Introducing students to computer science can be a challenging process due to many intangible features of the curriculum and the frustrating exactness required to be successful. For many students, this can serve as a deterrent and curb motivation to participate in more complex projects involving higher-level processes. Therefore, starting with simple and tangible projects can help to foster interest in the activity.

Block-Based Visual Programming

It’s always best to begin with a visual-based coding system when discussing introductory coding topics with students. This style of writing code helps students to build the critical foundation of computer science without the need for the complex syntax of traditional coding languages.

The format allows teachers to deliver meaningful instruction either on the computer/tablet or deliver manipulatives for the students to practice the step-by-step procedure of coding.

The two applications I have used most are Tynker and Scratch because of their ease of use and the educational resources they provide. Both programs also allow for a high level of outside integration, which will be necessary for interacting with an external device like a drone, microcontroller, etc.

Why Drones?

I enjoy using drones as teaching implements because they are versatile and extremely engaging for students to work with. In terms of complexity, drones allow for very simple commands like an RC car but also allow for much more complex and precise tasks involving height, speed, and orientation of the aircraft.

While a car can move in a two-dimensional plane, a three-dimensional plane requires much more precision and thought to move through carefully. In addition, many drones and drone kits on the market today come with cameras and other accessories that can make teaching the curriculum even more exciting!

I primarily rely on Tynker to control my classroom drones because of its simple user interface and excellent color coding. The program has integration for controlling drones and a free iPad app, allowing my students to code from anywhere and upload executable functions to the drone through Bluetooth. Tynker does an excellent job of simplifying the complex functions of the drone into short commands that are easily executable (“Move forward X seconds”, “Rotate 180 degrees”, etc.).

6 Example Drone Tasks

Not sure where to start to get your drone program up off the ground? Here are 6 hands-on activities you can use to teach students lessons about coding and real-world drone technology.

  1. Navigate a maze of hula hoops and land safely.
  2. Use a grabber attached to the drone to retrieve a package.
  3. Fly over and object, take a picture, and return to home.
  4. Create an airshow and land safely.
  5. Take off and land in a confined space.
  6. Design code that will take a panoramic picture to survey an area for construction.

Teaching with drones is a unique way to foster interest in a computer science career path and working with autonomous vehicles and systems. With drones and other autonomous vehicles quickly becoming an integral part of commerce, businesses will be seeking more and more employees with experience creating and utilizing these systems.