Pilot Number 2: Liberty Elementary School

When Washington, DC's News Channel 8 entered the Liberty Elementary school gymnasium, they didn't expect to see the 5th grade students flying "real, live drones" through an obstacle course. What they were witnessing was students programming and flying quadcopters as part of the New DaVinci education curriculum.

In the beginning of June, ETA visited Liberty elementary school, in Loudon County, Virginia, for our second pilot for the New DaVinci education program. For this pilot, we presented a 2-day version of our New DaVinci quadcopters and 3-D printing curriculums to two classes of 5th graders.

Meghan Puckli and Courtney Peckham's 5th grade classes were selected to participate in the pilot, but the students were not told until the ETA team arrived in the classroom. When we announced that we had 3-D printers and robots, the crowd of children became very excited and hands went up all over with questions for our team.

"Do you work for NASA?"
"Why is it called a quadcopter?"
"Can you 3-D print a 3-D printer?"

At the start of Day 1, one of the classes stayed in the classroom to learn 3-D modeling and printing, while the other class headed to the gymnasium with new Parrot "Rolling-Spider" Minidrones, provided by ETA. Ms. Puckli's students watched the printers print a replica of the teacher while our team showed the students how they could be scanned into interactive 3-D models. The scanning portion of the modeling curriculum helps the students make the connection between 3-D modeling and creating things like replacement parts for machines and prosthetics for humans.

The students also learned how to create their own custom models using the design application, Tinkercad. They were able to create objects, open existing objects, and layer them to create a final model to send to the 3-D printer. Similar to our first New DaVinci pilot, the 5th graders all learned to make their own customized "Drone Pilot Wings" that could be printed and taken home. Since Tinkercad is available as a free web application, the students can continue making designs after the program is complete.

Meanwhile, in the Liberty gym, Ms. Peckham's class learned how to begin programming and piloting their quadcopters. The students matched their quadcopters with Chromebooks that began experimenting with the New DaVinci web application. Many of the children in the class were familiar with other online programming tools such as MIT's Scratch or Hour of Code, so they felt comfortable using the draggable code blocks. Once they understood that each code block represented a command that could control their robot, they were able to quickly construct flight programs for their quadcopters. They experimented with height, speed, and combinations of turns until they understood the mechanics of the quadcopter and felt confident programming. That was when the students were introduced to the "flip" command block.

On Day 2, after they had an opportunity to program robots and create their 3-D models, both classes met in the gym to fly their quadcopters through a series of obstacles. Using objects that were provided by the Liberty Elementary athletic department, the ETA team created a hoop of "fire" (arches) and a final advanced obstacle that required landing the quadcopter on a platform. The students grouped into pairs and were tasked to write programs that would fly their quadcopters through the obstacle course. The students walked the course, made measurements, and asked questions about the speed and distance of the quadcopter commands before they started creating their programs. Each team was given a few tries on the course with the block-style coding interface before we gave them the option to switch to the "reactive" programming interface. This allows the students to send the commands to the robot in real-time with the keyboard like playing a typical video game. While some of the students were eager to try the real-time programming right away, other teams chose to continue making changes to their existing program until it successfully landed on the platform. After some close calls, a quadcopter landed on the platform!

At the end of the day, the ETA team demonstrated programming and flight of a much larger Parrot AR Drone. Although this model is much larger and has more features, the students could see that it was controlled by the same types commands that they used in their programs. The demonstration of the full-size quadcopter helped to show the students how their robots relate to other types of drones used for recreation, science, and the military. At the discretion of the Liberty elementary staff, the students then were allowed to take home the quadcopters they used during the program so they could continue experimenting and flying their robots.

The reception of the New DaVinci educational program from the Liberty elementary school educators, students, and parents was extremely positive. In addition to the news coverage, we were featured in the Liberty elementary blog.

We also received several positive reviews from our "customers."

Posted by Linda Nichols

Linda Nichols
Linda Nichols is a software developer with more than 10 years experience in several different industries. In addition to writing code, Linda has a passion for community involvement and education in the arts and robotics. She is the organizer of Norfolk.js, NodeBots Norfolk, and several other local classes and workshops in her home of Norfolk, VA. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Old Dominion University and a Masters in Information Technology from Virginia Tech.