Modern Blanket Toss Teacher Training!

The Modern Blanket Toss teacher training took place over several days in September. Teachers flew in from four different villages around alaska and were provided training related to the UAVs and the use of the curriculum that went with them.  

September 14th

The training began with an overview of the goals of the research grant and the big picture for this project. We are attempting to influence STEM career choices through the introduction of this technology and teaching methods that empower students in these programs to make connections with their communities and the larger community of scientists statewide.  

We spent some time discussing what we believe about education and the various roles that the teachers play in this paradigm. The Growth Mindset research was introduced and discussed. This research was new to some of the teachers however the idea resonated with everyone's experience. Teachers shared observations from the previous year about how often girls volunteer to fly the quadcopter as compared to the boys. As coordinators of the Modern Blanket Toss project, teachers have roles such as gatekeeper, cheerleader, opportunity engineer, and chief facilitator.  

I shared the ideas that the students had generated during the summer training session. Some of the teachers were familiar with the projects that the kids had proposed working on during the summer session. All of the projects involved using the UAV to do something in the community that provides useful information in some way. In Bethel they described making a map about the river conditions in the winter, in Chefornak they described a plan to search for methane in lake ice, and in Seward a plan to cut costs associated with monitoring streams for flood conditions was also described.  

I introduced the flight school model for this program by comparing it to a driver's license that students usually acquire during their high school years.   Ground school is sort of like studying the rules and regulations. The learners permit comes after you are able to pass the assessment regarding basic rules of the road. With the learners permit you practice and take a paper and skills based assessment to earn a driver's license. Similarly in our model, a student can practice skills with a small quadcopter and become proficient enough to earn a license to fly a medium sized quadcopter, and then eventually the larger hexacopter.

We spent the rest of the morning learning to use google apps in such a way as to leverage it as a tool for communication and collaboration over the course of the next year. All teachers were given a computer for their site, with a dedicated gmail account that was able to be used for google hangouts and other associated data collection tasks.  

At lunch we met with Dr. Chris Maio of the UAF geology department. We discussed the various projects we were working on and he shared ways in which he would be able to work with students. The teachers were really excited to have an opportunity to speak with him.  

In the afternoon we worked on setting up Gooru accounts so that they would be able to have students work through the ground school curriculum. Gooru is a free website which delivers content and embedded assessment questions.   The teachers were able to copy the content I had prepared for them for a ground school curriculum and assign their own students to work on it autonomously. Some teachers expressed a preference to work on the curriculum together with the students during lunches.

The end of the day was spent learning about the hexacopters and the associated Mission Planner software. We had the good fortune of having Corey Upton from Aquilo (unmanned aerial vehicle specialists) help us with the training and initial flights. The teachers were really good about taking notes and asking lots of questions. We went outside and spent the last part of the day taking each hexacopter on practice missions around the soccer field on campus.

Friday September 15th

Today the teachers returned with a strong desire to practice flying the hexacopter. We spent time learning about the sports action cameras that would be used on the hexacopter to gather photos and videos. Considerable time was spent discussing what to do with the data so that it didn’t fill up the camera.  

We introduced teachers to a flight simulator software package that hooks up directly to the radio controller. They had lots of fun crashing and switching between the various types of UAVs available in the program.  

When Corey arrived, we went out to fly the hexacopters.  Each teacher had an opportunity to be the person in charge as they planned their mission, uploaded it, and sent the hexacopter around the soccer field. Teachers supported each other admirably through the process. A light rain was falling during our practice session. Corey wrapped the guts of the hexacopter in cellophane and things worked well.

At lunch we met with Dr. Katey Walters Anthony of the International Arctic Research Center. She and her graduate student gave a short presentation about methane levels in Alaska and a possible project that she would like to conduct with a group of students. The teachers were really excited by her presentation and identified locations around their communities that had the kinds of frozen lake bubbles that were being researched. The use of UAVs as a quick way to detect these would be very helpful and add to the base level knowledge about how much methane is being released in Alaska.  

During the afternoon we learned about using the GIS software package that would be helpful in analyzing the data collected from the UAVs. Most importantly we spent time reviewing techniques that could be used to connect the computer working with GIS in their communities to help at UAF through google hangouts.  

Finally we spent time going over all the materials being sent back with the teachers. We disassembled the drones and packed them into special wooden cases that had been built by the Upward Bound Associate Coordinator Kevin Turnbough.  

Overall the teachers left very excited, and a little nervous about the training and UAV that they had been given to use with their students. We outlined times to meet regularly over the course of the year.

This post was provided by Adam Low.