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Teachers Take Flight Participants Start Building Drones

By Foxcroft School

Foxcroft School’s Physics Lab became a drone-building studio Monday afternoon when 10 participants in the second annual "Teachers Take Flight" workshop (TTF) opened kits containing everything they need to build their own quad- or hexa-copters, program them, and — hopefully — get them in the air by Thursday afternoon.

Teachers from such diverse institutions as Texas A&M University, W. T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, VA, and Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Miami, FL all busied themselves trying to figure out what goes where, with just a little mentoring from high school interns. A student-faculty team from Foxcroft, a veteran grammar school teacher from Powhatan School (Boyce, VA), and two Montgomery (MD) College instructors, one of whom brought her 13-year-old daughter along, also participated.

The four-day workshop, presented in partnership with the Kashmir World Foundation (KWF), provides teachers with technical skills and curriculum models to engage students in STEM subjects using drones — and the hands-on approach is the centerpiece of the practicum. Learning how to use them to engage and inspire students to take on STEM challenges and stretch skills in those crucial fields is the other part.

On Monday, the participants — who teach everything from first grade science to graduate school technology management — heard about how KWF uses unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to help endangered species and how to integrate geospatial inquiry and data analysis through GIS from Foxcroft School Director of Educational Technology and AP Human Geography teacher Alex Northrup.

Northrup recently attended the Power of Data (POD) Facilitation Academy at Northern Arizona University under a National Science Foundation grant and is now certified to present week-long POD Teacher Workshops. The TTF session gave teachers a preview of those, several of which will be offered in the next two years.

Foxcroft STEM Department Chair Maria Evans, PhD, an aerospace engineer who once launched satellites and rockets from Cape Canaveral, invited several students, including Carsyn B. '19, May S. '19, Bailey R. '19, and Kenzie G. '20, to help her build her UAS. Evans has overseen Foxcroft’s drone program and inspired many Foxcroft students to embrace STEM. She motivates them with innovative courses in aerodynamics and engineering that integrate science, technology, engineering, and math skills to address real world issues — which is a primary goal of the "Teachers Take Flight" workshop. Her engineering course uses Purdue University’s Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) curriculum and her aerodynamics elective, a new offering for the coming school year, will have students design and build airplanes and rockets, as well as program drones for specific missions that address humanitarian needs.

Last year, Foxcroft School hosted the first “Teachers Take Flight” workshop with educators from Woodbridge (VA) High School, Mountain View (CA) High School, Foxcroft, and Smith College (MA) participating. Teachers from Woodridge and Mountain View launched pilot programs this spring, with a total of 182 students participating. In March, Dr. Evans and a group from Smith College participated in the first KWF “Fly for Conservation Expedition” at St. Catherines Island, GA.

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