Using recreational drones to encourage STEM Education and ESIP collaborations


The FAA projects that more than 1 million recreational drones—Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS—will be received as gifts through the holiday season! Many of these have built in cameras, and when drones collect data, they connect perfectly to ESIP. The Education Committee views the widespread and growing availability of recreational drones as an opportunity to encourage STEM learning and leverage ESIP collaborations.

Presentations and discussion in the session will provide input for a professional development project for educators (two Webinars and a one-day workshop) and a collection of activity suggestions to encourage youth to consider how they can use recreational drones for science explorations. Beginning with questions such as How high can it go? and How fast can it fly?, we’ll compile suggested activities that youth might use for science fair projects. We'll draw inspiration from fields in which drones are now being deployed for science missions. We’ll also emphasize activities to help drone flyers understand the value of organizing and archiving their data, and offer applications of that value by encouraging them to access data from ESIP projects.

The session will feature a mix of short presentations and discussions. One of our remote presentations will be by Jamey Jacobs, PI of the NSF Cloud-Map project at Oklahoma State University. Education Committee members—Preston Lewis, Daniel Zalles, Becky Reid, and Alan Gould—will also make short presentations. We welcome contributions from all ESIP committees and working groups, and we extend a special invitation to folks who received drones for the holidays!


Using recreational drones to encourage STEM Education and ESIP collaborations

LuAnn Dahlman

How can we make the world a better place by helping kids do something scientific with their drones?


  • Develop a downloadable book of STEM activities for youth with drones
  • Offer webinars to inform educators
  • Put on a summer workshop to engage educators

The scope of this work is evolving

  • A wider range of drones are available, under 1/2 pound and $100
  • Point to safety, but focus is on activities
  • Develop the end products for the youth themselves


Collaboration for Leading Operation UAS Development for Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics


Jamey Jacobs

We are not doing a good enough job measuring the weather, particularly near the ground (NRC, 2009)

Small UAVs can really help measure the boundary layer, particularly the “near-storm environment”

  • Drones could help increase the warning time for tornadoes
  • Extend the view of storm chasers and increase safety
  • Improve disaster response

The goal of CLOUDMAP is to work with the public

Get involved!

  • Low cost drones and weather sensors can make it possible
  • All scientists need is the latitude, longitude, altitude, and time
    • With measurements like: Temperature, Pressure, Humiditiy, and/or Wind


Google science fair

            One way to inspire participation

Becky Reid


  • Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Electricity and Electronics

What kind of questions do we want our drone to answer?

  • Can we improve lead-time on tornadoes?
  • Students can come up with their own question to answer.
    • "What are you going to do with your drone?"

Google offers many prizes!



Schools using Drone

            Shelley Olds

Which K-12 schools are actually using drones, and in what ways?

  • Many school struggle to get approval to use them for educational purposes.
    • We should find out their arguments!
  • Various categories with students and faculty
    • Engineering, programming, flying
      • shop class
    • Project focus 
      • crop monitoring
    • Exploration, imagery, videography

Creativity is the key to begin!



Investigating the natural world with drone photography in ways that support the scientific practices in the Next Generation Science Standards

Daniel Zalles

A prescriptive example of a research curriculum.

  • Background about eutrophication
  • Pick a question
    • How much eutrophication is happening?
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and Interpreting data
  • Using math and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in arguments from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information



Alan Gould

How does this concept of using drones fit into existing curriculums?

This presentation was a walk through of the various software and available text from Global Systems Science



STEM Education with Drones

Classroom STEM examples and ideas from you!

Preston Lewis



  • Remote Sensing
  • Change over time
  • Validation of a currently collected satellite data parameter
  • Ground truthing satellite data
  • Investigate microclimates across the school yard
    • Match temperature with reflectivity
      • A swarm and 3d analysis could be great!
  • Look at turbidity in a lake
    • Use a pontoon drone
  • Comparing local and regional data with satellite data


  • What tech facilitates the remote operation of UAS?
  • How does it ocmpare to RC cars, or a bluetooth computer mouse?
  • Use the drone for local disaster response
    • Storm damage to the roof


  • What is lifting the drone?
  • How does it compare to a helium balloon?
  • How can you alter payload capacity?
  • Start from a parts list and end with a drone!


  • Figure out how high your drone is.
  • How do you figure out how high an airplane is?
  • How would you design an experiment with how fast your drone is landing?
  • What percentage of vegetation is changing
Dahlman, L.; Olds, S.; Mooney, M.; Using recreational drones to encourage STEM Education and ESIP collaborations; Winter Meeting 2016. ESIP Commons , October 2015