Native Grasslands, Part 2: Can Drones Deepen Learning?

Today’s post continues the story of impactful learning in a sixth-grade class. The goal: restore native species to a grassland area beside the school. If you haven’t seen Native Grasslands, Part 1, click here.

IMG_0146When the Grasslands project began, the class first generated questions. What information did they need to know in order to complete the project? How would that information be gathered? Some facts – like species native to the area – could be researched. Other information – like soil type – could be physically gathered through testing. To map the area, however, was a bit more complicated.

jahnprogrammersEnter one drone, purchased by Mr. Jahn through a generous educational grant from Forum Credit Union. Honestly, I initially visited Mr. Jahn’s class because I wanted to experience the drone. I wanted to understand if there were curriculum connections to be had with this unmanned aerial system – to see if drones really had potential to impact student learning. What I discovered amazed me. Let me assure the skeptics: there is much more to a drone than its ‘cool’ factor or its potential to deliver Amazon purchases. With the guidance of a great teacher, I learned that the drone can be a tool to deepen and extend learning way beyond what was possible before the Digital Age. And I was reminded that, when kids are engaged in meaningful activities, learning happens.

I asked Mr. Jahn to put into words how the drone has been used in the Grasslands project:

Mr. Jahn: “Before the grasses were cut, the high definition imagery allowed us to overlay known species and predict the total surface area or acreage of those species. [Then] the data and imagery collected allowed us to use software to create high resolution orthomosaics and relief maps.  We had help from a local drone company to create 3D and digital surface models (DSM) using the data we collected.”

HSE21: Awesome! Tell us more!

Mr. Jahn: “Drones can fly at much lower altitudes than manned aircraft and satellites to obtain incredibly detailed imagery, up to the 0.5 inch per pixel resolution that is required for precise modeling and measurement. My students use GPS and grids to set waypoints and determine flight paths.  All telemetry is monitored in real time and allows the students to change flight path if the operating environment changes.”

HSE21: I’ll trust you on the orthomosaic part. And the telemetry part. By the way, did you say that your students are sixth graders?

It’s easy to associate the tech-rich Native Grasslands project with STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction – but the drone is sparking even more! Literacy-based and creative ideas from the students are connecting the project to other curriculum areas. The students now want to use drone footage to create promo videos. Students want to set up an online fundraising portal to expand their endeavors. (Plants do cost money.)

HSE21 will check back in with the class in the spring to see their progress. For now, here’s a peek behind the scenes (please pardon the wind and glare):