“Sea to Air” drone expo, Feb. 2

Published 9:14 am Thursday, January 26, 2023

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For the Gates County Index

GATESVILLE – The second annual “Sea to Air” drone expo, part of an effort to bring comprehensive science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to eastern North Carolina, will make a return to Gates County K-12 schools on Feb. 2 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Central Middle School.

Following the expo’s successful launch in April 2022, East Carolina University (ECU), the Ray and Judy Felton Family Foundation and Gates County Public Schools relaunched the “Sea to Air” drone expo for 2023 as part of the county’s STEM education program, “Gates on the Go!”

The program’s mission is to serve Gates County students and teachers through educational resources, the utilization of technology and overall support in STEM education. The drone expo has been a component of “Gates on the Go!” since 2021.

Funded by Ray Felton and coordinated by ECU and Gates County teachers and staff, “Gates on the Go!” provides STEM experiences for third to twelfth grade students living in Gates County.

“In year one, students learned about and explored Sphero SPARK and Lego We Do 2.0 robots. In year two, students began learning about drones and drone careers,” Jennifer Annetta, STEM Program Specialist for ECU’s College of Education, said. “In year three (2023), students continue to grow their drone knowledge and ability to operate drones.”

Students from Gatesville Elementary, Buckland Elementary, T.S. Cooper Elementary, Central Middle School and Gates County High School have spent months in preparation for the expo, Annetta said, exploring how to operate and maneuver Tello Drones developed by STEM learning company Pitsco Education, a future-reading STEM learning company that creates technology for K-12 students.

The program also introduces students to the many uses drones have in today’s world, Annetta said, and each activity has a connection to a career that uses drones in their field.

“For the ‘Gates on the Go!’ program, students are given a situation that simulates the real-world experience of someone in that field utilizing a drone to complete various tasks,” Annetta said. “These activities build in complexity as the guide continues.”

For the “Sea to Air” drone expo, students will maneuver through various obstacles on teams, participate in a flight competition, and present their research to visiting family, friends and community members through poster boards.

“The expo provides STEM enrichment opportunities for rural students in grades three through high school,” Annetta said. “So these are opportunities that they may not have had experienced in their communities, and Mr. Ray Felton has been generous enough to provide a funding source for the program.”

Graylen Boone, “Gates on the Go!” coach and educator for Gates County Public Schools, wrote in an email statement that students participating in the program are currently finishing posters in preparation for the drone expo.

Students in Boone’s groups have chosen various activities for the expo, including the “No Fly Zone” activity and “Traffic Jam” Activity.

As students continue to practice these activities in preparation for the “Sea to Air” expo, Boone wrote that he has enjoyed watching his students perform and gain confidence in their understanding of STEM technology.

“In the Traffic Jam Activity, the students are to photograph all roadways and vehicles to understand traffic patterns,” Boone wrote. “In the No Fly Zone Activity, students are to complete a basic drone obstacle course as quickly as possible while avoiding designated no fly zone regions.”

Ann McClung, science coordinator for ECU’s Center for Stem Education and one of the coordinators for “Gates on the Go!” planning, said the program provides Gates County students exposure to STEM technologies in new and exciting ways, furthering ECU’s university mission of regional transformation and service.

“For us, the goal with ‘Gates on the Go!’ is to introduce kids to STEM technologies that they wouldn’t have experienced prior to this program, and through that we’re seeing a lot of increase in participation,” McClung said.

Gatesville and Buckland Elementary schools will have 10 students competing in the expo, T.S. Cooper Elementary will have 24 students, Central Middle School will have five and Gates County High School will have nine.

All community members are invited to attend the “Sea to Air” drone expo, including teachers, staff, parents, fellow peers and Gates County Public School board members.

For more information please contact Gates County District Academically or Intellectually Gifted Coordinator Amanda Hobbs.