one partner was assembling, the other was setting up either Tickle or Tynker on their iPads or iPhone to write their block program that would tell the drone what to do.

Block programming is a great first step to learn programming because it can be used successfully by even young children. Even though students are not writing actual lines of code, the process of block programming includes many of the thinking and problem solving skills required to program in languages like Python.

It was interesting to watch students struggle some to write their first program, but also to identify which of the 8 or 9 Parrots that showed up on their iPads was theirs. Several times students would choose the wrong one and when they started their program someone else’s Parrot would spring to life and begin it’s journey. That led to a quick lesson on how to tell which is which and then they were off!


You can see the block program on this student’s iPhone (he was using Tickle, (Tynker doesn’t work on iPhones) to tell his Parrot Spider Minidrone what to do.




By the time everyone had had a chance to get things off the ground a bit the period was over (“Whaaaaat!!??”) and it was time to put stuff away.

It was definitely a bit of a “messy” experience for the students, so I loved it. They weren’t taught everything … they had to figure things out on their own, but they were now ready to be more productive the next day!

Learning is messy!




Underwater and Aerial Vehicles – Pyramid Lake Edition

It was a crisp and glorious day at Pyramid Lake...

Above: Panorama of Pyramid Lake including the Tufa formations “Stone Mother” and the Pyramid that gives the lake it’s name. Note the people on the beach between the formations for a scale of size.

Between a busy work and holiday schedule, and a bout of aggressive bronchitis, I’m late with some posts – this is one of them … and it’s an experience worth sharing! First I want to thank the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe for giving us special permission to visit this special and sacred part of the Pyramid Lake shore to “test drive” our OpenROV 2.8’s and fly Phantom 3 Professional aerial robots as well.

Back in October we were supposed to put the underwater robots the teachers had painstakingly assembled into the crystal clear water of Lake Tahoe to further test them and learn piloting skills. However, that day got “weathered out” by rain and high winds. The next time we could schedule a meet-up was December 3rd. It was a crisp and glorious day at Pyramid Lake. We met at the turn-off from the highway to the dirt road that leads out to the spot in the photo above. Besides the teachers having this opportunity, Trevor Galvin a math teacher at Pyramid Lake Middle and High School is part of our class and he brought along some current and past students and a few others’ students showed up as well.

Here’s how a local TV report explained the day:

The OpenROV’s have a built-in camera and the water was much clearer than we expected: 




Algae covered tufa formations and lake bottom.











In the bright sunlight the computer screens were hard to see, so when one of the students reported that he could see something floating in the water straight ahead we told him to take pictures  so we could see it later. Turns out it was a large sacred Cui-ui fish:















And next another student piloted 2.8 caught a Lahontan Cutthroat Trout:








In the meantime Kirk Ellern was flying the Phantom 3 Professional drones the teachers had been trained in (and so were teachers and students) with the goal of photo/video archiving the experience and the area in aerial video. Kirk produced this video of the day, but more to come:

I’ll be posting more about classroom visits I’m making with the teachers in the grant from their classrooms.

Here’s a link to a Flickr album from the day.

Learning is messy!

NSAUVCSI Classroom Visit

Aviation and Drone Tech

My last 5 or 6 posts have focused on the Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute (NSUAVCSI) grant I wrote and am now facilitating. 18 middle and high school teachers started out learning a bit of computer programming, then the ethics, safety, educational uses and how-to’s of aerial vehiclesand now underwater vehicles.

Beyond teaching and facilitating the institute classes and activities I’ve begun doing visits to the participating teachers’ classrooms. I’ve waited until now so teachers had time to be trained and then begin utilizing the Parrot, Phantom 3 and OpenROV 2.8 robots with their students.

This week I visited Mike Ismari’s class at Dilworth STEM Academy Middle School. Besides science classes Mike teaches an elective called “Aviation and Drone Tech.” He has also received a grant of his own which will provide several models of aerial drones for his students to build and fly later. He’s still not sure when his will arrive so he signed up for the NSUAVCSI to not only get training in utilizing robots in student learning, but to have access to the Institute robots now.

His students have already been programming 6 of the Parrot drones from the grant he checked out, but during my visit the class was involved in several other activities. Some students were finishing up a research project on drone safety and the laws governing drones.










Others were utilizing the ncLab computer programming courses the grant paid for to learn not only programming, but 3D printing as well.























One of the resources available are RF 7.5 flight simulators that allow you to virtually fly different models of drones. It really is a great way to learn to fly them by stick without the “messy” learning part that might include crashing and breaking expensive vehicles before flying a real one. One of Mike’s students was practicing his skills that day.











Still other students were busy building their own model aerial vehicles that cannot actually fly and other devices to learn “making” skills.




























We recently received prop guards for the 19 Phantom 3 Professional quadcopters available for checkout, so Mike is planning on checking some out in the next few weeks. This news was just what his students wanted to hear.

Learning is messy!

Building our 6 OpenROV underwater robots

Teachers being messy - learning "Making" skills

The Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute (NSUAVCSI) was designed to provide professional development for 6th through 12th grade teachers in not only computer programming, aerial vehicles and underwater robots, but to more importantly then make those resources available to their students. My last several posts have been about our progress so far in the computer programming and aerial vehicle aspects. Now we have begun the underwater robot section of the institute.

