Ohio Program Teaches ‘STEM’ Through Drone Simulations

By Danielle Wilson — March 26, 2014 3 min read
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An Ohio high school course is attempting to spark interest in high-tech careers by guiding students through simulations of drones, the aerial devices commonly known for their use on the battlefield and other applications such as firefighting and video surveillance.

The new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics elective class at Greenon High School in Springfield, Ohio, allows students to experiment with the actual software used to direct unmanned aerial vehicles, and take those vehicles through various imaginary scenarios.

According to the Dayton Daily News, students in the program use software provided by Analytical Graphics Inc., a Pa. firm that develops software for space, defense and intelligence agencies, to simulate how drones could respond to natural disasters as well as military crises abroad.

During the first semester, students in the program took part in a different type of lesson: they learned how to build a model of their school and simulate a fire evacuation plan in the Modeling and Simulation: Survey Course.

In their second semester, in a course titled Modeling and Simulation: Surveillance & Response, students have been using the GPS skills and data knowledge they acquired to work with simulations of drones, responding to virtual scenarios like wildfires. By the end of the course, students will develop a mobile app that uses data from the drones to create an emergency route for a school bus to navigate around a disaster.

“We want students to have authentic training for the workforce, and this class really supports 21st century skills,” said Sandi Preiss, coordinator for the Dayton Regional STEM Center in an interview with Education Week.

The Dayton Regional STEM Center, located in Dayton, Ohio, provides professional development in STEM education to K-12 teachers in the region along with generating STEM curricula for schools. They are coordinating the pilot for the modeling and simulation courses in five districts, Greenon High is in one of those districts.

This workforce training is part of the region’s quest to become a major player in the unmanned aerial vehicle industry. The industry is expected to create an estimated 2,700 jobs in the state and contribute $82 billion to the nation’s economy by 2025, according to an estimate provided by the Association of Unmanned Vehicles Systems International, as reported by the Daily News.

As the use of drones has grown, the technology has drawn scrutiny from civil libertarians and others who fear that the high-powered surveillance tool will be abused by the government or private industry. Critics also say drones are being used on the battlefield with too little government accountability and oversight.

Greenon High, like other pilot schools taking part in the program, has found the hands-on course is also a popular choice for students not planning to pursue work in the UAV industry. The technology and development skills they learn in the class prepare them for college and many other fields. The Dayton Regional STEM Center and the pilot schools are looking into providing certification and dual-enrollment credit for participating students.

Aimee Belanger-Haas, geospatial coordinator at Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio told the Daily News that UAVs will be used in a variety of fields to provide data to analysts on the ground, gathering information in a more cost- and time- efficient way.

Analytical Graphics, Inc. provided the software used in this semester of the course, which typically costs $200,000 per license, for free. The Dayton Regional STEM Center received several grants to fund both the curriculum and pilot program. Students are able to take the course at no-cost; schools are responsible for providing computers compatible to the software and providing training needed for instructors.

Preiss told Education Week The Dayton Regional STEM Center has received requests from other states interested in adopting the curriculum for their schools. Most curricula offered through the center take 18 to 24 months before they can be made available to the public. She expects both courses in the modeling and simulation curriculum to be available for roll-out by summer 2015.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.