Using Mini-Drones in the ESL Classroom

Use mini-drones weighing under 250 grams for indoors use only. There are a lot of affordable mini drones without cameras you can purchase. The drone in the photo requires about 20 hours of accumulated flight time before you can control it comfortably in a relatively small space; given that most flights are about 5 minutes, and that it takes about 45 minutes to charge, you would need to fly the drone between 12 to 15 times for every hour of accumulated pilot flight time. This drones is quite sensitive to drafts, and requires a specific launch sequence. You can expect to damage the drone somewhat; keeping it lower to the ground, and keeping the throttle at low speed will help reduce damaging crashes. Please make sure there is plenty of space for flying. It is not recommended to have novice pilots flying without close supervision at first.

Also, to prevent frustration, provide participants a safety orientation about how to fly the drone safely indoors, and the steps to acquire confidence. Also, have participants review the instruction manual, watch a couple You Tube instructional videos and reviews, read a few online consumer reviews, and then have the participants watch you, the facilitator/pilot, demonstrate the drone in stages. To effectively master using a drone of this kind, you need at least 250 separate short 5 minute flights if you are a complete beginner. Thus, flying a drone can take awhile, and requires a lot of patience. Expect to take some time getting comfortable using the drone before demonstrating it live in front of your learners. For those pilots of other drones, or gamers comfortable using controllers, your muscle memory will be developed so you will more quickly master the use of the drone; maybe, 10-15 short flights, or a few days.

Here are some starter activities for your group:

Drone Piloting Basics – introduce the commands, the vocabulary of using the drone, describing the motions (up and down, ascent/descent, take-off and landing, etc.) Participants need to learn patience, as the activity is really only about 10 minutes per activity at most, so learners will be using drones for various purposes for many short bursts to do activities over weeks/months; this develops slow-learning skills and lots of patience. This can lead to lots of discussions covering vocabulary about expressing feelings and expectations about learning, as well as reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and next steps. To get them to write, they can then prepare short journal entries, completing flight logs, and using drone flying activity checklists. It can be a tally sheet about the number of crashes, it can be ways to better use the controller, it can be observations on what to do or try during the next few flights.

Walking the drone – One learner walks a short path while keeping the drone a few feet in the air and in line of sight at about eye level, steadily and slowly landing and taking off at set locations as close as they can manage. Another learner reads out info from instruction cards, and uses signs and signals to help the pilot navigate a specific course. This is even more fun when there are several drones moving along different paths with different pairs of learners working together to complete their own flight plan.

Finding objects (Hide n Seek) – participants hide objects, and then direct the drone’s pilot (could be you) to fly the drone to the location. To engage learners, you may try having learners work in pairs or small groups, and use a combination of written signs, signals, and verbal instructions, or have learners prepare a map and then have another learner work alongside the pilot, providing directions. As a group, ESL learners can can learn more about piloting the drone, by watching a video on YouTube, and reading articles.

As learners gain skills and confidence, the next step is to have small flight teams of ESL learners work together to help a couple of drone pilots navigate an obstacle course.

The basic obstacle course might have some of these elements:

• Four Corners – 4 square mats placed at the four corners of a larger square, to help develop coordination and muscle memory using the controller to move the drone left, right, forward and backward at about 6-9 inches off the floor.

• Drone in the Cube – learners develop more precise flying skills to try and keep the drone flying, or hovering, within the “cube” – typically about 5 feet high, wide, and deep

• Two objects that your drone must go around (pylons, boxes, garbage cans)

• An object to jump over (tape or ribbon across a doorway)

• A box or hoop to fly through

• An object to jump across (two pillows on the floor) – the drone will try to take off from one and land on the other a short distance away

Before having learners try to fly the course, try to fly your drone yourself, and test your course to see if it is possible to complete, and adjust for level of difficulty. Fly your drone through the obstacles and see how fast you can complete the course. (This can take a lot of practice, and it is made more difficult as it is a line of sight drone, and you might lose a sense of which way the drone’s front is pointing if it is more than a few feet away.)

By its nature, drone piloting a mini drone quad-copter (4 engines) is short in duration, limited to about 6 minutes. One needs a USB hub to charge the battery of the drones; look for smaller drones that are durable, but responsive to controls, and have stable flight, hovering while in the air. It is best to aim to flight prep 2 or 3 drones at a time, and charge several drones at the same time. Demonstrate flying techniques at a basic level.

By working in pairs or small groups, the learners practice a wide range of variety of tasks and activities in an engaging active, hands-on team learning project.

Learners learn how to: read instructions, review safety rules, search online for drones for the prices and specifications, read online consumer reviews to find out more about pros and cons, take on different roles of their drone flight team, ask questions and listen to instructions and guidance of their guide, watch You Tube videos, take turns to pilot the drone while listening to guidance and directions, give suggestions to the facilitator about ideas for drone piloting games and activities, work together as part of a team planning, designing and setting up props and flying spaces, and give input on their own learning process.

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