I’ll be providing the keynote and 2 to 3 breakout sessions. They asked for a “STEM-ish” theme so I’m redesigning my “STEM Is A Culture, Not a Time of Day or Day of the Week” presentation and plan to build in more STEM experiences. My sessions will focus on STEM inquiry and the important parts that get left out too often because the activity is engaging, the students get excited, time runs short and we skip the parts that really make STEM learning powerful.
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.
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. 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!
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:
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:
Others were constructing vehicles:
Others were practicing with RealFlight flight simulators (not pictured).
Great “messy” things happening! More photos and videos on the link below:
Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute
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.
You can tell from the bulk of my most recent posts that a big part of my job right now is about facilitating our STEM institute. I actually have another post about telescopes waiting in the wings for after I get a couple of questions answered. This video was produced by the Washoe County School District to celebrate Mike Ismari’s STEM class at Dilworth Middle School STEM Academy. Mike signed up for our STEM institute right away last year because he had received a grant to buy several models of drones (you mostly see them in the video, but a few he checked out from the institute make an appearance as well). Mike wanted to learn about the ethics and safety of utilizing drones in the classroom as well as the pedagogy to consider. Our institute is still ongoing and will be pretty much right up to the end of the school year. I think you’ll enjoy the video … it’s does a great job of showcasing Mike and more importantly his students and the learning they are part of. Enjoy!!
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 assembledinto 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:
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.
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 vehicles, and 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.
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.
Day four of building our OpenROV underwater robots was very eventful. The original thinking was that it would take 4 full days of our 5 scheduled classes to finish building our robots, and not until the 5th day would we be able to try them out. However the teams of 2 to 3 teachers proved the power of collaboration as it became apparent last week that they would be ready in less time. In fact we did take time from building to have lectures on different aspects of underwater robots and we even took a tour of the facilities at the Tahoe Science Center.
The past 2 days included finishing assembly, testing out controls, aligning and focusing the scaling lasers, calibrating the compass and a bit more. While engaged in those activities a local TV station showed up and produced this storyabout what we were up to.
Below: Aligning the scaling lasers by projecting them on 2 dots 10 centimeters apart on the wall.
Right: Still wiring and soldering to finish up as well.
Above: The OpenROV’s starting to look like underwater robots.
Below: Touring the Tahoe Science Center facilities and learning about field trip possibilities.
The TV cameras were rolling:
Saturday morning was the last push to be ready to swim our ROV’s. The local public pool had reserved time between 2:00 and 3:30 to use their pool as a test facility, so 1:30 was our deadline to pack-up and get to the pool. Every detail was checked. Connections to the Chromebook computers, camera operation, thruster operation, lights, lasers, all checked.
Below: The connection to the computer checks out. Once the connection is made the interface opens in a web browser of your choice.
Before we knew it we were off to the pool. The unheated water was cold, but even so one of the life guards volunteered to jump in and help us with a few early tests for water tightness. Once we had the first one cruising the pool she also swam into view so we could take underwater photos of her. We still haven’t downloaded this yet, but we might share them in the future.
Below: First step is to place the ROV into the water and check for any bubbles. Bubbles mean LEAK! and immediate removal to find the source. All 6 of our ROV’s passed the leak test with flying colors.
Then it was time to swim:
Below: Each teacher in the institute received a waterproof digital camera. Here the daughter of one of the teachers uses one to get underwater photos of Mom’s vehicle.
Below: Testing the scaling lasers and maneuvering towards a rubber crab on the bottom of the pool.
Below: Lights check out OK.
Needless to say the excitement was palatable. Visitors and people that work at the pool followed our progress and wanted to touch the devices. Next we plan to launch them in Lake Tahoe and swim them for a day. Then they can be checked out by teachers to use in their classrooms. Woo hoo! It was a great day.
One of the resources we shared with teachers in the Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute this past weekend was this video explaining how OpenROV got its start by David Lang. It’s a “TED Talk-like” video produced by National Geographic. I especially appreciate his references to “citizen science” projects.
From the description of the video on YouTube:
“Originally interested in building an underwater robot to explore a cave rumored to have gold and treasure, 2016 National Geographic explorer David Lang and a friend had no idea where their curiosity and drive for exploration would lead them. They turned to the Internet for help building their underwater robot, and a community of people emerged to assist. With the ability to descend to a maximum depth of a hundred meters, their low-cost underwater robot, called OpenROV, is redefining ocean exploration. Hear Lang talk about the journey to build OpenROV, how it is inspiring people to explore and engage in citizen science projects, and how the latest technology is creating a wave of low-cost, do-it-yourself products that are making new forms of exploration accessible to people all over the globe.”
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.
Above: 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.