In the face of climate change and population growth, the protection of our public lands falls into the hands of local and federal government agencies, university researchers, non-profit and volunteer organizations, and local community members. With this task comes the responsibility of preparing future leaders to solve environmental challenges. Boeing, Society for Science, and Arconic’s interest in the program stems from a desire to strengthen the local “pipeline” of high school students interested in utilizing cutting edge technology to solve real world problems. Natural resource managers seek to improve the effort related to monitoring vegetative responses to management actions within the Lower Salt River Restoration Project (LSRRP). Green Drone AZ finds itself at the intersection of both of these.
Green Drone AZ launched in the spring of 2020 as an in-person STEM program. The original program was to be four modules and taught solely in the classroom. COVID19 halted the in-person learning experience, but provided Green Drone AZ staff with the opportunity to make an online presence. We quickly brought all material online and finished our pilot year in the virtual environment. In doing so, we realized the program could reach a broader audience by hosting the program solely online. In September of 2020, Green Drone AZ launched their first year-round program. With the challenges our school systems faced, the online program provided students and teachers with a chance to explore novel distance learning opportunities.
As we finish the 2020/2021 school year, we begin to conceptualize how Green Drone AZ moves forward. We understand that introducing middle school students to STEM pathways can spark an early interest, so we are proud to announce the 2021/2022 school year will consist of both a middle and high school program. We plan to host all content through an online platform, but have prepared to visit schools in person to engage with students and teachers. In addition to these visits, we have scheduled field trips so that students can get “boots on the ground” experience while interacting with STEM professionals.
Green Drone AZ offers both middle and high school programs which allow students to explore topics of conservation, natural resource management, and technology such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones. Concepts are first introduced to students at a broad level and then focused through the lens of a real-world conservation project located just outside of Mesa, AZ on the Lower Salt River, Tonto National Forest.
Students explore the basics of GIS and drone technology and then learn how this technology is used in this project to collect and analyze data, perform resource monitoring, and improve project management. With this knowledge and access to online GIS technology and resources, students can engage in scientific exploration using new tools to improve the quality of their research and analysis.
“We learn about what drones are in school and how they are used for fun, but Green Drone AZ teaches us about how drones can be used to help the environment.”
“Green Drone AZ teaches us about Geographic Information Systems, which is not something that we are taught in school.”
“I never knew drones had anything to do with conservation projects until Green Drone AZ.”
“You don’t realize how much you learn about GIS until the end of the program.”
“I never knew that things like marking points in Google Earth or drawing a hiking trail was related to GIS and how it can be used to help with global issues.”
“I was first involved in Green Drone in my AP Environmental Science class in high school where I learned how drones are used for vegetation classification. There I was exposed to how many different STEM fields are involved in the process, from data science in the image data collection to aerospace engineering regarding the actual drone itself. Green drone also allowed me to pursue getting my remote pilot certification through its scholarship program so I could actually get to use drones myself. Since then I’ve been involved with the MIT Rocket Team working in the avionics subteam and this summer I will be at Lockheed-Martin as a handling qualities and autonomy intern.”
“Most, if not all, of my students had never heard of, let alone used, GIS technologies for any purpose. As they started to learn how to access and use the data they were blown away by the quantity of data they had at their fingertips and the tools available to perform analyses. Not only were they highly engaged in the tutorials and hands-on experiences with ArcGIS online, but they all began thinking about how they could use this tool to further their engineering and research projects in the future. It has opened many new doors for our students, improved the quality of their research and analysis, and allowed them to do things they previously could not on projects in class.”
Adam Middleton, PLTW Engineering and AP Physics, Red Mountain High School
“Arizona Chief Science Officers had the opportunity to participate in the GDAZ project this year, in spite of the pandemic. While staying connected was a challenge, the exposure to the ArcGIS systems, restoration projects, current drone technology and STEM professionals as mentors will last a lifetime. Our students have been able to engage and collaborate on real life projects making a difference in the state of Arizona.”
Kelly Greene, SciTech Institute
“Learning about drone technologies and applications was a huge interest-peaker for the kids. They have all seen and heard of drones, some even own them or have flown them, but often just for recreational purposes. To learn about how these technologies are being leveraged in industry, and what they would need to do in order to be qualified to do that, really helped highlight future possibilities for them. It also married beautiful with our focus on aerospace engineering and flight.”
Shane Bycott and Adam Middleton, Engineering and Robotics, Red Mountain High School