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John Paul II Catholic Secondary School students Zack Edgar-Stuben (left) and Drew Shewaga (right).

DIY Drones: Creating Science, Math and Design Opportunities with Classroom Build Projects

What does it take to build a drone? That’s what one design studies class at John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in London, Ontario, Canada, wondered after trying to purchase a drone for a school research project.  The drones on the market were too expensive for the students to buy, and so were the replacement parts if and when they would need them.

That’s when Mike Santolupo, the department head of Technological Studies and Design, realized this was a perfect opportunity for the students to hone their design thinking and problem solving skills.  Using the school’s  Stratasys FDM 3D printer and engineering grade ABS materials, the class created detailed modular design and build plans for the drone, constructed parts that were light enough to fly and strong enough to land, and could be easily replaced in the event of a crash or other malfunction. At first the students underestimated how challenging it would be to create each piece to withstand the impact of landing, but they quickly realized that 3D printing offered a unique solution. With a Stratasys FDM printer onsite, the team could 3D print replacement parts after test flights.

3D Printed Drone Form3D printing helped the students overcome any supply chain issues they may have encountered, made possible by how quickly the school’s 3D printer could build new parts. Without it, the students realized they would have had to wait for parts to ship from a traditional retail supplier, delaying the final deadline of the project. They also learned 3D printing allows for easy customization, while many retailers charge premiums for any custom design elements the team may have wanted to add.

Navigating the design process of creating and testing the drone using 3D printing not only boosted student engagement, it taught them how to solve design problems through persistence and multiple iterations. Collaborative, hands-on projects like this one let students actively explore, respond to and engage with real-world challenges — experience and knowledge they’ll be able to draw upon and apply to projects later on.

The final version of the students’ drone was very strong and light, but also amazingly accurate and easy to fly. Plus, with 3D printing they could use multiple colors in the design, letting students customize the drone in a way that suited their learning and aesthetic tastes, giving them the exact solution they wanted and could take pride in.

Gina Scala

Gina Scala

Gina Scala is Stratasys’ director of marketing for worldwide education where she works to listen to the voice of the education customer and translate that into meaningful marketing messages and product solutions that meet teaching and learning needs for schools. Prior to this role she served as Vice President of education & professional development at the Direct Marketing Association. Gina has a strong background in both marketing and education. Prior to DMA, she served as Director of Marketing for a global professional development company, Editure, where she was responsible for the marketing strategy and development for six subsidiary companies. She also worked for education publishers: Sadlier, delivering in-service training, and Pearson Education as an educational product manager. Scala holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the Pennsylvania State University, a MA in special education from The College of New Jersey and she is a credentialed teacher in the state of NJ. She is most proud however of her two amazing children who inspire her each day as they learn about the world around them.

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