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Students learn to pilot drones

Students from the Mission area school districts recently participated in a technology camp where they learned the history and function of a drone, which is an unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft with a camera.

The camp was co-sponsored by Nerdvana and Border Kids Code, two Rio Grande Valley-based companies that seek to integrate technology into education. Nerdvana supplied equipment; Border Kids Code created the curriculum.

20160617 AREA drone camp 3130Part of the curriculum was learning how drones came to be, what they are used for and how to operate them. The students built their own drones out of cardboard and had to come with a backstory — what the drone was needed for, the problem it solved and how they designed the drone to solve that need.

The districts – La Joya ISD, Mission CISD and Sharyland ISD – paid for the students to attend the camp from June 6 – June 17. At the end of the weeks, each student, grades five through eight, took a drone home.

“This should be integrated into the classroom so that the kids get constant, consistent exposure to technology,” Nerdvana CEO Hitan Patel said. “We should update the classroom to reflect the fact that kids have access to technology already. Let’s bring the school districts up to par with that and figure out how to get that done.”

Drones were initially created to be used by the military when manned flight is considered too risky or difficult. But the drones the students were working with weighed less than a pound and could rest in the palm of a hand. The drones didn’t have to be registered to the Federal Aviation Administration and the students didn’t need a license because the equipment was too small.

Border Kids Code Co-founder Marcos Silva said when he created the curriculum, he drew on his own experiences from when he was a kid. Growing up a migrant student, Silva was able to see how students learned in northern school districts versus in the Valley. Sometimes the tools he used in the schools that he migrated to were not offered in Valley classrooms. With the drone camp, Silva said he hopes to close the technological gap.

“I got to maybe play with cool things when I was up north, but I never really had it at home and that learning stopped right there,” Silva said. “So at this camp, if we’re playing with a drone, you’re learning how it’s built, you’re learning all the parts, you’re going to take it home so that you can continue to do that at home and it doesn’t stop within the walls of the school.”

One of the activities during the camp was a life-size, simulated version of the game Battleship. In the game, the two opponents can’t see each other’s board or where their battleships are located on the board. The players call out coordinates to determine where their “missiles” are sent. They player whose missiles hit all the correct coordinates and sinks their opponent’s battleships, wins the game. For the camp, the students used classroom floors as their board and flew the drones to simulate missile attacks.

“These kids were pretty shy at the beginning. Now they’re completely embracing the technology, to compete against each other and to build their own solutions to problems,” Patel said. “What I like is that the kids are getting the opportunity to be creative with new technology that they may have not been able to get access to through the normal school year.”

This is the first summer that Nerdvana and Border Kids Code partnered for the drone camp.  Although there aren’t more summer events scheduled, Patel said he plans to have more activities available during the school year.

In 2014, Border Kids Code partnered with Sylvan Learning to bring coding to Mission CISD, La Joya ISD and Sharyland ISD with the Code the Town project, where students learn how to code.

“We hope to open the door for other districts to jump on board and just kind of see that these districts are spearheading the way of technology education,” Silva said. “We’re just super excited to get to know these districts and get to know these kids who are super pumped about learning how to fly a drone, which might not have been a conversation at the dinner table three weeks ago.”

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