Post 03 – Programming Drones & Mathematical Properties

We’re entering week 4 of school.  This will be the first full, normal week so far.  First day of week 1 was the odd first day schedule with assemblies and such, 2nd week had a 2-hr delay on Monday due to hurricane weather, and last week was labor day on Monday.  Glad to start getting into a normal routine.  But onto the reflection of last week.


I spent most of my time last week reflecting on robotics.  I was trying out doing some drone lessons where students program the drone to do stuff.  Our first mission was to program the drone to go up in the air, fly out a bit, turn around, angle the camera down, take a ‘selfie,’ then come back and land.  It was a fairly easy code to write out using Droneblocks which works with all DJI drones.  Generally in coding and robotics, students write code, test it, and revise.  The big hiccup with this was the testing it part; we couldn’t go outside until everyone had a code to test.  Some wrote the code in 3 minutes, some took 10-15.  We finally got out there and those who had an iPhone with the Droneblocks app connected their phone to the remote to run it (those who didn’t just emailed it to me and I used my phone).

The first mission went well and worked after two attempts.  The rest of them didn’t.  The drone took off but would just stop mid-code and we’d get an error message even though they had the exact same code as the person who had the successful run.  Everyone wasn’t even able to test out their code due to time.  I didn’t feel it was a very valuable experience since most of them didn’t get the benefit of working through a difficult code to completion…it was a fairly easy code…but anything more difficult would take forever to write, test, and revise.  Droneblocks has a rudimentary ‘preview mission’ feature where you can see what your drone will do over a Google Map but that’s only helpful if you’re trying to fly in certain shapes…when students ran their mission in the ‘preview mission,’ it just showed the drone from above fly in a straight line…because that’s all it was really doing.

I’ve been in correspondence with the developer and it’s still a work in progress.  I was going to do another mission with it but decided to skip it.  I will allow students to use the drone for the final project in the class if they’d like.  For the final project they generally just do a fun build/program of their choice with the EV3 robot; I’ll make programming the drone an option for that at the end of the semester.  The students did have a day where everyone had about 3 minutes just to fly it around.  At least there was that.

I spent some time revising their rubrics for their upcoming projects as well since I won’t be doing the blog reflections like I did last year.  I also wanted to separately assess their build and their code; they were combined in last years rubric.  Here’s their first project rubric where they’re learning how to use the motors; it’s two separate projects based on inexperienced vs experienced students.  The inexperienced students do the baseball diamond whereas the experienced students draw the letter.


In Pre-Algebra, we have gotten through number sets and mathematical properties.  This year I’m printing out student notes with blanks and space to work out problems (instead of doing them in journals).  I’m already seeing students use them more as a resource, which they never did when it was in their journals since they were fairly sloppy.

Today I did a Plickers review activity.  Plickers is cool; it’s multiple choice questions but eliminates the need for students to use technology, keeps them from seeing each others answers, and doesn’t make it competitive / based on how fast they answer.  Here’s a video on how it works if you’re interested.  The review was for the number sets and properties.  Most students did fairly well and had some students willing to share why they picked the wrong answers but how they see it’s wrong…evidence that they’re embracing the growth mindset.


We’re doing our first fine day in classroom economy this week.  In the past I’ve had the fine officer write a little slip for the fine but this year it’s going to be in email format; they fill out a Google Form with who got the fine, what it was for, and how much they owe.  It’ll automatically send an email to the student who received the fine.  One cool thing that I found was that I wanted to ensure that students didn’t type in the email of the fine receiver incorrectly, but knew it’d take forever to write out all the emails individually in a ‘drop-down’ option on the form.  I found a way to put the emails in a spreadsheet and import them into the drop-down question!  Here’s a walkthrough on how to do it if you’re interested.

I’m excited about how much time I’ll be saving with Bankaroo as well; students last year took forever to do budgeting or pay their fines.  I think everything will be streamlined.


This is the first year I have teacher assistants.  I have a 9th grader in Robotics and an 8th grader in Pre-Algebra.  They’re sisters and they’re awesome.  I had some issues in Bankaroo where I had to go in and change everyone’s username and display name.  I asked the 8th grade TA to take care of it by the end of the day Monday and she was done with it by Saturday morning.  She also went ahead and graded the homework of a student who came in late to class today without me having to ask her to do it.  The 9th grader has been grading all the robotics assignments for me based on the guidelines I send her.  She actually really enjoys doing it and asks if I have anything else for her to grade.

Having worked with so many students in a mild ’employer-employee’ relationship with my classroom economy these last few years, good student help is sometimes hard to come by.  It’s super helpful this year.

By Thom H Gibson

I help middle school STEM teachers create meaningful & memorable experiences for their students. Teacher, podcaster, YouTuber. Two-time teacher of the year

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