Organizers and participants alike were upbeat — and their creations were literally sky high  when the first drone workshop designed especially for educators ended with each team successfully flying its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on the Foxcroft School campus.

Even better, the inaugural “Teachers Take Flight” workshop, co-presented by Foxcroft and the Kashmir World Foundation (KWF), was a great success, inspiring all involved about the possibilities for engaging students in STEM by using drones.

“The teachers all departed the workshop feeling both proud of their accomplishments and excited about the future of their programs at their own schools,” said Maria Evans, Ph.D., Chair of Foxcroft School’s STEM Department and one of the workshop’s organizers. “The high school teachers, in particular, left extremely excited about integrating drones into their coursework.”

Aliyah Pandofi, KWF’s CEO, was already looking towards the future. “The week was very successful,” she said. “We are looking forward to bringing the program to a much larger audience next year, and we are excited about creating a network of teachers who can be leaders in integrating UAV technology for school curriculum around the nation and collaborating worldwide with students and teachers.”

Participants included teachers from Woodbridge, VA and Mountain View, CA; a professor from Smith College in Massachusetts, a KWF trainee, and Katie Hergenreder, the newest addition to the Foxcroft STEM faculty. She built a quadcopter that has newer technology than the quadcopter and hexacopter that already comprise the Foxcroft drone fleet.

“I really enjoyed participating in the Teachers Take Flight workshop,” Hergenreder said. “Building the drones ourselves was a great experience . . . The workshop leaders were very careful to use ‘hands off’ teaching. For example, if I had a question of how to assemble part of the drone, they would assist verbally step by step, rather than showing me by doing it themselves.

“I really appreciated learning this way because it is how I would like to teach students to use the drones. The workshop included lots of great teaching methods and suggestions.”

While Kashmir Robotics, an arm of KWF, supplied and led the drone-building process, a number of fascinating presenters addressed different subjects. The speakers and topics included: 

Cathy McGehee (Head of Foxcroft School), on the importance of engaging girls in mission-focused STEM activities;

Rob Thompson (Falcon Foundation), on FAA regulations — a topic that proved so interesting that Thompson returned a second time to answer more questions;

Dr. Maria Evans, on the EPICS High Engineering and drone programs at Foxcroft;

Jon Caris (Smith College), on how Smith’s drone program is incorporated into its liberal arts curriculum; also Smith’s research programs using drones to estimate storm damage and erosion in Belize;

Ellen Oskoui (Potomac School), on her program to use drones to evaluate vineyard performance;

Mike Kronmiller (Bullis School/RPI), about his partnership with a high school in Nepal developing a program to use drones to find avalanche victims on Mt. Everest;

Nick Franci (Microsoft) on the Microsoft Classroom environment for collaboration.

“Cathy and Maria both gave talks which included one very important point: female students are motivated by the utility of a task,” Hergenreder said. “For example, building a drone just to fly may be fun for a little while, but isn’t a great motivator for girls. In contrast, building a drone to fly it to help the community would really engage our students.”

Foxcroft proved a perfect venue for the event, with its large Physics Lab providing an ideal location for both workshop lectures and drone construction and its 500 acres offering several options for “Flight Day.” The workshop participants launched their UAVs on “Big Track,” a mostly treeless expanse in the middle of campus generally used by the School’s distinguished riding program.