Amin Nash discusses his journey in creating a Tello Drone curriculum.
STEM education has taken a sharp rise in academic interest during the past half-dozen years. New approaches in educating younger students on the application of STEM has brought an innovative use of “simple” technologies. This can be seen by DJI’s Ryze Tello drone, which appears to be a “simple toy” for the younger generation, but is actually a highly effective tool in educating students about programming, mathematics, and creativity.
I was given the task by Asya Shklyar to organize an easy-to-use curriculum for both young and older students who want to interact with the In The Know Lab’s Tello drones. This was a challenge for me, because going into this project, I did not know anything about flying drones or being able to program them. In order to balance out my deficiencies, I spent approximately two weeks researching how the DJI’s technology works, how the Tello drone uses its wireless technology, and if there is any way to make the drone think on its own. This research led me to two options: One is to use DroneBlocks, and the other is to program through Python. Since my initial plan was to create a curriculum that addresses students from underrepresented and minority communities who don’t have access to larger programming education, I decided to use DroneBlocks as my form of programming.
I know, DroneBlocks is “too easy” and “too childish”.
However, DroneBlocks is an easy-to-use UI that allows a user to drag-and-drop pre-made scripts onto the screen. For example, students could drag “Takeoff”, “Fly Forward”, and “Land” without actually having to type in the code. For me, the advantage I saw in this easy-to-use system was not in its efficiency, but in its visualization and interface. Programming is a very sequential process, almost like writing a story, where there is a command in the beginning, a series of commands that make up the body, and a (hopefully) satisfying ending. By being able to visually see the commands of “Takeoff” and “Land” allows for a cognitive understanding of how a program should flow, and what should go in between these commands as a whole. Thus, when thinking of communities who’ve never programmed before, I found it more important to have them realize the overall sequential logic behind programming.
Once I pinpointed which programming interface I wanted to use for the Tello, I began looking into GitHub and online resources to start developing projects that can be consolidated into a curriculum. The two most useful tools I found were the actual DroneBlocks website, Mr. Baldwin’s GitHub, and the SheMaps course that was referred to me by Asya. These three resources allowed me to find practical “missions” that could be made, as Mr. Baldwin provided an organized instruction on how to use mathematics and creativity behind the DroneBlocks, while the SheMaps course provided instruction in measuring the world and applying critical thinking into these measurements. I combined the two ideas to make a comprehensive lesson plan that aimed to use the Tello drone’s programming in order to transcend its appearance as a “toy” – it became a valuable tool for mathematics, programming, and creativity.
The lessons I developed were simple: Land the drone on a table, fly through obstacle courses, program the drone to think on its own through Loops, and finally, fly a X-Y slope.
The curriculum came out to be approximately 25-30 pages and took me nearly 3 weeks to finish. I was able to demonstrate the curriculum with a number of my coworkers while also using the curriculum with a number of students around the Pomona community.
One such community was the City of Knowledge school in Pomona, ten minutes away from Pomona College. A private Islamic school, the school is reinvigorating their STEM program and is opening its doors to new approaches to the STEM field. Myself and David D’Attile conducted an hour-and-a-half lesson on drones for about 10-11 students, and they all were extremely excited to use the drone for something more than a toy. They found joy in being able to actually tell the drone what to do and where to go.
During this lesson, what I found most impressive was the students ability to actually figure out the sequential logic behind programming. They understood the process to command the drone in an appropriate way, they used critical thinking skills to fix their mistakes, and they landed the drone multiple times in an appropriate spot.
I found that the Tello drone is an extremely easy tool to use when wanting educate students on the fundamentals and basics of STEM, but it is even more useful in that it allows for extremely quick learning methods. Students who tend to be slow learners or are quick to be “sidetracked” are able to keep focused with the drone and can learn with a lot of joy through its capabilities. Most importantly, I found that teaching STEM is not necessarily a challenging idea, and in fact, is a very enjoyable activity.
By Amin Nash