Seven Wylie High School students have earned a driver’s license not many people can claim.
Thanks to their own preparedness during the first 12 weeks of school, they each completed their commercial drone pilot license this month, opening up a wide range of opportunities for them to move forward in their senior-level robotics class.
And beyond in the world outside of the classroom.
Take Zackary Sturtevant for example. He has an interest in building remote-controlled planes. But after exploring what’s out there, he’s looking use his license to join the military.
“With my license in hand, it should give me an advantage,” he said.
From the ground up
When Sturtevant and his six classmates walked into their Scientific Research & Design class for the first time in August, they had no idea what awaited.
In reality, neither did Darren Wilson, their teacher.
Coming off a four-year stint leading the Abilene Christian University maker lab, Wilson entered the classroom with a ton of experience but no clue what trajectory the class would take.
Quickly, he found the students would need their licenses before actually playing around. With Wylie High squarely in restricted air space due to proximity to both Dyess Air Force Base and Abilene Regional Airport, it was even more important the class be properly fit for flying.
One problem: Wilson ever had taught students to take the drone piloting license exam before.
Luckily, he said, the students had him covered.
“The way we prepared for the test, it was all student-led,” Wilson said. “I helped them learn how to learn, but they wrote their own lessons and just taught each other.”
As a group, they knew the test would be hard. It was even more difficult preparing when COVID-19 struck their group. Three of the seven either caught the disease or quarantined because of exposure, Wilson said.
Wilson used the experience to alter how he reached the students. Treating the class like every one of them could end up at home at some point, he developed web-based lessons to supplement the material his students used.
What surprised Wilson is that, usually, the commercial drone license comes last in the drone curriculum. Here, he said, it came first.
That’s going to open up a ton of potential for the students even before they finish high school, he said.
What excited the students was the impact they may have on Wylie High’s drone instruction.
Robotics is a popular path of studies in high schools, and it’s possible the curriculum they developed will be used to help future students earn their own license.
Why not? They went 7-for-7 on their first try.
“I’m really proud we all passed,” Dylan Osborn said. “It was student-led, with all of us working together. We designed everything. It’s great we may have created what future generations do for years to come.”
Osborn said he has particular interest in using drones in the agriculture industry.
Drones can be used to scan land, transport materials, spray pesticides and nutrients and much more.
He may or may not use his license for these purposes, he said, but the option is there now.
There are other money-making opportunities. He said his sister is interested in photography and could, with his help, use drones to take pictures.
Construction firms look for drone pilots to photograph aerial views showing progress, plus landscape photography, the movie industry and personal photographers have all increased drone use.
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