Air Force Drone Pilot Demonstrates Real-Life Applications of Coding to 7th Grade Technology Students

Monday, October 2, 2017

On Wednesday, Major Derek Dupuis (USAF), father of Skylar ('28) and Jordyn ('31), visited the 7th grade technology class to share about his experience flying drones for the US Air Force. The 7th grade students have been using their iPads to code the flight paths of small Parrot drones, and Maj. Dupuis helped provide real-life context to the lessons students are learning.

Major Dupuis's visit was coordinated by Heathwood's Columbia Connections program, which enhances student learning by providing unique experiential education opportunities with leaders from the academic, cultural,scientific, non-profit, and business communities in Columbia.

A major component of the technology course is programming the flight paths of small, indoor Parrot drones as they fly through obstacle courses, pick up small objects and transport them across the room, and fire tiny cannons at targets, all of which the students code using their iPads. To help provide real-world context to these fun activities, course instructor Ryan Novak invited Major Derek Dupuis to class, where he told students about his experiences flying drones for the US military. The students' own experience is on a much smaller scale than what is being done by the military, but Maj. Dupuis was able to help them see the connections between what they're doing and what he does on a daily basis with the Air Force. Whether assisting in observations after a natural disaster, participating in reconnaissance missions, or carrying out other tasks, Maj. Dupuis gave students an engaging overview of the military's use of drones, helping them determine whether the military might be a path they'd like to pursue or if they might be more interested in another endeavor with drones.

The seventh-grade technology class serves as a platform where students are exposed to various types and modes of technology. According to Mr. Novak, the purpose of the class is to help students develop an appreciation for a variety of technologies. "I believe middle school is the best time to expose students to new ideas because their brains are going through a massive explosion of growth and development, which aids in their ability to take in these ideas and learn more abstract concepts. Next to babies, the human brain develops faster during the middle school years than any other time of their lives, and brain scans show middle school brains lighting up like a firework show as the brain seeks out new connections and new growth. This brain development is the reason middle schoolers can learn new things, like a new language, while it tends to be harder for adults. My hope is to take advantage of that fertile ground and give students an opportunity to see as many diverse ideas as possible, and this class is a great way to do that. I want to take a group of middle schoolers and teach them a new language (coding) and show them a ton of ways technology is being used!" 

In addition to being receptive to new learnings, middle schoolers are beginning to identify what appeals to them and where their interests lie. Through the course, they may discover they're not interested in coding, but they may find out they're very interested in how technology is being used in medicine to aid burn victims or how fire departments are using drones to combat fires. "My goal." says Mr. Novak, "is to give them as much exposure to different kinds of technology as possible so they can begin to identify passions and interests they didn't know they had. To do this, we spend time looking at autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, and how drones are changing industries around the world. Students will also research other technologies that are changing the world, like wearables, voice technologies, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence."