Schroyer, and Tuscola, Illinois students working on a drone.
Schroyer, and Tuscola, Illinois students working on a drone. - 

Laptops, tablets, calculators.  For lots of high school students, technology has become pretty routine. Not so for students at three Illinois high schools.

Those students are building drones, as part of a program funded by the a  National Science Foundation, and created by Matthew Schroyer, an amateur mechanical engineer, and a  journalist who promotes using drones in investigative reporting.  

Schroyer, who is based at the University of Illinois, also trains teachers in how to incorporate creative science and tech education into their classes. If he had his way, he’d just be out there building drones with the kids all day.

"My favorite thing is to help the students just put those things together,” Schoyer said.

Students build the drones, and then use them in ways that benefit the local community.  One group did low-flight photography of local corn and soybean fields, to gather information about the plants for a biological survey. Another helped map out a local quarry, using the same aerial photography techniques.

Schroyer’s aim is to make drones an integral part of the science curriculum.  Students could build and fly very small drones indoors, he said.  

So if you catch your kid with aerial photos of your neighbor’s backyard someday, don’t be alarmed. He may just be doing his homework.

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Follow Dan Abendschein at @dabendschein