Using Recreational Drones for STEM Explorations

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 8:30am-11:30am Johnson Center Recreational Services-Gym South


Shelley E Olds, EarthScope Consortium
Margaret Mooney, University of Wisconsin-Madison
This workshop is designed for educators, after-school club leaders, science-fair mentors, and others who want to facilitate STEM-curious youth using recreational drones as a platform for learning. The first 20 registrants who are educators of students in grades 6-12 will receive a drone, courtesy of the Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP). During the three half-day sessions, participants will learn about drone safety and teamwork, and then test their drones' capabilities, decide how to monitor the environment with onboard cameras and/or attached sensors, set up systems to organize data from drones, and develop STEM explorations appropriate for their situations.


Seeing the world from above can stimulate curiosity and give students a reason to engage in many facets of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) learning. The FAA estimates that more than 1 million recreational UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles , or drones) were received as gifts in 2016. These "toys" usually cost less than $100, don't require FAA registration, and are generally able to carry small instrument packages. Drones can be a great platform to encourage STEM thinking and exploration!

ESIP (Earth System Information Partners) strives to make data accessible and meaningful to educators; "Making Data Matter". ESIP is a unique consortium of scientific organizations that collect, interpret, and develop applications for remotely sensed data. The ESIP Education Committee has worked with Earth scientists, data scientists, and humanitarians to initiate an effort to develop and test UAV STEM-focused activity outlines, suggestions, and ideas through their "Drones for STEM" initiative. The goal for the initiative is to inspire learners to conduct local-scale investigations, collecting and analyzing data by using UAVs as a platform to carry scientific instruments, payloads, and/or capture imagery.

In this workshop, we'll share and explore many of these activities that students can modify to test their drones capabilities, monitor the environment with onboard cameras, and set up data systems to organize their flight and image data. The freely downloadable guide called "Got a drone? Try this!" includes student-focused activities using recreational drones to pursue STEM investigations! In your hands, these suggestions can turn into exciting in-class, after school, or science fair projects. Participants will have the opportunity to fly a drone and try an activity.

Target Audience

This workshop is designed for those who work in or with secondary-level (grades 6 -12) education such as grade 6-12 educators, coordinators, after-school club leaders, science-fair mentors, and others who want to facilitate STEM-curious youth using recreational drones as a platform for learning.


Each participant will:

  • Have fun flying drones to explore STEM topics!
  • Explore ways to inspire students to use drones as an innovative platform.
  • Develop plans for incorporating drones into their educational practice.
  • Be part of a cadre of educators who wish to incorporate drone use in learning.


The workshop program will include short presentations, group discussions, active small-group collaborations, sharing of results with the full group. Participants will have the opportunity to work through prepared activities and develop their own.

Agenda topics include:

  • Recreational drones, safety, & civility
  • Connections between using drones and STEM learning
  • Hands-on drone aerodynamics: mastering simple maneuvers
  • Real-world applications of drone technology for science and humanitarian efforts
  • Best practices for documenting your flights, images, and science data
  • Science & flight team roles
  • Hands-on: conduct one investigation from the "Got a Drone? Try this!" guide
  • Off-the-shelf and miniature DIY sensors
  • Hands-on drone aerodynamics: conducting a field investigation
  • Hands-on drone aerodynamics: explore, imagine, test new activities.
  • Practicalities for working with drones

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