Helping students focus on UAS and Automation Careers in the Future

By Jennifer Ferrero, APR

There is a light at the end of the high school tunnel for instructor Mr. Clem See. Through the light, he envisions students working for real estate agents, in agriculture, manufacturing, and more. The students going through his program have an opportunity to become Part 107 certified with the FAA before graduation. They will also have a chance to “work” with industry partners performing real work that will teach them job skills in today’s world.

See is with YV Tech, also known as Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center. About a year ago, this former mechanical engineer was tasked with creating curriculum around unmanned aircraft systems, commonly called drones. At first, he was concerned about the idea because he didn’t want to do something trendy but hoped for something substantial and with an eye on jobs of the future.

“I was skeptical at first,” See said.

The curriculum last year came together right as students were entering the program in fall 2017. See decided to approach the curriculum as if it was an engineering problem to solve. He wanted students to not only learn the technology of how to do something, but also why.

He knew of a problem that they could potentially review. With the orchards in the Yakima Valley he had heard of concerns with pesticide drift having harmful effects on children who live near fields. Could unmanned systems provide more precise pesticide application with less drift?

He said, “We go through an engineering design process, identify issue, brainstorm solutions, build it, and test it.”
To find a solution to the problem, he employs teams of students. He said that on any given team, there are students that enjoy piloting the drones, there are students who build, and students who are more managerial in style. He tries to find the right fit for each student to ensure that they are getting the most out of the program.
“Some students will go into mechanical engineering in college; and some will earn their Part 107 and go to work after high school,” See added.

See is working to ensure that his students obtain real work experience by working with the following groups:

  • Aerial photographer (Yakima Tennis Club), combines with digital media department to put a video together.
  • Visual Observer who will monitor drone teams in the City of Yakima to ensure compliance to FAA regulations.
  • Pilot with a golf course to observe watering.
  • Aerial photographer and video for local farmers to observe crop health.

The class is investing in new infrared cameras to conduct this work. While the students aren’t eligible to invoice for services, because they are within a public-school district, the recipients of services can donate to the program.

The program, while continuing to evolve, will take on a new group of students in fall 2018. The future of these students will likely include a strong knowledge of jobs available to them and opportunity to start work sooner than later.

Olympia School District is diving in early with Aerial Robotics 101

By Jennifer Ferrero, APR

Randy Steele, STEM Curriculum Support with Olympia School District (OSD) believes that robotics and STEM skills need to start earlier. He has been working with the Center of Excellence for Aerospace on Mechatronics and robotics curriculum using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® EV3 Education Core Set for elementary, middle and high school students. The curriculum developed in Olympia, STEM Robotics 101, is used by nearly 4,000 teachers around the world and over 450 Washington teachers have been trained in its use. This work included building and programming robots, applying math and science concepts to robots, sensors and circuits, and learning the engineering process. Students may then use these classroom-based skills to participate in STEM varsity sports, like FIRST Robotics – a sport where every student can go pro.

He is now turning his attention to developing curriculum for middle school students called Aerial Robotics 101 with UAVs, or drones. His hope is that by the time students are in high school their skills will be established, “We tell students, ‘When you are 16 years old, in high school, you can get your Commercial UAV pilot license,’” Steele said.
He said, “The idea is to expose students to UAVs as young as possible – to pique their interest – prior to high school,” Steele added. But this will not be drone playtime, just like STEM Robotics 101 is not LEGO playtime.

The first unit being developed will operate under FAA Section 336 (Recreational Rules) and will cover:

  • Introduction to UAVs
  • UAV Equipment
  • Basic Piloting Skills (indoors)
  • Advanced UAV Operations (incl. outdoors on school property)
  • UAV Aerodynamics
  • UAV Technology modeling with LEGO Robots
  • UAV Programming
  • UAV Cinematography

Each lesson will include Overview and Student Objectives, Instructor’s Guide, Primary Instructional Material, Differentiated Instructional Material as well as Formative and Summative Assessments.

The goal is to increase STEM access and equity statewide by reducing barriers-to-entry for districts/schools/teachers through working with low cost drones operating under Section 336 and offering free curriculum and professional development across Washington. This is a model that started with the STEM Robotics 101 Professional Development Program (a partnership of FIRST Washington, OSD, OSPI and the statewide Educational Service Districts network), and due to its success, and the changing industry landscape, the new Aerial Robotics curriculum was developed.

The inaugural professional development was held on August 31 for 8 teachers from Olympia and Tacoma school district (see photos). The emerging Aerial Robotics 101 curriculum, under development, will be refined by feedback from these teachers throughout this school year using the collaboration features of the curriculum site.

Future units are envisioned for UAV Engineering (building UAVs) and UAV Commercial Piloting (Part 107) as the program extends into high school. As a result, this middle school course will begin instilling a mindset that includes safety standards (3-person crews, safety gear, checklists), aviation protocols (flight plans, pilot logs, incident reports) and FAA regulations to prepare these students for opportunities beyond middle school.