Drones “an excellent way to give students an opportunity to explore STEM.”

Mathematics teacher Jennifer Maughan called drones “an excellent way to give students an opportunity to explore STEM.”

To kick off the 2021 school year, Highland Prep introduced its drone racing team, under the leadership of mathematics teacher Jennifer Maughan. 

The team will compete in the REC Aerial Drones Competition.

“Drones are an excellent way to give students an opportunity to explore STEM in an interactive way, foster creativity and work with hands-on projects,” Maughan said. “Not only do students learn to fly drones faster and better, but they also scientifically investigate the effects of applying changes to propeller rotation speed, angle of banked turns, max horizontal speed and inclination.” 

Maughan, who has been working with Highland Prep students since the school opened, is looking forward to having the students write and apply scripting for drones in the autonomous portion of the competition.

The coding will allow the drones to autopilot through obstacle courses and deliver objects.

In partnership with For the Win Robotics, the REC Foundation teaches students about aerial drone operations through in-person, competition-based experiences. 

The drone racing team, according to Nathan Schulz, Highland Prep’s STEM coach, will further the school’s mission of preparing students to become leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Additionally, Schulz said the skills that come with the program prepare students for college and careers as the drone industry is quickly progressing.

“We’re not too far away from the time where you’re going to get a pizza delivered to you by a drone. There are photography applications. There are search and rescue applications, and I think that those applications are only going to grow,” he said.

“There are some drone jobs — in five years, 10 years that we don’t even know are going to exist. If you’re a student now who’s having this experience in developing a passion for drones, in remotely controlled aircraft, then you’re going to be well positioned to fill jobs in the future.”

The January tournament will see Highland Prep competing against schools statewide in various apparatus, modeled after the same way VEX robotics competitions are structured, the largest and fastest-growing middle school and high school robotics program globally.

Schulz said there are many apparatuses within the competition that the students have a chance to compete in, making it even more exciting to be a part of. 

“There is a whole additional component to the competition, which is the judging side,” Schulz said. “So, as you build your drone and test your drone out, you can 3D print additional parts for it and test those out, and throughout this process you’re going to record everything in an engineering notebook. And as a part of the competition, you’ll present that engineering notebook to a judge, you will interview with that judge, and then there are trophies handed out at the tournament for the team that had the best engineering notebook and the best judging interviews.”

Each team will have three to six high school students, three specialists, a pilot, coder and 3D printer.  

Highland Prep is a STEM-focused college-preparatory high school that gives students the chance to learn coding, robotics and AutoCAD design. Schulz said the drone racing team shows the school’s dedication to STEM.

“We’re always looking for ways in which students can connect to STEM,” Schulz said.

“When we talk about STEM, it’s not just being able to code or being able to create 3D printing, being able to work with 3D modeling software and things like that. It’s about being able to work as a team and use creativity to solve problems. And I think that’s the coolest part about this competition, is the teamwork aspect, the creativity aspect, because those are the things that are applicable, no matter what you end up doing as your career. You don’t have to be an engineer to benefit from those types of skills that you learn through these types of stem experiences.”