UAF Geophysical Institute pilots drone education program at Alaska schools

Published: Jul. 6, 2022 at 7:21 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Students at three schools around Alaska are learning to fly, as the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute partners with Green Star of Interior Alaska to teach them drone technology.

In additional to being a research facility, the Geophysical Institute teaches students around the state about science. Marine Vanlandeghem Gillespie, Education and Outreach Coordinator with the institute, said, “We only have one requirement, is to bring to the villages and the communities and the local schools the science that we have displayed at the Geophysical Institute.”

These subjects include “volcanoes, earthquakes. It can be permafrost and snow,” she said.

Now the Institute is reaching out to communities in Alaska to teach kids about drones. “The mechanics, the physics, the mathematics behind what is a drone. They learn how to fly a drone, the safety and the guidelines, what are the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] regulations, how to be a good drone pilot.”

The project is part of the cultural connection model, with tribes, elders and local schools giving input on how they’d like to approach the subject. “When we engage with a community, we ask them ‘What would you like your kids to study? How do you want them to be taught?’”

The project is designed for grades 4 through 6, and involves mini-drones that can be operated via a smartphone or tablet.

These phones are being donated by Green Star of Interior Alaska, a non-profit organization that specializes in the recycling of electronics.

The program is being piloted at three communities across Alaska: Nulato, Valdez, and Nenana.

Educators will then give feedback on the program so that it can be perfected, according to Vanlandeghem Gillespie. “The idea is that at the end, we give them the perfect project that is adapted to their school or their kids. It’s really place-based education.”

In Nulato, students the mayor expressed an interest in having students learn about climate change, erosion and flooding. “It’s all about the Indigenous engagement right now so we can make the best of the curriculum,” Vanlandeghem Gillespie said.

Once the project is complete, all the electronics used and footage taken belongs to the recipient schools.

The institute’s goal is to have a final curriculum for each location by the end of next school year.

And the future may see the project scaled up to include even more communities.

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