Category Archives: Science


Monday’s post was about a recent field trip my 3rd-5th graders took to Mitchell Lake Audubon Center that was augmented by adding some drone education while we were out there.  Before we went on the trip, I did lengthy discussions with my students, particularly my 5th graders, about drones.  We have been talking about freedom vs. safety a lot in our class, and this is a real-life topic that fits right into that.

I showed my students a video of how drones can be used for conservation.  It is an engaging and informative TED Talk by Lian Pin Koh. We talked about how there is potential for good and for harm with this technology – just as there has been and will be with any new technology.

After the field trip, I had my students fill out some Depth and Complexity frames about the ethics, multiple perspectives, changes over time, and rules for drones.  I thought I would share some of their work. (Be sure to read the awesome “Dronuts” idea!)

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You can read more about how drones are being used and may be used in the future in my Drones for Education post.  Also, here is another example of #dronesforgood from the TED blog about how they can help to deliver medicine in remote areas.

A Bird’s Eye View

Located in the southern part of San Antonio, TX, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center is dedicated to the conservation of birds. Though it’s open to the public, the majority of the tourists are the birds who stop in the area during their migrations.  The Center offers field trip and guided tours, and is a must-see destination for local birdwatchers.

When planning a drone demonstration for my gifted students with Justin Moore, @texasbyair, Mr. Moore mentioned that he had done some work with Mitchell Lake.  My 5th graders were researching field trip locations, and I thought it might be the perfect match as they seemed mostly interested in nature and wildlife.  The staff at Mitchell Lake, especially Jake Stush, were very accommodating as we worked with them to customize a unique field trip for the students.  Mr. Moore and Mr. Stush teleconferenced with the 5th graders a couple of times to finalize the plans before the tour.  We wanted to show the benefits of using drones, and give the students the opportunity to learn more about the habitats the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center is trying to preserve.

On the day of our trip, 23 gifted students from 3rd-5th grades visited Mitchell Lake.  We separated the students into two groups. Mr. Stush took one group on a hike of the area near Bird Pond to learn more about the resident birds and how the sanctuary has changed over time.  Mr. Moore took the other group to get some drone footage of the region.

As the students learned about the importance of preserving areas like Mitchell Lake and used their binoculars to see some of the birds and other wildlife up close and personal, they also got to find out how drones can be used for scientific research.  Mr. Moore divided the students up into groups to give them jobs for the drone flight – allowing them to look up weather conditions, keep the launch/landing pad area cordoned off, take pictures and video, and to keep the drone in sight and away from obstacles and predators.

It was incredible to learn about this lesser-known part of San Antonio which actually has a huge impact on the ecosystem, as well as to allow students to see the amazing potential of drone technology to help us to work on improving our environment.

As I watched the drone take off, and saw curious birds circle it from a cautious distance while my students watched from the earth below, I felt that I was witnessing a certain kind of tentative balance among man, machine, and animal as we all try to learn how to exist together.

The next day, Mr. Moore sent us a highlight reel of our trip, using video from the drone, as well as video and pictures taken by the students.  He also sent a digital 3d map that was created from the drone’s footage.  It even included our school bus!  We talked about how the information could help the researchers at Mitchell Lake and how much we enjoyed our trip.

For more information about using Drones for Education, check out this post.  Thanks to Mr. Moore (@texasbyair) and the staff of Mitchell Lake (@MLAudubonCenter) for making our field trip so memorable!

Mitchell Lake

Beau Lotto and Amy O’Toole

While searching for a TED talk for my 5th graders last week, I came across one that I hadn’t seen before.  It was given by Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist, and Amy O’Toole, a 12-year-old published scientist.


Beau and Amy tell the story of a class of 8 and 9 year-olds and their serious scientific research into the fascinating minds of bees, which eventually became known as the “Blackawton Bees Project.”  During their talk, we learn about the mistaken perceptions that we can have – such as underestimating the abilities of bees to reason and the abilities of young people to make meaningful contributions to our society.  It’s a great video that should inspire adults and children to challenge common assumptions and believe that we can all make a difference in the world.

