Sea to Air drone expo enjoys success

Published 5:40 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2022

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For the R-C News-Herald

K-12 students throughout Gates County had the opportunity to showcase their knowledge and technical skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through the “Sea to Air” drone expo, developed by the comprehensive science and technology program, “Gates on the Go!”

The program is a collaboration between Gates County Public Schools, the Ray and Judy Felton Family Foundation, and East Carolina University (ECU) in an effort to promote interaction with STEM education and technology in Gates County K-12 schools.

Ray Felton, one of the expo’s collaborators and chairman of the Gates County Board of Education, reads a student’s presentation board while listening to the student’s experience. Contributed Photo

The “Sea to Air” drone expo has given students the chance to increase their knowledge in STEM through the research, operation and deployment of Tello Drones developed by Pitsco Education, a STEM learning company that creates technology for K-12 students.

Jennifer Annetta, university program specialist for the Center for STEM Education at ECU’s College of Education, said the middle and high school drone expo took place on April 28.

About 15 students participated in the expo, Annetta said, with nine students at the middle school level and six from the high school level. She said an estimated 40 to 50 family, friends and peers attended the event, including North Carolina’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

The elementary school expo took place May 3, and Annetta said about 48 students participated in the event. She said approximately 80 to 100 family, friends and peers were in attendance.

“They did such a nice job communicating what they learned to so many adults, and school board members, and parents,” Annetta said. “They all did a really great job with their oral communication skills and adding that presentation component in as well.”

Annetta said the students had to showcase their technical skills in STEM by flying the Tello Drones through various obstacles successfully.

Impressed by how quickly students picked up the basic skills required to fly a drone, Annetta said each student was tasked with lifting, hovering, flying, turning and landing their respective drone with precision and accuracy.

Students of all ages completed the tasks successfully, Annetta said, and each team took pride in what they accomplished at the expo. She and other coordinators for “Gates on the Go!” expect an even greater turnout from students in future years of the program.

“The teamwork component was also impressive to see,” Annetta said. “Some of the kids who might have been very quiet or weren’t leaders prior to this, stepped up into leadership positions and became more vocal.”

Ann McClung, science coordinator for ECU’s Center for Stem Education, said students were also required to create a presentation board that showcased the information and skills they learned throughout their experience with the drones.

In an effort to encourage STEM career readiness, McClung said the students had to focus on a specific profession that the use of drones could be integrated into. Some examples included agriculture, software development, marine biology and the military. She said students were excited to discover the many opportunities that experience in STEM could provide.

“Mr. Ray Felton, he was so impressed with what these students were able to do, what they were able to talk about,” McClung said. “School board members were just so blown away by the way the students were so articulate, the way they were able to describe certain things they were doing.”

At the end of their presentation, McClung said students had to reflect on their overall experience, as well as relay what they learned from their time spent researching and preparing for the drone expo.

McClung said following the “Sea to Air” drone expo, she believes many students who participated are now hooked on STEM and the endless possibilities that come with the field.

“I was very impressed with the overall expo,” McClung said. “I loved the excitement in the air as kids flew the drones. It felt great having a project where all the kids were there together to successfully complete these tasks. Like Jennifer (Annetta) said, there was a sense of pride in the air.”

The students received a medal for their participation in the drone expo, while each school received a trophy. To further the impact of STEM education on Gates County public school students. “Gates on the Go!” is expected to continue to launch the “Sea to Air” drone expo each year in Gates County.