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District debuts drone activity in ongoing partnership with Boeing


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  • Heidi Hurst/ Mesa Public Schools

Mesa Academy For Advanced Studies Fifth-graders Participate In The New Drone Activity At Salk Elementary's Aeronautical Center Of Exploration As Instructor Diana Andresen Looks On. Photo By Heidi Hurst/Mesa Public Schools

After a successful 20-year partnership with Boeing, Mesa Public Schools’ Aeronautical Center of Exploration (ACE) has debuted an exciting new activity. Fifth-grade students now visiting ACE at Salk Elementary learn how to fly a drone, thanks to Boeing engineers who designed the activity and curriculum.

“This will help students plan their careers in aviation and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” says Mary Baldwin, Boeing’s Arizona Community Investor. “That’s part of what we try to do with our investment — contribute to that pipeline and make sure we have a future workforce.”

Engineers designed a sectional map, where students fly a small drone from a spot marked with their school name to a spot marked “ACE.” Three regional airports are included on the map, so students learn about the importance of safe drone flying around airspace in the local area.

“It teaches you how to fly a drone and about your sense of direction,” says Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies fifth-grader Katie Wong. “It teaches you to stay out of airports because it’s dangerous, and to not go too high or too low.”

The new activity is one of several stations at ACE, where students extend their learning about the science of flight. After learning about flight in the classroom, fifth-grade students visit ACE at Salk or Lowell elementary schools for hands-on activities, including flight simulation. Boeing and Mesa Public Schools collaborated to open the first ACE, then known as Flight Center, in 1998.

“Our objective was to teach students about the science of flight and help them in critical thinking and problem solving,” Baldwin says. “As time has gone by, we help the district update curriculum. The new drone curriculum helps students learn a different aspect of flight.”

ACE is one of several district programs offered to students thanks to grants from Boeing. In November 2017, Boeing awarded Mesa Public Schools $301,000 for STEM initiatives, including Engineering Is Elementary, Claiming the Evidence and a KinderU math program.

The drone activity, currently available at the Salk location, is already a hit with students, according to ACE specialist Diana Andresen.

“We wanted to add some new STEM activities that engage kids in a higher level of thinking and create awareness of careers in aviation and aerospace,” Andresen says. “It’s a great activity, and they’re having fun.”

Wong agrees. “Because of what I’ve learned in school, I’ve learned it would be cool to be a pilot, and I actually can be one day,” she says.