Inside the Roseville High School Drone Program — Putting a Group of Students through Part 107 Training
BY Zacc Dukowitz29 May 2019
Brian Hoag is an educator at the Roseville Area High School in Roseville, MN, and the creator of the first drone course to be offered at the high school.
When Brian created the class, he didn’t just want students to walk away with basic knowledge about how to fly. He wanted them to learn everything they needed to know to pass the FAA’s Part 107 test so that, once they were done, they would be certified, commercial drone pilots.
To do this, he reached out to UAV Coach to see if he could offer Drone Pilot Ground School to his students for free to help them prepare for the test. We agreed, and his drone class became the first class at the high school to take the Part 107 test as a group.
The results? 95% of the eligible students in the class (or 19 out of 20) passed, and now hold their remote pilot certificate to fly drones commercially in the U.S.
We wanted to sit down with Brian to learn more about how he started the drone class, what he wanted his students to get out of it, and what they did to prepare for the Part 107 test.
Tell us about yourself. How did you first get involved in education?
I’ve been teaching for 33 years, but I first got involved in education totally by accident.
I went to school to be a dentist, and then changed my mind and decided I was going to be an industrial trainer instead.
I had a job lined up with 3M that I was supposed to start after graduation, but the week before I was graduating that opportunity fell through. While I was finishing college, one of the degree requirements was that you had to student teach, and in that same week my supervising teacher had a massive heart attack and couldn’t work anymore. Long story short, I ended up taking his place, and that led to me going into teaching.
How did you become interested in drones?
One of my passions is photography, which is part of how I got into drones.
I also have a background in graphic arts—I actually left teaching for four and a half years and worked in the commercial graphics industry.
But the main reason I became involved in drones is a bit more unusual: it’s because I’m a model railroader. My friends and I would go out chasing real trains so we could get pictures for our modeling projects.
We could never get into the places we wanted to go because they were off limits. We always talked about how great it would be to have some kind of remote control helicopter that would let us get up-close images of the trains, so when drones started coming out we jumped on it.
My son is an air traffic controller at Minneapolis Tower, and he is a commercial pilot, and his work has definitely contributed to my interest in drones as well.
How did you first start teaching high school students about drones?
About two and a half years ago I proposed we add a drone class to our Industrial Technology department.
It takes about two years in our curriculum review cycle to have a program approved. During the two year review period you have to lay out what the purpose of the class is; why you’re doing it; what you’re going to need; and how you’re going to financially support the course, including how you’re going to get equipment.
After the review period the class was approved, and just this past fall we offered it for the first time.
My principal was very supportive when I first proposed the idea. And now her stepson is actually going to school at North Dakota for aerial systems.
Did you face any challenges or roadblocks to getting the course approved?
At first, I think some people thought we were just going to let students fly drones every day for fun. That was not the purpose at all. So many STEM-related areas can be covered in a course like this. Our intent was to instruct a high end, college-level course and be able to offer college credit for taking this class.
Once we showed people that the course would teach students about drone technology, drone systems, drone regulations, as well as where to fly, how to be compliant with the laws, and also where the career opportunities are in the drone industry, people started buying in.
Many people weren’t familiar with the technology, and there were some negative public perceptions about drones that we had to work around. But in the end, everything really fell into place in terms of how our school district’s goals and vision fit the proposed course.
How did you acquire drones and other technology for the class?
To get our drones we wrote a foundation grant.
In Roseville, we have a foundation called the Roseville Foundation, which is comprised of former graduates of the high school, local businesses, and corporations in the community.
We can go to them to write grants for funding for start-ups, for new courses, for new innovative ideas, and so on. We wrote a seed grant for the initial equipment we needed for the course, and they approved the funding for us to get four drones.
We were able to purchase six DJI Mavic Pros and 18 RealFlight Simulators.
Tell us a little more about the class. How many students attended, and what does it cover?
The drone course was offered as an elective. We had thirty-two students show up for the first class, but once we told them how rigorous it was going to be, six of them dropped it.