You can find more inspirational videos for students here.  I also curate inspirational videos for teachers, which are located on this Pinterest Board.

So You Thought You Knew How to Make a Paper Airplane

Now this is a good way to spend your time with Legos! Happy Phun Phriday!


I don’t really understand magnets.  I thought I did.  But now I know that what I thought I knew I really didn’t know.  In fact, I’m kind of questioning all of my scientific knowledge at this moment.


Polymagnets are impossible for me to explain even though I’ve watched this video from “Smarter Every Day” twice.  I’m just going to say that they are amazing, and you should watch the video all the way through.  Then you should go to the Polymagnets website and design your own smart magnet.  After you do all of that, come back here to the comments section and help me understand what’s going on with these crazy magnets.

Novel Engineering

As many schools begin to realize the need to integrate more STEM/STEAM into the curriculum, those of us in elementary education who may feel a bit inadequate when it comes to lofty fields like engineering sometimes have a hard time incorporating it into our lessons.  Novel Engineering is a project that aims to show how engineering and language arts don’t have to be in separate time slots on your daily schedule.

From what I can tell the Novel Engineering project is open only to a few schools at the moment.  However, you can see what it’s all about in the video synapsis on the home page.  Basically, certain books seem to pose engineering challenges which are just waiting for a skilled design thinker to solve.  You can see several examples of novels that could be used here.  For example, Tuck Everlasting offers two potential engineering problems – how to hide the water that gives eternal life, and how to help Mae Tuck escape jail before the town discovers that she is immortal.

Even though it would be nice to have access to additional program materials and examples, I think that teachers can certainly get many ideas from the novels and their corresponding engineering challenges that are shared on the site.

image from armymaterielcommand on
image from armymaterielcommand on

Drones for Education

I’ve been holding off on purchasing a drone for our classroom.  Quite frankly, I don’t know a lot about them and I haven’t seen a lot of useful applications for education.  I like testing out cool gadgets, but I don’t think it’s fair to spend that much money on something for my students that won’t be used when the novelty wears off.

image courtesy of walterpro on flickr
image courtesy of walterpro on flickr

One of the parents at my school is slowly changing my mind.  He owns a drone and volunteered to demonstrate it at our school.   This seemed like a good way to find out more about drones and the potential for this technology – good and bad.  The parent, Mr. Moore, uses his drone for good. For example, he shows local fire fighters how they can get more information that can save lives without risking more.  But we also know that drones can be used to destroy lives by invading privacy and even killing people.  This is a good conversation to have with 5th graders who will likely one day be living in a world where drones are no longer a novelty.

Mr. Moore pointed me to a new software that is being beta tested in schools called, “DroneBlocks.”  This software allows students to use block programming to instruct a drone where to fly, to simulate the program, and then to actually fly the drone.  You can do something similar with the Tickle app  (free for iOS), but with different drones.

As Mr. Moore and I discussed the possibility of testing out DroneBlocks, I ran across this article by Thomas Frey, suggesting “192 Future Uses for Drones.”  The ideas range from self-serving to life-saving to silly.  I’m glad there are people like Thomas Frey who have far more imagination than I do.  The most compelling part of Frey’s article came in his final thoughts:

“The purpose of composing this rather exhaustive list is not an attempt to cover everything, but rather to show the enormous versatility of this platform.

The complete list of will easily include over 10,000 listings.

Some may think that drones will become the most annoying devices on earth. In many cases that might be true.

Without the proper protections, drones can be dangerous. The same drones that deliver food and water can also deliver bombs and poison. We may very well have drones watching the workers who watch the drones, and even that may not be enough.

Eventually we’ll find the positive uses far outweigh the negative ones, and we’ll develop the right systems to make it all workable.”

You may not be ready to purchase a drone for your classroom, but I do think it is imperative they are discussed.  How can we minimize the harmful impact of this technology while retaining the freedom to take advantage of its benefits?  Is it worth the inevitable tragedies we will face along the way as we try to harness the positive potential and obliterate the negative effects?

Those same questions could have been asked about the automobile.

More Sources for using Drones in Education: