The Ultimate Guide to Buying A Drone For Your School
Over the years at She Maps, we've seen thousands of students go through our programs and hundreds of teachers use our online resources to teach drones in the classroom.
What we've learned from all of this is which drones work for education and which drones don't. Years of trial and error mean that we now know every consideration in the book when it comes to buying a drone for educational purposes.
Use this guide as your go-to to avoid spending lots of money on drones that don't integrate with educational resources, or drones that that sound impressive but are just the wrong skill level for your classroom.
This is all about finding the right drone for your classroom needs.
What you'll find in this guide:
- Should we get a drone for our school?
- How drones for kids work
- Questions every teacher should ask themselves
- What is the right size of a drone for a classroom?
- Drones with cameras for kids
- Rechargeable batteries
- Flight mission apps for sub-2kg drones
- Educational coding apps for microdrones
- Other considerations
- Time it takes to learn to fly
- Cost of a drone
- Drone app integration
- Level of skill required
- Pre- and post-sale support
- Ratio of drones to students
1. Should we get a drone for our school?
As I was leaving primary school in the late 1980's, the Principal had just invested in a school computer. Although I never saw it, I remember the announcement so clearly as it was such a big deal at the time.
Thirty years later, they don't feel like a big deal at all. I own several myself, and they are core to my business and personal life.
I truly believe that drones and robots will reach this same level of commonality in our lives, especially drones as an education tool in schools.
Flying high into the future with drones
Drones and robots have incredibly wide-ranging uses. The sooner our children can engage with the technology, the better equipped they will be to innovate with it into the future.
- By 2021, the commercial drone industry will have sold 1,000,000 units. By 2024, the size of the drone market will from what it is now, with a global market of USD 43 billion. Asia will be the largest market, with North America coming in second.
- In six years, we will start to see drone taxis commonly operating in our skies. Goods delivery and warehousing via drones will be commonplace.
Drones are not going to be a flash in the pan technology. Instead, they are going to bring on the next wave of 'jobs you haven't thought of' as our primary school students of today enter the workforce of 2030.
But remember, bringing a drone into your school and classroom is not about 'teaching students to become drone pilots'!
It's not even about the drone -- the drone is just the tool to be able to teach those essential skills of problem-solving, digital competence, coding, and creativity.
Drones are naturally fun and fascinating, so they keep students engaged. Drones can go where humans can't, building that natural curiosity in kids.
As a bonus, it's not time-consuming to learn the skills and drones are cost-effective when you buy the right one for your classroom needs.
2. How drones for kids work
Like any piece of technology for kids, unless there is a higher-order task asked of them, they will become a toy that kids (and teachers) forget when the next shiny piece of tech comes around.
As educators, we look for those teachable moments. The ability to use technology that enables multiple teaching moments is high on our priority. Drones, when appropriately implemented, hit so many teaching opportunities across the curriculum, which is why we use them!
Kids also love to see things that are relevant to them in 'real life.' How are the role models in their lives using technology and solving problems, doing 'real things.' We encourage educators to use 'realness' with any of the technology they are using in their classrooms, from robots to drones to 3D printers.
How can you create an activity or problem that the students can see, feel, and be part of in real life? This takes the technology out of being just a toy or learning coding for coding's sake, to challenging their problem-solving skills and creativity. No longer is the answer in the back of a textbook, nor does the teacher themselves even know what the answer might be!
3. Questions every teacher should ask themselves
As a teacher, your budget is limited, and you have risk assessments, local regulations, and a steep learning curve yourself to contend with before introducing the technology into the classroom!
So, where to start?
This is often a question that we get asked by teachers when they are thinking about getting started in using drones in their school.
The answer differs from school to school, so we ask back several questions, such as:
- What learning outcomes are you looking to produce?
- How much experience flying drones have you and the students had before?
- Are you wanting to fly indoors or outdoors?
- If you are flying outdoors, have you checked if you are in restricted airspace or not?
If you want to have this chat with us in person, feel free! We are always just an email away, [email protected], or jump on Facebook Message on the She Maps page.
4. What is the right size of a drone for a classroom?
Our recommendation is always to fly with the smallest drone possible to achieve your chosen learning outcomes. This reduces the risk profile, it reduces the cost of purchase, and it also ultimately means more hands-on time with the drones for your students.
Flying indoors vs. flying outdoors also means that different rules apply from the airspace regulatory body such as CASA in Australia of the FAA in the USA. In the USA, you can fly micro drones indoors and don't require a Part 107. You can read more about flying indoors in Australia here.
The most common drones used in an education setting fall into two categories:
- micro-drones (under 100 grams)
- sub-2 kg drones
DJI holds 78% of the market for drones, so you would have likely seen one of their's flying. In the microdrone category, they have the Tello, and in the sub-2kg category, they have a number including the ubiquitous Phantom and Mavic series.
