STEAM Students Build and Pilot Drones

by: Ed Sheppard, US Math/Computer Science Teacher
Shorecrest Upper School students in the Introduction to Engineering, Programming and Robotics course completed a months-long Aviation Module. The module included discussions about the history of aviation engineering developments, aerodynamics, and the forces impacting an aircraft. Using the Engineering Design Process, the students completed a project in aircraft design that focused on a specific design parameter -- such as flight time, flight duration, or the ability to carry cargo. 
The final project for the module was drone operations. The students learned about the engineering and aerodynamics of drones, the importance of safety when operating drones, and even had the chance to build their very own drone.

Their final practical exams involved:
  • Manually flying a drone through an obstacle course
  • Autonomously coding a drone through an obstacle course
  • Pre-flight knowledge
  • Adherence to safety
Arden Katcha '26 described the obstacle course she piloted her drone through. "The course was set up with multiple different obstacles. We started taking off from a starting line. Then we needed to fly through an arch without hitting the sides. After that, we had to fly up and through a hoop. Next, we had to fly back down and navigate around three cones without hitting them. Then we had to land and take off on a mock helipad. Then we had to go through another hoop. We had to land and take off on a helipad again. We had to go through another arch, land on another helipad, go through another arch, and finally land on the final helipad. Once we crossed the line, we only made it halfway. We had to go back and do it again in reverse."

Watch a practice run here from Hayden Hawkins '26 and Candy Ran '26.

As a special treat, first graders from Mrs. Sheppard's class were excited to reconnect with their Upper School buddies and pilot drones through the obstacle course. One of the Upper School students said, "This is amazing because we get the chance to introduce these concepts to the first grade students 9 years earlier [than we were introduced to them.] I wish I could have flown drones in first grade!"

The STEAM Signature Program is a pathway for Upper School students (grades 9-12) to pursue STEAM-related coursework that allows them to apply critical thinking and 21st Century skills while investigating a specialized area of interest. STEAM students maintain an online portfolio outlining coursework and projects they have completed. Portfolios for this project reflected the study of laws of motion, aerodynamics and aviation history. (Did you know Tony Jannus conducted the United States' first scheduled commercial airline flight in our home of St. Pete on January 1, 1914, for the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line?) Students also outlined how they built drones, from motors and propellers to circuit boards.
Special thanks to Dr. Anna Baralt for her vision and support of this amazing opportunity for the students. The Athletics/PE team was also instrumental in necessary scheduling. Thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Sheppard for creating and coordinating this amazing experience!

Find more photos here.

Related news: STEAM Students and First Grade Buddy Up for Design Thinking Project


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