Middle school drones deployed

#PocomokeScholars graduate to flying the larger drone outside during our after school program.

When opportunity knocks, it’s important to jump on it and I saw a similar opportunity this year that I didn’t want my students to miss. The local television station was promoting its newly trained drone operators. People were being paid to fly these “toy” drones.

Yes, yes they were. 

How could this be a job? Simple, it’s a change in our college and career standards, and #PocomokeScholars needed to be prepared for it.

Drone Program Brainstorming

At the time, I had never have flown a drone before, but I knew it was trendy and would hook even the most resistant students. I began researching, reading Twitter, and reaching out to other EduDrone folks to gain insight on implementing a program. 

Next, I bought my own drone.

I spent my first weekend flying around my home office as my four year old chased the mini-drone down and my dog howled. In time, I built some capacity and learned through trial and error. I left some scuff marks on the wall, but I figured out some necessities to fly a drone.

The Talk

Our initial purchase was Furbee Mini Quadcopter drones. They are affordable and durable.

I sat down with my after school administrator and pleaded my case on the value of drones. I showed the costs, many online projects related to math and STEM standards, and flew the drone into her office to get her curious.

It was an instant sensation!

We decided to place it in the last session of after school program; it ended up being the most requested academic related activity, but only budgeted for 8 students in a pilot version (my mistake).

To build some discussion around school, I flew the drone in the lunch room and kept it our visually in my classroom so others could see it. It sparked many questions and many wanted to fly a drone during my class. I continued to tell students, sign up for my after school program and they did.

Purchasing Drones

There are a lot of drones on the market to buy, but which ones are best for students. I reached out to Adam Hinnenkamp, who has much more experience with drones, and learned things to know about drones. I encourage anyone wanting to know more about drones or ed tech in general to follow Adam on Twitter. 

Here are a few tips he gave me:

  • durability is key; students break things
  • cost is important
  • creativity — allow students to create courses
  • have fun

Six Week Breakdown

  1. What are drones? Explored the physical components of drones and aeronautics.
  2. Experiential Flying Courses.We flew drones and had fun with the drones.
  3. Explore CoursesLooked at drone challenge courses and watched parts of Drone Racing League. 
  4. Design Courses. Group designed their own courses via graph paper and PVC piping.
  5. Design Courses and Practice Flying. Continued designing and building courses. 
  6. Flying Student CoursesCreated a challenge to fly through each student’s course, keeping time


  • I did not give myself a big enough space to fly; I used my classroom. A lunchroom or

    #PocomokeScholars design their challenge obstacle course that will be used to fly their drones through at the conclusion of the program.

    major hallway would better meet the needs of flying and building the obstacle courses.

  • Don’t try to guide students too much. Allow room for failure in building; it is what it takes for them to learn.
  • Batteries do not last long enough for a middle school student; I needed a charging station and backup batteries to be more successful.
  • PVC piping was out primary tools for the challenge courses. Common items around us could have been used.
  • I did not make a plaque or award (outside of pure student enjoyment) for the final challenge #TeacherFail.

Future Goals

  • Build a two-tiered program for 4th and 5th graders and a more advanced version for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.
  • Collect junk parts to make obstacle courses more challenging.
  • Skype with one of the professionals from the Drone Racing League.
  • Invest some time in grant writing to upgrade drones and additional items to make classes smoother.
  • Add a coding piece into the program. Maybe Parrot Edu kits for middle school (still researching).

–Brian Cook, Ed.D.–


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Unleashing Problem Solvers

One of the #PocomokeScholars is cutting a PVC pipe to use in her #EduDroneChallenge obstacle course. Students worked in groups to design and create a obstacle course where a quadcopter drone would fly through.

Pass me the pipe cutters.

Be careful. You want to get the measurement just right or it won’t be balanced when it stands.

I’ll hold it steady for you.

The conversation above was a typical day when students were working together to achieve a particular task in my school’s #EduDroneChallenge. Students were physically building their paper designs into real structures using PVC pipes that could later be used as an obstacle course for our mini quadcopter drones to fly through.

Some of the structures were simplistic, requiring drones to fly through and around them mostly, but as we got more comfortable the creations became more sophisticated. The scenario given to #PocomokeScholars was design a course your drone must fly through that could be found in a level of a video game. First, it needed to be drawn using a scale model — shout out to the math teacher who teamed up with me to take on that component of the project. Next, we had to determine the materials needed and actually build it.

Reading rulers and conceptualizing their drawing into a physical structure was our biggest challenges. Everyone was able to play with the drone, but could they use it as well as other skills to complete an authentic learning task?

Designing a New Product

Being a reading teacher, I often here colleagues get caught up in assessing the standards in a very traditional format — that of the state standardized assessment. Yes, those assessments are necessary from time to time, but they don’t cultivate a love of learning in students; it actually makes them resentful towards learning in my experiences. 

#PocomokeScholars design infographics to display their understanding of a pair of informational texts.

Therefore, the making or creating something relevant to the standards being assessed allows for students to show mastery through creativity and innovation. Igniting the fire to learn is the most important ingredient to get a student’s motor running. In middle school ELA classes, I focus on developing a tool from the text to depict a major concept in the book. For instance, at the conclusion of reading Hatchet students design a tool that would help the main character Brian survive using a box of junk I collect throughout the year. Another example is after reading some informational texts on a subject (i.e., smog) allow students to develop either a meme or infographic to support the author’s message about the topic. 

Applying Numerous Skills to Real-World Challenge

Don’t get caught up with teaching one skill in isolation all the time because in the real-worl most tasks take a lot of skills to complete. The skill I always incorporate in any assignment is writing and speaking. Most may be thinking okay, writing; however, speaking too? Yes, it is a lost art and one many students struggle with in the current society because of the over saturation of communicating on mobile devices. 

I love teaching humanities through ELA and focus a lot of my time on media literacies because it is important to me that students are educated in what is going on in society. My classroom instruction always holds debates throughout the year on touchy topics because students have an opinion, but are never asked their opinion. This year we focused on immigration, travel ban, and refugees because it was important to my students. I modeled components and we critiqued one another to get better. 

Each time a student performed in their debate they took themselves out of their comfort zone. They challenged themselves to put their claims and supported evidence out their for their peers to judge. Yes, we had some raised tones of voice and even crying, but we were learning — sometimes it gets messy.

Integrating into Other Content Areas

Orbiting Jupiter, one of our novels, had many PG13 content pieces in it that students did an amazing job displaying maturity, empathy, and compassion towards the main characters. To make it even better, the content rolled into out Family Consumer Science and Health courses. Students were giving those teachers examples from the novel on how we need to love one another because we do not always know everyone’s situation. 


Students took the concepts for the novel and were applying it to challenges in another class. Their papers discussing their analysis on situations were well beyond previous years in that particular class because we were addressing those concepts in ELA literature and our integrated health literacy components.


Teaching students to become vulnerable with their learning by making mistakes and sharing is no easy task. However, it is necessary to create content that allows individuals to create something — whether it be a physical item, technology artifact, or presentation — that displays they are learning.

I promise you my students do not remember the formative assessments that mimic our state assessment, but those moments working with peers to create and solve problems related to the curriclum.

-Brian Cook, Ed.D.-


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I have a good idea Daddy…

My daughter is the typical Pre-K student.

She talks nonstop about everything her teacher does in school. Every small thing is major in her eyes. She sings every song to Moana at the top of her lungs.

She is sweet, innocent and full of “I have a good idea Daddy…” thoughts every day.

Similar to other teacher’s children, she comes to school with me every day and roams around with other teachers’ children. This is the group who knows where the snacks are hidden in other teachers’ classrooms and which lunch lady during afterschool gives the best snacks.

Each day our routine consists of me checking her folder, her sharing what she did that day, and grabbing her a snack out of my school pantry. It’s not uncommon to hear a disappointing gasp when her supply of juice boxes is depleted or when she must go without for a whole hour until Dad’s first hour of after school program is over.

Being in town, I hear I have a good idea Daddy. Let’s go to McDonalds and get chicken nuggets.

If I went with this idea as often as it’s offered, I would be purchasing stock in the golden arches franchise in town. However, I do what every great Dad does from time to time — I lie and tell her I am broke and Mommy has all the money.

