Pilot Number 3: Presidio Knolls School

After the first two New DaVinci pilots, the ETA team received amazing comments and thanks from all of the educators and students from the DC metro area. The second graders from our last pilot in San Francisco also gave New DaVinci rave reviews - in both English and Mandarin.

The third pilot of the New DaVinci education program was held at a progressive Mandarin immersion school in San Francisco, Presidio Knolls School. The goal of PKS is to promote curiosity, creative thinking, and technological literacy in a collaborative learning environment. The creative and challenging content of the New DaVinci curriculum was a natural fit for the school's mission.

Like the Loudon County pilot the previous month, the ETA team presented the New DaVinci quadcopters and 3-D printing curriculums over the two school days. The group of students consisted Presidio Knolls' entire class of second graders. All of the second graders had previously participated in school-sponsored which allowed them write programs with blocks of code, like "Hour of Code". A few students also had experience building robots after attending the sumobots workshop in April, also sponsored by ETA.

After an initial presentation to introduce the New DaVinci program, we distributed our Chromebooks, pre-loaded with our educational software, and one Parrot "Rolling-Spider" Minidrone for each student. Although we presented our curriculum in English, teachers Caitriona Corcoron and Jing Ni continued to give their instructions to the students in Mandarin. The team, educators, and students all moved then to the school gymnasium so we could start the interactive portion of the program - learning basic flight and programming.

Because of their prior programming experience, the second graders understood and became familiar with the New DaVinci web application as quickly as some of the older students in the previous pilots. They immediately started creating programs that used some of the basic flight commands and began to experiment with the more complex "repeat" block. After all of the students had an opportunity to run through the test flights a few times, it was then time for a snack break and recess. The students were all having such much fun programming that they pleaded with their teachers to cancel recess and allow them to keep programming. While the children were on break, the ETA team prepared to present the second part of the curriculum: 3-D modeling and printing.

Before the program began, we were given permission to scan one of the students, Madison, with our 3-D scanner. When the students returned from their break, they were able to see the 3-D printer printing a likeness of her 3-D model. We also showed them in real-time how we could use the scanner to create a 3-D model of ordinary objects and other humans, like their teacher. Consistent with the previous pilots, we followed the scanning demonstration with the Tinkercad workshop. Even with the younger students, we wanted the students to be able create their own custom projects for the 3-D printer. We walked the second-graders through the process of importing and modeling their own “Drone Pilot Wings.” They were delighted to be able to change the colors and personalize them by adding letters and other objects.

Day 2 of the Presidio Knolls pilot was dedicated to advanced flight and the quadcopter obstacle course. Once again, we set up a custom course in the PKS gymnasium using objects and toys that we found in the room and on the playground. The teachers grouped the students into pairs and they were instructed to write a program to navigate through the obstacles and to land on the designated landing strip. The students immediately asked us important questions about their mission:

"How far up does the quadcopter takeoff?"
"How many times can we use the repeat block?"
"How far does the quadcopter go up or forward?"

One of the students found a measuring tape and very studiously measured the distance between obstacles. Other teams used their arms and formed a daisy chain to gauge how many commands it would take to reach the end. One team even asked the ETA team members to stand in the course with their arms outstretched while they numbered and aligned their block commands.

During two iterations of attempts to complete the course, several of the quadcopters came close to landing on the landing pad. For the last part of the New DaVinci quadcopters program, we converted the application to the reactive style of programming. This is where the students send the same commands to the quadcopter as the blocks, but in real-time using the Chromebook keyboard. The students can now make the connection between the video games that they play and programming the quadcopter.

This is the part of the program when the quadcopters are moving faster and ETA team is moving quickly around the course to catch quadcopters that have gone astray or are heading for a collision. At one point, the students all started cheering and chanting, "put it on the ledge" as a lone quadcopter was heading straight for the second floor balcony. The quadcopter was faster than the team members running up the stairs, and successfully reached its destination on the ledge.

After the teams had several minutes of reactive flight time with their minidrones, the ETA team introduced the Parrot AR Drone. The AR drone took several laps around the gymnasium and demonstrated programming a much bigger quadcopter with the same commands as the minidrone. One student wanted to see what would happen if he tried to land quadcopter on a moving target. We hovered the AR drone for his experiment, which led to a mid-air collision, but a successful experiment of curiosity. Even the crashes and out-of-control flights were part of the learning experience and a lot of fun for the students.

At the end of the day, we all returned to the classroom so the students could receive their 3-D printed pilot wings and discuss what they learned and enjoyed most during the pilot. The second graders also wanted to present the cards and drawings that they had made for the team during their recess.

After the thank yous, hugs, and goodbyes to the excited students, the ETA team geared up for an especially unique and extraordinary opportunity that we had planned for later that day - to demonstrate the New DaVinci program for the mayor of San Francisco.

While waiting for our 15 minutes with the mayor, the ETA team performed some test flights and most likely became the first group to ever fly quadcopters inside of historic city hall. When it was time, the ETA team, PKS students Miles and Eli, and parent Melanie Lok all gathered in Ed Lee's office to show the mayor how to program quadcopters. The students built a program using the blocks of code and then changed the program to slightly to incorporate a "flip" command. Eli demonstrated reactive coding by using his keyboard controls to navigate a quadcopter around the small area of the mayor's office. While the students were flying the quadcopters, the ETA team had the chance to talk about the previous New DaVinci pilots and to introduce the 3-D modeling and printing curriculum.

As an even added bonus, we got to hold the San Francisco Giant's world series ring!

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.