Project Profile

Drone Research and Opportunities for Native Elementary Students (DRONES)


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by developing and testing a career exploration experience for upper elementary students. The project will engage students and their teachers within three rural school districts of Alaska: a rural coastal hub having a diverse population, a rural fringe community with an even mix of Native and non-Native residents, and a remote rural district primarily accessible by air or boat having a predominately Alaska Native population. The project encourages students and their communities to envision how unmanned aerial systems (UAS) can be used to address local priorities, such as wildlife management, search and rescue operations, and monitoring of hazards. In this context, the project will develop, implement, and test a place-based education strategy that includes a teacher professional development course, three culturally inclusive curriculum units focusing on STEM fields, and UAS-focused career exploration experiences. The project aims to increase Alaska Native students' enthusiasm, engagement, and success in STEM education.

This mixed-methods comparative case study responds to three identified problems within the schools and communities participating in the project. These include: 1) a lack of culturally relevant curriculum and educational resources, 2)inexperienced educators who are unprepared for rural Alaska settings; and 3)limited opportunities for local STEM mentorship and STEM workforce learning opportunities. In this context, the overarching goal of the project is to increase Alaska Native students' enthusiasm, engagement, and success in STEM learning. The associated research goal is to identify key factors and strategies that engender this success in STEM subjects. To achieve these goals, the project aims to: 1) engage students and communities in identifying locally relevant UAS applications; 2) develop science and technology curricula related to place-based UAS applications; 3) develop a distance-delivered continuing education course for upper-elementary teachers; 4)train up to 23 elementary school teachers to instruct science and technology using place-based pedagogies; and 5)deliver the DRONES curricula and an associated year-end career exploration experience to three school districts serving a total of 450 4th through 6th grade students in 14 rural Alaska communities. A backwards design process will be used for curriculum development to ensure that project deliverables address targeted Alaska cultural standards, Next Generation Science Standards, Alaska science standards, and 21st Century Competencies. Alaska Native cultural values will be identified, and key terminology will be translated into relevant Athabascan dialects to encourage community support.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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Principal Investigator(s)


Award Number
1850561, 1850556
Project Duration
2019 - 2023
University of Alaska Fairbanks Campus, .
Project Status