She frowns and tells me how she will go get the “monies from Mommy for tomorrow.”

Our family is blessed and far from poverty, but I needed this motormouth four year old to hush so I could go run my after school program. However, something changed that evening. As my wife and children went to bed, I pecked away at the computer checking up on social media feeds, and my four year emerged from the shadow with something behind her back.

“Daddy, here is my monies from my piggy. Now we can go to McDonalds tomorrow.” She handed me two quarters as my eyes watered.

She knows no stranger who is not her friend or someone she cannot help.

It made me think about my own students in class. Unlike my daughter who was “sooooo hungry,” but truly has no idea what it is really like to not have food readily available.

Many children would love to be able to dine at any local eatery but do not have the means to.

This moment rekindled the memory of a home visit only a few weeks prior. I would never forget the visit. I walked into a low income apartment that was recently remodeled and it looked immaculate. But something was missing, literally.

The single-mom was struggling so much that she said her entire week’s paycheck went to buy the spoons in her home. Her smile glowed telling me as we stood in her bare apartment — as she recently eliminated her homeless status. She could now raise her 12-year old son in there own home. Observing they were still sleeping on the floor, the only food was Dollar Store items with minimal nutritional value.

It made me think about the number of days her son entered homeroom with a negative attitude and prowled around the room to get breakfast leftovers and seconds. This young man knew what my young daughter could not even believe to fathom, hunger.

Students who do not receive the basic necessities — food, a comfortable night’s sleep, and love from an adult (just to name a few) — do not perform the same way as a child who is being well kept. I am ashamed to admit, there were many days when I scolded that same young man for being a breakfast scavenger.

He wasn’t disobeying me; he was fighting to survive his situation.

Reflection can be a humbling and eye opening time.

After sharing this child’s story with some colleagues and friends, our community shined on how it puts our children first. People came forth and asked to donate gently used furniture and a local business brought two new beds to their home for Mom and son. This particular child is no longer battling for breakfast scraps and Mom’s paycheck is allowing her to focus on providing food for her son and his behavior has improved greatly since.

I pray this will be the last time this student goes hungry.


–Brian Cook, Ed.D.–

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Middle School teacher epidemic


One of the middle school classes I taught; they were a great group of kids.

As rain drizzles down upon the heads of youthful spirits entering Ocean City Elementary School, parents and students are hand-in-hand entering the building. Students embrace teachers waiting for them inside the corridor and friendly exchange of words between parents are common.

Earlier that day only a few miles away, students parked cars and acknowledged their teachers upon entering Stephen DeCatur High School. Many brought their own iced coffees and lounged in common areas speaking with peers as well as school faculty.

Each anecdote is common practice in the Ocean City-Berlin area, but those warm and fuzzy feelings are not always the same when entering middle schools. Instead, students are signal calling their social group to join them in the hallways, attempting to determine where they fit in the social structure, or perhaps finding their safe haven, wherever it may be in the school.

This factious scenario, but real locations, is the way undergraduate students perceive middle school students. Yes, they are youthful and immature. Yes, there is a component of the student learning their identity. Yes, it is not all warm and fuzzy like elementary school.

Then, what is it then?

Middle school is the time when students needs rock solid role models and adults who care about them the most. Elementary school teachers have laid the foundation at a time when students love school and all of their teachers. Middle school teachers must sustain that passion and build upon it.

Wow, that is not an easy task, but it is necessary to see students achieve at their maximum capacity. However, high quality middle school teachers are becoming harder and harder to find.


Teaching undergraduate classes at the university level, I have taught numerous students who are on elementary or high school certification tracks. Why, I ask them? For some reason, they are terrified of the age group and believe it’s too much of a challenge.

Yes, it’s a rough time.

I have found it is a time when you must unconditionally model love and relationships to students. For some odd reason, it is a time when they must show off who they think they are to friends and find themselves. That’s when you show love the most, sometimes tough love, but still love them the most.

During this time, teachers must be willing to have courageous conversations and courageous visits. Middle schoolers have to see you love them to give a darn about you or your subject area.

True Story

I often tell undergrads if you love students and want to make a difference, become a middle school teacher. There is no better reward.



