LAND O’LAKES — At Bexley Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, students are throwing paper airplanes — with the help of a high tech computerized launcher. They’re also bowling — with a little aid from computerized drones. And when they get around to it, the kids will learn how to land and fly planes as well.
At the Academy of Aviation/STEM LAB program at Bexley Elementary School, students at each grade level are learning basic math and science concepts with the help of more than 30 drones and large-scale aviation equipment, funded through a Pasco school district grant. This specialized equipment will form the basis of what teachers and administrators hope will be high-flying careers.
"Their level of engagement in these activities is astronomical," said Brandy Chemnitz, Learning Design Coach at Bexley Elementary. "And we’re putting them on the path to an end goal, which is a successful career."
Aside from engineering and other STEM-related jobs, school officials hope to encourage students to pursue a career in aviation. It’s an interest they can further pursue at nearby Rushe Middle and Sunlake High School, which hosts an Aerospace Career Academy.
By learning to code and move drones and robots (including flying spider drones), Chemnitz said they are learning the basics of flight technology. Soon, they also will be learning a virtual reality flight simulator that will guide them through the basics of taking off, flying and landing an aircraft.
In one popular activity, first-grade students fly paper airplanes with the help of a drone launcher. In another, they engage in a game of high tech bowling; using iPads to program robotic Sphero balls that they will use to engage in bowling matches involving numbered pins — adding the numbers listed on the pins to solve math problems.
"Instead of writing on a math worksheet to solve a math problem, they create the solution," said Chemnitz.
"This is how they can apply what they’re learning in the classroom ... and they don’t realize they’re doing something academic," said Kara Buchholz, first-grade teacher at Bexley. "And they’re doing stuff that they’re not even taught. They’re adding more than two digits here, which is above grade level."
Taylor VanBrocklin, 6, embraces both the instructional and recreational facets of the bowling activity.
"We’re learning math," said Taylor, who wants to become a teacher. "And it’s fun."
Jace Willson, 7, also aims to become a teacher. He says that the experience of drone bowling is a challenging but rewarding one.
"As I practice, I do better," said Jace. "And I’m learning addition and subtraction."
At the fourth grade level, students are programming Jumping Sumo drones to move forward and backward and jump over obstacles.
"This is all about hands-on self discovery," said Natalie Reiser, STEM teacher at Bexley. "They have to figure it out for themselves."
And it’s fun, said 9-year-old Jayden Waynick.
"We log on to a drone and make it do cool stuff," said Jayden, who wants to become an engineer.
"I’m learning how to code," said Katie Lin, 10. "And if I’m asked about coding on a test, I’ll know the answers."
Prospective engineer Laya Sakr, 10, says that the act of coding a drone makes her feel "accomplished." Emily Paes, 10, says that it’s exciting to code and "make a robot do stuff." Catalina Villafranca, 10, loves learning how to control the drones, while 9-year-old Siena Johnson likes to cooperate with classmates on drone projects. And aspiring scientist Addison Walsh, 9, says that the project is teaching her all about technology.
And for Bexley principal Vicki Wolin, that’s the whole idea.
"Promoting student engagement is always our top priority," Wolin said. "In this way we can show them how aviation impacts our global society, promoting exciting careers in STEM."