Up in the air: Port Chester fifth-graders share experience with drones
It’s not often fifth-graders stand on stage in an auditorium and make a presentation at a conference. It’s not often that drones are flown indoors either. However, the two were part of the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center’s Technology Leadership Institute 2019 Winter Event, held on Jan. 25 at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff.
Fifth-grade students, representing all the elementary schools in Port Chester, shared a presentation about their experience learning how to use coding to fly drones. They discussed drone safety and how to fly it, and how to code virtual and real drones.
Mariangel Osorio, from King Street School, said she was excited when she first began to code as it was something her older brother had done. However, she was learning how to code with drones, which her brother never did.
Her partner, Mark Pintado, said he was excited when he found out he and his classmates would be using drones. His enthusiasm was tempered for a moment when he discovered the drones were locked in a box. His teacher, Jessica Kingsbury, asked the class to develop a code to unlock the box and get the drones out.
Students demonstrated their drone-flying skills, sending the craft into the air. It hovered, moved around mid-air, did flips and landed softly in one of three colored circles on the stage floor. All of these feats were controlled by the students.
Other students demonstrated their virtual drone. They had created coding that could be sent to a drone via Bluetooth technology, causing the drone to perform tasks.
“Make sure you put land,” in your code, suggested Skylar Sams, from Park Avenue School. “Or your done will just hover.”
Students learned when operating a drone with a remote they only need a gentle touch.
Adriana Ramirez, from Edison School, jokingly said she was half asleep when she first flew a drone and . . . “Boom!”
“I made the drone hit a music stand,” she said. “Code can be easier than controlling a drone.”
She demonstrated her flying skills, using a remote, and suddenly the drone hit a wall and crashed to the floor.
“That was just a joke!” Adriana said laughing at her poor control.
Her next attempt went more smoothly due to her coding skills.
Jeremy Noel, from Edison School, explained how operating a drone using a control was similar to the controls used to play video games. However, he commented that “the drone control is more sensitive.”
Bryson Rios and Abigail Pesantez, students from John F. Kennedy Magnet School, shared how they wrote the code for their virtual drone. It included using the website Tynker, a block-based coding interface, to write instructions the drone could later follow.
One of the fun elements about coding a virtual drone, Kevin Cervantes, from Park Avenue School said, was that the code can be customized. There are also ways to include music when the drone is flying.
“You can make the speed up to 100 percent,” he said. “The drone will move a lot faster like a UFO from a science fiction movie.”
In the Port Chester School District coding instruction begins in the third grade. Jessica Kingsbury, elementary Math/Technology Enrichment teacher instructs third-and-fifth-graders for a full year, while fourth-graders participate in a 10-week rotation.
One of her former students wrote her a letter of thanks after he had moved on to middle school. In the letter, the student said he had never been excited to come to school, but his coding class changed that.
“This was a student who struggled but was one of the best coders I’ve worked with,” Ms. Kingsbury said. “It was his reason for wanting to come to school on Monday. I hope the learning in our classroom is contagious.”
The goal is for students to not just learn how to code, but to also find something they are passionate about.
“We learned coding in third grade. It was actually fun,” Adriana said. “I want to code when I grow up and thank Ms. Kingsbury for all she does.”
The presentation sparked interest in drones among audience members.
Bryant Romano, assistant principal at JFK, said he decided he wants to get a drone for his birthday.
Students had suggestions about how they would like to see Port Chester’s program grow.
Jeremy was interested in using the drones to shoot a target, something the students will soon learn in class, Ms. Kingsbury said.
Abigail was hoping her school could have a designated space for using the drones, like a drone lab.
Aside from learning to code and flying drones, students were absorbing other skills too.
Jeremy said the experience has helped him be more creative and use his imagination more. For Adriana, she said she is beginning to enjoy math more now.
“Doing code is like trying to solve a problem,” she said.
For Abigail, it has improved her social skills and she is now more comfortable speaking in public.