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Power of Home Visits



Reflecting upon current or past practices is the by far the best learning moments a teacher can take to improve. As I am in the midst of the final term of the school year, I am reminded of all the challenges I have faced this year.

The previous year all I heard was wait until this class, implying the group was going to be unruly or unmanageable.

Honestly, it was a challenging group, but it had nothing to do with their academic ability. There were many bright students and a handful of throw away kids (as deemed by society’s stereotypes) that I was determined to scoop up and bring back on track. The struggles for this class was they lacked some basic necessities:

  • believing in themselves to be successful
  • solid family foundations (mom and dad together in the home)
  • financial resources to get students necessities (i.e., eye glasses and mental health counseling)
  • warmth in their home — literally
  • food over long weekend and holidays
  • unable to afford their medicine on a consistent basis

Reading over this list, it was just a handful of the non-academic struggles our team tackled this year because kids deserve not to worry about the basic necessities.

High Fliers

Everyone knows them.

The ones you see sitting in the office next to the principal’s office.

The ones with a ton of office referrals.

The ones you need to love the most.

People have no idea what students are battling before and after school. Many could not even imagine or they know and are unwilling to address the real problems. Each one of these high fliers is an opportunity to impact another human being. Yes, they have the same genetic DNA as anyone else, but might not have the same opportunities as another.

Head Home

A colleague and I started the first few days back with teachers walking the streets of our community. I needed to experience and be reminded of the poverty stricken community that I teach in. It was eye opening to see a homeless shelter hidden between homes and learn the number of students who are placed in their custody. Bouncing balls and young, and I mean young, students playing on the sidewalks were common, but no supervision was even more common.

We knocked on doors and sat on front porches introducing ourselves as children’s new teachers. We listened to parents’ visions for their children and shared our vision, never speaking about curriculum and keeping it student centered. It wasn’t our intention to speak ill about past experiences or setbacks; rather, we wanted to charge parents up about sending their children back to school.

Best Communication Method

In a community where having enough minutes on a phone, no internet connection, and moving due to evictions are common, messages are not easily delivered to parents. Therefore, it is necessary to get face time (not the iPhone app) with parents early on to learn the best method to communicate.

In the past, I would never handout my personal cell phone number, but texting parents is more common with students’ parents. It doesn’t affect their minutes and it’s immediate in our current culture. Disrupting the parents who work is not acceptable to them, but glancing at a text message is okay.

I find the best communication method for each parent and individualize it to meet their needs. I let them know of school, community and school events, homework and assessments, ways to help their children, extended study sessions, and most importantly things are going well.

Parents love hearing about their child’s successes. It is simply they were not able to provide the best for them, but want the best for them.


As the school year progressed, I tally each phone call, text message exchange, and follow up home visit. I have made more parent contacts this year than any previous year teaching. I also never had a parent shouting at me this year either. Instead, this year I earned their trust with their most prized possession, their child.


–Brian Cook, Ed.D.–

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Preparing Digital Leaders in Higher Ed Course


Delivering course content to colleagues — some younger and some older — can be viewed as a monumental task. Passionate, maybe too passionate, about the content could not overshadow the goal of preparing digital leaders the evolving educational landscape they are encountering daily.

I was aware of the digital leadership framework of Eric Sheninger and its alignment with the ISTE Standards for Administrators. It ended up being the framework I selected for the course. However, its examples are quickly becoming outdated as technology is being upgraded and authentic student learning experiences evolve. I was challenged to continually read and bring in outside examples (i.e., blogs, fellow #edtech contributors, my PLN’s knowledge) to meet the needs of everyone enrolled in the course.

However, the sinking feeling in my stomach was my students would not feel the course was relevant or they would not be willing to be risk takers. Maybe they would walk through the motions of the course and not embrace how the power of educational technology for their students.

I placed a lot of my heart and passion into the preparation, the assignments, and personal conversations I had many nights via Twitter, Skype, and Google Hangouts to meet the needs of working professionals.



Courtesy of @design2research’s Tweet, I feel this is the impact #EDLD510S17 had on my grad students this semester.

In return, students exceeded my expectation and were the epitome of the quote used above.

