There was no sitting down Tuesday in third period for students in North Middle School’s gifted and talented program.
Instead of listening to a teacher drone on, 17 seventh-graders were doing their own droning, and it was anything but boring.
Jozlyn Costa and Deyanira Valenciano were trying to follow Rule No. 1: Never take your eye off your drone. If you do, the likelihood of it crashing into something rises exponentially, they said, giggling.
“We’ve already broken three gears and a couple of propellers,” Deyanira said.
But they learned how to repair their damaged drone to be as good as new.
With Tuesday’s wet weather, students used the school cafeteria as an airfield.
Flying a drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, is hard but fun, Jozlyn said.
“I’m not very good at it, but I enjoy doing it,” the 12-year-old said.
North Middle is one of two schools in Colorado Springs School District 11 to introduce the “Flight and Space” class this semester. Coronado High students on a drone and rocketry career path also are learning the curriculum.
It’s thought to be the first drone class for K-12 public school students in the state.
That’s why they decided to create the opportunity, said Ray Sevits, gifted and talented teacher at North.
“It’s obviously a budding industry that’s growing rapidly,” Sevits said. “Colorado Springs has almost half of the aerospace and defense industry in Colorado, and we couldn’t find any public school education that does drones anywhere.”
Students are learning everything there is to know: the history of flight, the science, physics and math involved, communication and navigation, map reading, airspace regulations, Federal Aviation Administration laws and other elements in flying drone missions.
They’ll also take field trips to hear from local college and business experts, at Spectrabotics, Colorado College, The Space Foundation, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
“Our program is unique because it’s multi-disciplinary — multiple subjects in one class — which the students like,” Sevits said.
Students must be at least 16 to earn FAA certification to commercially operate a drone, so the middle-schoolers will have a jump on that if they’re interested, Sevits said.
They could work for a real estate or construction company over the summer, for example, after obtaining a license, he said.
“It’s a safety thing, putting someone on a roof or flying a drone over a roof to find damage,” Sevits said. “They’re being used everywhere, so it was like, ‘Why not get it in the hands of students?’ ”
Excellent hand-eye coordination is needed to master the practice, he said, and most students “pick it up pretty well.”
Using a device that resembles a video game controller, students manipulate small stick controls to maneuver their drones to lift off, hover, flit from side to side, glide back and forth, and spin in place.
Students work in pairs and share the small drones with their peers in sixth and eighth grades.
As they improve their skills, students will fly larger, more expensive drones that have cameras and global positioning systems.
It’s like being able to play in class, students said.
“There’s a lot to learn, including repairing them if you break them,” said 12-year-old Leik Williams. “We were sloppy at first, but we’re getting better.”
Student Diego Sauceda said drones are part of the present and future.
“So schools teaching this is very important,” he said, “because these drones are going to take over a lot of jobs.”
Twelve-year-old Jase Stull is somewhat of a pro. He brought a drone to school in third grade and was reprimanded because they weren’t allowed at school then.
Not the case now, he said with a chuckle.
“I never thought there would be a class for flying drones,” Jase said. “I really like it. You can fly at school without getting in trouble.”
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