Hampton Roads Teachers Reach New Heights

The Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC) provided an “Introduction to Geospatial Technology and Unmanned Aircraft Systems” teacher workshop at Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia on May 21, 2021. The workshop was provided through the VSGC’s GEOTREK-12 program with funding support from the VSGC-led GeoTEd-UAS project.

The event gave teachers from Hampton City Schools (HCS) and Extended Learning Coordinators from the four HCS high school Academies the opportunity to learn the value of geospatial technologies (GST) and unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) in the classroom. The workshop also provided the educators with information on the current job market and different applications of these technologies, and how these vehicles help us gain an understanding of our world’s connectedness.

Kesha Lucas, an Earth Science teacher at Bethel High School, was one participant that gained a whole new perspective on drone applications.

“In the past, I had always thought [of drones] as a kind of tiny little toy until one day there was a company working out some kinks with their drones outside a store I was in and they explained some things to me that made me understand that there are commercial applications to these vehicles,” said Lucas. “So, when I heard that this workshop was available, I immediately signed up because I felt like there were a lot of things that my students could do with drones, and this could possibly make them more interested in other areas of science as well.”

The morning was spent in the classroom with in-depth discussions of GST and UAS technologies applications and relationships. Participants learned the various types of data that can be collected by UAS such as high-resolution imagery, thermal, multispectral, and elevation. During lunch, Chris Carter, VSGC Deputy Director, talked about how the VSGC, through several National Science Foundation grants, has spent more than 12 years providing teacher professional development and student outreach in GST and UAS. Carter also informed the teachers about the new UAS course being developed by the Virginia Department of Education. The afternoon was spent outside flying drones, both manually and autonomously. Participants were all given an opportunity to manually fly a commercial-grade drone.

“The most interesting part of this workshop was the in-class portion because for me, understanding basic drone technology is integral to entering this field, and I don’t want to sound like the nerdiest teacher ever, but the actual classroom time really did help me understand more of what was going on out there,” said Lucas.

Scott Bellows, Ph.D., is the VSGC’s Technical Programs Coordinator VSGC, and lead for the GEOTREK-12 program. Bellows said, “that two milestones were reached during this workshop.” “This is the first GEOTREK-12 and/or GeoTEd-UAS professional development workshop that was attended by educators from all four HCS High Schools (i.e., Bethel, Kecoughtan, Phoebus, Hampton). This is significant because we want to connect these teachers and administrators to Thomas Nelson Community College to facilitate the development and integration of dual-enrollment GST/UAS courses.”

Bellows went on to say that, “Our DJI Phantom 4 autonomous flight represented our first FAA authorized UAS flight in controlled airspace (Class D). To obtain authorization, we used the FAA’s LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability). This is significant because nearly the entire peninsula is controlled airspace and was historically off limits unless you applied for a waiver (for a single location) and then had to wait 90 days for FAA approval. Our airspace authorization is viable for all areas within Langley Air Field’s Class D airspace—and it’s good for two years.”

Chris Carter stated that, “It was great to be able to provide this hands-on and interactive UAS workshop for Hampton City school teachers, because these are challenging times to provide professional development, but through GeoTEd-UAS, we have been able to offer so much support and mentoring to teachers. This project with Hampton promises to really broaden participation among underrepresented and underserved students in UAS and geospatial courses, and we’re excited to see how they implement this content into future courses and projects.”

After participating in the workshop, Lucas hopes to spark a new flame of inspiration in her students.

“One of the things that I saw during the workshop was just how broad the applications of drones can be. It’s important for us to have a basic understanding of drone functionality so we can help students find their own connections with these technologies, and apply them to whatever they’re interested in studying,” said Lucas.

The Geospatial Technician Education-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (GeoTEd-UAS) project team includes the VSGC, Thomas Nelson Community College, Virginia Tech, and the Virginia Community College System. VSGC and the team were awarded a project grant by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (NSF-ATE) program (NSF #1601614). In fall 2020, the team was awarded a new grant to continue the work adding Germanna Community College to the partnership (NSF #2000715). For more information about UAS programs visit the GeoTEd-UAS website here, or the GEOTREK-12 website here.

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