I chose to purchase 7 OpenROV 2.8 underwater robots partly because they would have to be assembled. Many teachers have limited “making skills,” and assembly of these vehicles requires soldering, wiring, acrylic welding, gluing with epoxy, super glue, other adhesives and more. Dr. Alex Forrest from the University of California, Davis,  the lead instructor for this portion of the class, received one of the 2.8s weeks ago so he could assemble one to prepare to guide the teachers through the process. There are excellent directions online provided by OpenROV on how to build the robots, but having an experienced builder there able to share their “messy” mistakes and learning during the build has been invaluable to say the least.

Friday the 18 teachers in the institute met at the Tahoe Science Center home of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (which is affiliated with UCD, hence Alex’s connection) to learn the science and engineering behind UAV’s, but also to begin assembling the 6 vehicles they’ll be able to check out for use with their students.

Above: Dr. Alex Forest begins class with a short presentation on the hows and whys of underwater vehicles.

Below: The goal – an assembled OpenROV 2.8 next to an unassembled one.

First steps involved acrylic welding the parts of the housing making sure everything was lined up and turned the correct way before making the weld … a bit nerve wracking.












After much of the welding and gluing was done and parts started to take shape it was time to begin wiring and installing circuit boards and other electronics.

DSCF0115Above: Alex clarifying the next step


Above: Things taking shape while double-checking the online directions.

Below: “Shrink wrapping” soldered wiring connections with a heat gun.


Lots of gluing and wiring, but below, lots of soldering too.


This is where we left it at the end of the day Saturday. We meet next Friday and Saturday to finish building and perhaps even give them a tryout in the public swimming pool. A day at Lake Tahoe will come in October.

Learning is messy!

Video from our computer science and AUV class

I recently blogged about our current course for teachers on computer programming and aerial and underwater vehicles (drones). The underwater vehicle section starts this week. In the meantime, Kirk Ellern at AboveNV, who taught the bulk of the aerial vehicle part of the class, put together this short video that illustrates what teachers learned about in his section of the class. Enjoy!

Learning is messy!

Update on our aerial and underwater drone class

We've been busy!!

It’s been almost 2 months since I shared about how this class is going. We got started  later than planned because we couldn’t get drones delivered fast enough. So far the 18 teachers have had 2 days of computer programming training with the ncLab online course (which their students have access to as well at school and home) to acquaint them with and put them at some ease as to how the course works. We originally planned 4 trainings up front but decided to wait on the last days so they can be designed to support the teachers and their students in the very kind of programming they will use with the various vehicles.

Next, we jumped into 24 hours spread over a week of training with aerial drones. We started with safety, ethical use and the laws governing drone use. Then everybody got a Parrot Rolling Spider mini-drone. We ran into some issues with getting the firmware updated. We are using 3 different drone apps for the Spiders – Free Flight3, Tynker and Tickle. They required updating the firmware before the apps would cooperate with the Spiders, but that was problematic … even though I had done a couple the day before to be sure we wouldn’t have trouble … we did. Computers wouldn’t “see” the connected Spider and the bluetooth connection you can use with Free Flight 3 tended to time out before it was successful. But we eventually figured out a method that worked and plugged them in to charge.



Teachers then practiced programming their Spiders and ended that day in groups of 3-4 planning how they would use them in class with their students. The following day each group shared out lesson ideas and even some early experiences with just their one Spider in class (we have almost 50 of them that can be checked-out for classroom use in sets of 8 – 12).

Teachers were given initial instruction and some practice in DroneBlocks as one way they and their students can program their Phantoms. Just this past Saturday we all met to fly some of the 19 Phantom 3 Professional drones the grant provided. Thursday night teachers took turns flying the Phantoms virtually using Real Flight 7.5 and the built in flight simulator that comes on the Phantom remote. After a follow-up “ground school” of sorts on Saturday and some demonstration flights of different kinds of drones the teachers got to fly the Phantoms.

IMG_6421 (1)
DSCF0052 A “Hex” drone takes flight




Today I got all the Phantoms prepared to be checked out to teachers to work with their students, but Saturday they decided everyone should check one out for a week or so to practice setting things up and gaining confidence. Tomorrow my goal is to update the firmware on the 50 additional Parrot drones and get them ready to be checked out as well.

Next week we start underwater vehicles with OpenROV 2.8‘s.DSC_0243





Learning is messy!

DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library

Maker and Collaboration Space

Last week I was part of a small group that was given a tour of the award winning DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.
















Todd Colegrove,  head of the DeLaMare Library, took the time to show us around.


We saw laser cutters, 3-D printers, large format printers, Lego Robotics, Arduinos and many more resources which they will not only allow teachers and students to use, they have people ready to help you learn about and use them. Since they are a no-profit they will also print your 3-D designs for cost.

They also have collaboration rooms, many that have walls made of whiteboard material, tables, chairs, computers and more, that can be checked out and used. They also support classroom field trips to the facility that be everything from a tour of the facility and resources available, to using the facility to plan and “make” using the library’s resources.












Here’s a YouTube video that shows the resources and maker spaces they have available:


















We took advantage of the opportunity to print out in large poster size one of our favorite photos from the “High Hopes Project.”



















We printed on a nice matt paper in 42 x 54 inch size and it cost less than $30.













I’m planning on making a trip to learn about and use the DeLaMare Library as part of classes and trainings we offer to encourage teachers and the community to take advantage of this incredible resource.

Learning is messy!