They’ve helped the military and are expected to be a popular gift this holiday season, but drones are also the subject of a new class at Wiscasset Middle High School.
“It’s certainly a lot of buzz around the school,” said Dawn Jones, who teaches the course, believed to be the first of its kind in Maine.
Seven students are studying unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAV’s. They’re better known as drones.
“My favorite part was building [it],” said senior Avery Thomas. “Every piece we put together.”
The class was the brainchild of Jesse Hinman, a 2010 graduate. He went on to the University of Maine, where his capstone project focused on bringing drone technology into high schools.
When he and the former principal asked for funding from the town, selectmen objected, citing safety and privacy concerns. The course was cancelled, until about a week later when school board members approved $4,750 from an education fund to purchase five drone kits.
“There’s the physics of flight, the chemistry of batteries, the techniques of soldering — little tiny connections onto flight controllers,” said Hinman. “So a lot goes into these and opens the door to teach about a lot of different science concepts.”
Hinman is assisting Jones as a TA this semester.
“It’s been a surprise and a really wonderful experience,” said Jones. “Because the class has grown very organically. The students have helped create it.”
They’ll all tell you safety is the number one priority. The UAV’s have to stay below 400 feet, and since they’re within five miles of the local airport, permission is a requirement.
As fun as it is to actually get outside and fly, regulations are a big part of the course. Students keep a close eye on current events, for example, the FAA announcing just this week that UAV’s, like the ones they use, will now have to be registered.
“Very quickly we were able to help students, and hopefully the community, see UAV’s aren’t just military weapons,” said Jones. “They’re robotic data collection devices that are used in all parts of society.”
Students are now using them to shoot video for their final projects.
“You can take pictures of the school and stuff at a really high point of view,” said sophomore Jason Campbell.
It’s giving them a look at the world, and science, from an angle they wouldn’t get otherwise.