Drones are increasingly becoming commonplace in our rapidly advancing society. So, it was only a matter of time before local school districts began integrating drone technology into their curriculums.
Riverside Junior/Senior High School students Colin Quinn and Nick Sottile recently got to test their drone-making skills in teacher Chris Feerrar’s advanced graphic design class. With assistance from Feerrar, the seniors assembled a small drone made from plastic parts that came out of the class’s 3D printer.
According to Feerrar, the project proved to be a great lesson in reverse engineering, problem solving and aerodynamics for the students.
“They recreated the plans they found and printed out the individual pieces,” Feerrar said. “What made the project so unique was they had to really think outside the box. They went through the whole process of trial and error.”
“It was a really cool project,” said Colin, 18, who plans to study civil engineering at Penn State University. “It gave me a little taste of what my future would be like, and made me feel like I’m going into the right field.”
Nick, 18, echoed that sentiment.
“We spent a lot of time on it, but it was definitely a lot of fun,” said Nick, who will attend Susquehanna University with intentions of majoring in either civil or environmental engineering. “It was something we could actually make with our own hands, instead of just something done on the computer.”
The project took about two months to complete. Under Feerrar’s guidance, Colin and Nick first researched different designs for drones and decided to base theirs off a quadcopter.
Some of the individual parts took as long as six hours to print, with the students having to figure out the weight and strength for each.
Along the way, Feerrar and the students received assistance from a few other folks, including Riverside shop teacher Craig Reifler and the staff at Walters Hardware Store in Wilkes-Barre, where Feerrar received an in-depth tutorial on drones.
Colin and Nick used parts from a racing copter to put their design in the air. Initially, the drone’s flight module was installed upside down, resulting in a quick crash the first time it was launched.
A couple more unsuccessful launches followed, but the students remained undeterred.
“We had a couple of mistakes, but we just kept trying,” Colin said.
“Mr. Feerrar was a lot of help. And he helped us learn by ourselves,” Nick said.
Finally, one day in the school’s commons area, with many of their fellow students cheering them on, Colin and Nick got the drone airborne and kept it there.
The drone hasn’t been flown outside yet, but will be as soon as the weather breaks, Feerrar said.
The drone project is just one facet of Riverside’s graphic arts curriculum. Under Feerrar’s tutelage, students have had the opportunity to do professional design work for several local businesses and organizations. Currently, the class has over $5,000 in the bank, and before Christmas break they bought lunch for the entire student body.
The class’s ingenuity and profitability has allowed for purchases like the $700 3D printer and the $200 drone controller. Feerrar now has plans to purchase a recycler that will turn plastic products into filament for the printer.
“The goal is to be a self-sufficient classroom,” Feerrar said. “It’s a great group of kids. And I’m very lucky to work in a school district that likes to take challenges.”
And, he’s thrilled with the rigor that Colin and Nick brought to the drone project.
“It was a learning experience for all three of us,” Feerrar said. “It ended up being a really cool project.”