Learn how a teacher uses drones in elementary school – to begin developing the diverse workforce in the aerospace industry of the future.
By DRONELIFE contributor Dawn MK Zoldi
Don’t miss the next Dawn of Drones podcast for more of Dawn’s in-depth content, right here on DRONELIFE!
Meghan Salter, a Huntington, West Virginia (WV) public school teacher, is committed to educating children well so they can lead the drone industry of tomorrow. She has built drones into her classrooms for seven of the thirteen years she has been training talented young students in the rural Appalachian Mountains.
Drones in primary school: STEM and more
Salter was first introduced to drones by a friend in 2015 and quickly realized what opportunities they could have in teaching STEM and other subjects. She recalled, “It was a new technology. Back then I had no idea what drones were. Most of my students had heard of them but had ever used them. It was really amazing to start one of the first elementary drone training programs in elementary school. “
She convinced her leadership to proceed with a drone program and set about writing funding proposals. From the humble beginnings of an initial $ 2,500 STEM scholarship from the WV Department of Education, she has now raised nearly $ 30,000 in drones and 3D printers to help her students.
At the beginning of her studies there was no elementary-oriented course content. So she created her own curriculum. “I had to build everything,” she recalls. “Even now that there are so many more things teachers can find online, it can still be a struggle in elementary school. Most of the curriculum is aimed at middle and high school students.
She also developed the school’s drone Olympics for all grades, with a special focus on fifth graders. As part of this year-long project, students will assemble a portfolio that includes a biography, written assignments, research projects, learning the NATO phonetic alphabet (think: Alpha, Beta, Charlie, Delta, etc), math calculations, and more. The children then compete against each other in various challenges that mimic real-world drone use cases. (For more information, see the Drone Olympics video here). Their goal was to show others that we do more than just play with drones. “There are so many ways to incorporate it into your class,” she explained. “As long as you are creative and willing to make mistakes, you will be successful in the end.”
These creative adjustments in the classroom resulted in her receiving the Women and Drones Woman to Watch Education Award in 2019. Other awards followed, including Cabell County Teacher of the Year 2020 and 2020 Top Finalist WV Teacher of the Year. Like so many women before her, Salter’s receipt of the Woman to Watch Award changed her life. Not only was it a “huge trust builder” (their words), it opened up numerous opportunities, including various advisory board memberships and roles as moderator for drone instructors.
Diversity remains a priority for Salter. Her goal is to inspire the next generation of drone ecosystem experts and break down stereotypes, especially for their female students. Originally from a small town of fewer than two thousand people, Salter grew up in an environment where women seem to be just a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. “There are so many stereotypes women face. It makes me happy to see some of these things start to change, ”she mused. “I became a teacher because I didn’t know what my options were. I think that’s why I’m so passionate about what I do. I want to be a positive role model for my students, especially my girls, by showing them careers that are available in technology and especially drone technology. “
Salter is clearly a role model for all students and teachers. Her personal motto for students is: “Fail because that’s how you learn.” She makes sure that her classroom is a safe place where students can fail without judgment so that they can ultimately be successful. Your three most important tips for teachers:
- Be brave – don’t be afraid of technology. Students will love using drones in the classroom. Give it a chance (and don’t be afraid to fail either!)
- Network – Find organizations that support both STEM and STEAM training from across the US and around the world, for both funding and course content.
- Never stop learning – drone technology is changing fast. So stay tuned by catching the latest industry news through media like DroneLife.
As for next, Salter has some personal goals for the future of drone training. She plans to keep talking about how drones can be used in elementary school and keep using them in her own classroom. She also whirled around the idea of creating and publishing part of her drone curriculum to help shape the future workforce. “There is so much potential for humanity to do great things with drones,” she said. “This is what I hope to impress my students.”
To learn more about some of Meghan Salter’s elementary drone teaching techniques, visit her YouTube channel.
Dawn MK Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of combined active military and federal civil service with the Department of the Air Force. She is an internationally recognized expert on the law and politics of unmanned aircraft systems, a columnist for several magazines, winner of the Woman to Watch in UAS (Leadership) Award 2019, President and CEO of UAS Colorado and CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC. You can find more information on their website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional marketplace for drone services, and a passionate observer of the emerging drone industry and regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for emerging technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.
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