The course didn’t waste any time focusing on definitions of authentic learning, how educational technology tools enhanced learning, data analysis on current trends within our districts, professional learning development, and away we went. It was quickly agreed upon district policies (i.e., acceptable use, social media, BYOD) offer red tape for one reason or another. However, the course could not stop because policies were not current or fear and anxiety existed by altering the this is the way we always do it status quo.

Weekly students engaged in FlipGrid conversations about their readings, but it was never summarizing the text. Discussion questions challenged each person to be reflective and focus not on what they could not control, but what they could control in their individualized setting.

Relinquishing the heavy armor of fear, students jumped right in developing school-wide professional development plans with a focus on how to integrate the plan. It was necessary for me to have students become active users and creators with #edtech tools that support the standards — often challenging students to think deeper.


Failure is the Key to the Puzzle

In the early weeks, my online office hours were packed and Google Hangouts were becoming normal. Many asked questions and wanted each specific detail — which I purposely did not always offer. I wanted exploratory moments and not always giving them the answer. I wanted to model problem solving by offering suggestions, but not the answer. In return, many later asked questions and would turn around with an email stating “I Googled and found out my answer.” The process is the same for many young people in the current landscape of education.

The calls became less and less; distress calls were abnormal now.


Risk Taking

Students began asking questions to learn further; asking whether I had a contact in their district for assistance in gaining more technology. Yes, their capacity was filling quickly. They were participating in innovative learning tasks outside of the course requirements because kids deserve the best.

I was adding fuel to their rocket, and they were going as far as they could imagine.


EdTech Tools Presented Throughout Term

  • Twitter
  • WordPress
  • Google — Plus, Hangouts, Forms, Drawings
  • Sway
  • FlipGrid
  • PearDeck
  • Kahoots
  • Plickers
  • Green Screen — TouchCast, Doink
  • PiktoChart
  • Skype
  • Aurasma

Thank You

I feel like I was the lucky one in this course. I got the chance to see and hear about teacher-leaders who imposed self-barriers, and I saw those barriers removed. In the process, they were forced to get comfortable with uncomfortable pedagogical practices. In the end, I feel everyone learned a lot along the way.

Seeing each and everyone’s transformation has been truly amazing.

–Brian Cook, Ed.D.–

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Challenging Aspiring Digital Leaders


Shown is a screen shot of a Padlet displaying the Educator Professional Baseball Cards created in my Educational Leadership and Technology course. The activity, founded by author Brad Gustafson of Renegade Leadership, allows one to make a professional baseball card to hand out to parents rather than traditional business cards. The activity allows aspiring school leaders an alternative path to connect with parents and community stakeholders as well as learn two now technology tools — Google Drawings and Aurasma.

Education is one of the most uncomfortable professional fields.

One will never know everything they need to know because the field continually changes along with the students. Technology tools follow along the same line of thinking as educators must embrace and leverage the power of technology to stay relevant with 21st Century Students.

Coming out of my teacher education program, I was not equipped to use all the tools available for classroom instruction. I was inadequate. I could not meet the needs of my students, technology speaking.

However, I started to blog with my students early on.

Guess what?

They enjoyed it because they had an audience. If one technology tool worked I wonder how creating a video in class would go on Windows Movie Maker; it worked again. My students were engaged and took their understanding of the standards to a new level.

Ten years later

I do not want teachers entering the field with the same inadequacy dawned around my neck. Instead, I want to build technology integration capacity with my colleagues and students (undergraduate and graduate). I am fortunate enough to share my passion for #edtech with probies and seasoned classroom veterans.

This spring I have been blessed with 35 hardworking, passionate teachers who want to make a difference in the lives of students. Knowing students are wired differently, they have come on a journey of exploring, tinkering, taking risks, and jumping all into the life of a digital leader because it is what must happen to stay relevant with students.

Their work speaks for itself as they are becoming innovative and changing the lives of students by altering the pedagogy they are comfortable with and trying something different to meet the needs of their students.

Here is a small glimpse via Twitter.


Amazing! I cannot wait for the weeks to come and continue the transformation of these digital leaders in training.

Future Exploration Tools:

  • Augmented Reality
  • Green Screens

Brian Cook, Ed.D.

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