Below, we've outlined the features and other considerations to look at in these two different size categories and then applied these to our individual drone reviews. Our reviewed list only includes drones that meet the features we recommend for schools:
1. Drones with cameras for kids:
The camera is an essential part (we believe) of a drone being valuable as a classroom teaching aid. Drones with cameras for kids are becoming more prevalent, and this links to real-life usage.
The power of drones lies in their ability to collect data. Industry professionals are using drones to take stunning pictures as art or to gather valuable data. These are real-life applications that are engaging for kids to learn from when teachers transport them into the classroom.
Most drones in the sub 2 kg category will have cameras - the difference will be in the camera quality and the type of gimbal (support that allows a camera to pivot seamlessly) they have.
The camera function will also differ across models. Several drones will use a downward-facing visual positioning sensor to help them stay in one spot when hovering or to move a set distance if coded. Some (like the Parrot Mambo) will allow access for photos to be taken from this camera. Others like the DJI Tello won't allow user access to this sensor but have a forward-facing camera instead for taking pictures.
2. Rechargeable batteries:
Battery management is a crucial part of an effectively run drone program. Many micro-drones will also allow (or require) you to charge the battery while it is inside the drone. This can be annoying as obviously you can't fly while charging! Sot it's always best to purchase a separate charger.
3. Flight Mission apps for sub-2 kg drones
If you are flying a drone outdoors to collect data, may need to use an automated flight plan to collect robust, usable data. Flying manually to collect data is like trying to draw with a crayon.
Not all drones (including some DJI models) work with the main ones on the market like DroneDeploy.
Do your homework on this before spending $2,500 on a drone and then being told it doesn't sync with the free app. We have told a few people this AFTER they purchased a drone and then came to us to problem solve!
4. Educational coding apps for microdrones
There are a number out there, but many are clunky and not student-friendly. Do your homework before you buy a class pack. Different apps work with different drones as well, so be prepared to install options.
6. Other considerations
1. Time it takes to learn to fly
With the exception of racing drones, many drones these days are generally easy to fly 'out of the box' and intuitive. Most have flight stabilisation technology that allows them to hover easily and have a range of other technologies, particularly in the sub-2 kg category, to reduce pilot error such as obstacle avoidance and return to home functions. Note that racing drones don't have any stabilisers and take considerably more skill to master.
Like all technologies, they will take some practice to become confident in their use, as well as resolving those inevitable tech issues that arise.
2. Cost of drones
There is a big difference between the two categories. A micro-drone is usually under $200, whereas a decent sub-2kg drone is currently from $600 to over $2,000.
Why the jump? A micro-drone is fundamentally designed as a drone to fly indoors (low technology hardware and software compared to the sub-2kg drones), whereas sub-2kg fly outdoors.
There are plenty of non-DJI drones out there that compete in both categories and are much cheaper, but often they have limitations in their hardware, software, and support.
3. Drone integration
Integration with apps is one thing that sets DJI products apart from the rest. With a 78% market share, there are plenty of developers out there creating apps and software that integrate with DJI products.
This 'DJI app industry' pays off in the education setting, where the Tello is positioned not only as a fun toy, but also a powerful education tool, with apps to support coding. Many of the other micro-drones on the market just don't have this secondary level of sophistication as an education tool, due to the lack of educational apps and resources.
4. Level of skill required
You don't learn to drive a car by starting in a truck. So, don't start students learning to fly a drone on a sub-2kg drone outside! Start them off with a cheap, low-risk solution in the micro-drone market. It's far less stressful and much more rewarding for all involved. Even consider a 'junior drone operator license' once your students demonstrate proficiency.
This will help ease their anxiety as they take control and reduce the risk that you have to manage if they start to lose control. A micro-drone crashing into a wall is a whole lot cheaper than a sub-2kg drone flying off over the school fence towards the local shopping centre!
5. Pre and post-sale support
Local support for tech and warranty issues is essential. You will find that the majority of the drones are made in China (DJI is a Chinese company), but dealing with tech and warranty support in another country and time zone is frustrating.
It's good to have a local reseller that has a good understanding of the education market so they can advise you appropriately on the product, and can provide local country warranty support.
6. Ratio of drones to students
We have run programs with as many as 18 micro-drones flying at once, with two instructors. Yes, a little bit chaotic, but well organised and safe at the same time.
As a solo teacher getting started, we recommend starting with a class pack of around 5-7 micro-drones per classroom and having 3-5 micro-drones flying at once, though of course this depends on the space you have available.
If you are confident with micro-drones and looking to take that next step into the sub-2 kg market, then one drone with accessories (extra batteries, spare props etc) should suffice (unless you want a back up).
Purchasing the right drone
Once you've thought about your learning outcomes, you should be able to use these features and considerations to start to get a clearer idea of what drone to buy. Stay tuned for our next guide at the end of the month, which will include:
- How and where to purchase drones for schools
- The educational features and considerations of every drone we've flown and tested
- Drone Comparison table
See you then!