It was a one trimester, or twelve-week, course, with each class about seventy minutes in length. UAV Coach was instrumental in helping us shape the course—I wanted students to walk away from the class with a Part 107 certificate.
The first time I spoke with Alan [Alan Perlman, the CEO of UAV Coach] about offering Drone Pilot Ground School to students for free to help them prepare for the test, he was concerned that twelve weeks might not be enough time to cover everything. In the end, we decided to restrict the class to only students with a 3.0 GPA or higher.
We taught the students everything they needed to know to take the FAA’s Part 107 test, and we also taught them the basics of flying a drone.
We first had them fly Hubsan X4 drones so they could get their skill level built up, and then we transitioned them over to the Mavic Pros. They were flying, they were learning how to read sectional charts—weather, meteorology, the whole nine yards.
This is where Drone Pilot Ground School came in. Alan gave the students free access, and they were able to study from their iPads and computers at home since we’re a 1:1 device school.
When they were studying at home, students could look at Drone Pilot Ground School and go over the tutorials that we covered for that week. Drone Pilot Ground School played a very important role in the success of the course. It was crucial in helping cement the students’ knowledge and really prepared them for the Part 107 test.
How many students in the class went on to take the Part 107 test and become certified commercial drone pilots?
We had twenty-six students in the inaugural class who made it all the way through to the end.
Of those twenty-six, twenty were eligible to take the Part 107 test. Of those twenty who tested, eighteen passed on the first try.
Of the two students who didn’t pass that first time, one couldn’t test because she didn’t have the proper paperwork—she had just turned sixteen, and she needed a parent’s signature, but we didn’t have it.
The other student failed the first time. One student went back and passed the exam, the other still has not retaken the test.
So in the end, nineteen of the twenty students who were eligible have tested and are commercial drone pilots now.
I didn’t know this until I talked to the testing service for the FAA, but we were the first high school class ever to take the test as a group. I’m very proud of that.
What would you like to do next with the drone class?
Right now I’m working with St. Cloud State University and Northland College to get the drone course certified for college credit. We also plan to work with the University of North Dakota.
To follow up on the success of our first drone class, we’ve gone to our review committee and asked to offer a second level of the class.
What we’re proposing is to make the first level course a little more generic and remove the GPA requirement, so we can open it up to every student in the school and allow them to begin building their skills in preparation for the Part 107 exam.
In the second level course, we will introduce advanced flying skills with higher level drones, prep for the Part 107 test, and allow students to learn photo and video editing. We are even looking to collaborate with our business department in developing students’ ability to start their own business. We also plan to work to place student pilots in actual jobs within our community.
How much money are you trying to raise to support this growth?
To do things the way we want to, we need to raise about another $20,000 for equipment and support materials. I would like to develop partnerships with local and national companies to further grow our program.
We are also looking into partnering with our local law enforcement services. A lot of our local police departments have an explorer program, which allows young people to get involved in law enforcement.
I’ve proposed to local law enforcement that cadets should be FAA certified to fly drones, and they love the idea.
Where are you seeing commercial drone pilots working in your community?
Right now one of the big places where we’re seeing drone use is public safety—law enforcement, EMS, fire rescue, and for search and rescue, that kind of thing.
Our state department of natural resources is also looking into using drones. They do things like wildlife counts, boat inspections, and making sure people aren’t drinking in boats on the lakes and rivers.
Another area where we’re seeing a lot of commercial drone use here in the Twin Cities is with roofing companies, who are using drones for roof inspections.
Construction companies are also starting to use drones for inspection work, and our local energy company Xcel Energy is starting to use drones to inspect their power lines, wind generators, solar farms, and transmission towers.
UPDATE: At the end of April, Brian invited district officials, parents, and students to the first ever “Winging” ceremony to show the Roseville community what his students had been able to accomplish in the twelve-week course. Each student was presented with a certificate of completion and an actual pair of wings, which their parents pinned on the new pilots.
Enrollment for the drone program has doubled for the upcoming year, and students can now receive college credit for taking the course.
Want to learn more about drones in education? Check out these articles: