What started as a conversation in November 2017 among several staff has turned into Drones & Technology, a full semester class that will launch for the 2019/20 academic school year at Nashua Technology Center North (NTC).

Geared toward students in the 11th and 12 grade, the program will build off Drone Photography- Girls in STEM, a pilot class that successfully concluded this past November.

Photography teacher Erin Knoetig, who led the pilot and will run the program, said their initial focus on girls reflects inequity in the world of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math).

“We know from research that STEAM fields make up the fastest growing occupations today–and studies show that a majority of these fields a segregated by race, gender and income,” she said. “NTC is trying to remove those barriers by creating alternative pathways into these fields.”

Her choice of drones reflects their broad use in industry today.

“I want the kids to get a taste of the occupations you can have with drones,” said Knoetig. “Mapping, surveying, photography, FEMA, real estate marketing, infrastructure inspection, construction inspection, insurance, filming and photography, DOT, building, drone maintenance–the list goes on and on.”

In regards to learning outcomes from the pilot, Knoetig cited several.

“The girls are learning about computational thinking, collaboration, compositional photography elements and growth mind set,” she said. “They are also learning about leading ladies in STEM fields, gender and ethical inequality–these are all very important, relevant concepts.”

In discussing the logistics behind developing the pilot and program, Knoetig said she first had to secure her drone license, which she described as “a scary, yet confidence building experience.” The first step in attaining the license, she explained, was attendance at a Dart Drones class in New York last April.

“I was taught the basics of what I needed to know to pass the test,” she said. “This was no easy task. It took reading maps, flight patterns, math calculations, air spaces, radio calls, airport map information. There was a lot that had to be covered. The test prep questions were not the ones guaranteed to be on the test, but the concepts were…so it was a lot.”

With student feedback overwhelmingly positive from the pilot, which ran during eblock and concluded in January, Knoetig said it will run two more times throughout this school year before Drones & technology begins in September. She said that the best part about her experience so far has been the fact that she has learned as much from the students as they have from her.

“Watching them this past quarter and all they retained from 30 minutes a week has been amazing,” she said. “They have come to class prepared to teach the class about strong women in STEAM fields, I have seen them grow, watched them fail, and it has all been an amazing experience…It was a great environment to teach in.”

To learn more about the program, view Knoetig’s podcast at https://thedronetrainer.com/drone-podcast-58-erin-knoetig.