Middle school students build drones in Hersey after-school STEM class


Fifty middle school students are building, programming and flying drones as part of High School District 214’s continued efforts to build interest around STEM and manufacturing careers.

The students are enrolled in a five-week after-school course at John Hersey High School that gives them a hands-on STEM education as well as rigorous and relevant learning experiences through activity, project and problem-based learning.

The course is offered through District 214’s Next Generation of Engineers (NGE) program. NGE is the district’s main method of STEM outreach and engagement with middle school students and is also held at Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove, Rolling Meadows and Wheeling high schools. Courses are taught by District 214 educators and cover a variety of STEM areas including aerospace engineering, green architecture, computer science and robotic systems.  

The drones course at Hersey is taught by Bob Brown and Jim Van Bladel and combines computer science, manufacturing and engineering. As part of the class, students design drones using industry software such as Autodesk Inventor, learn how to code the devices using Apple’s Swift Playgrounds and manufacture the drones with a CNC Router.

“It’s a combined, multi-dimensional project that we’ve done here for our eighth graders and seventh graders who are coming to Hersey,” said Brown. “We’re hoping the kids explore different career areas, have fun and learn as much as they can.”

Parrot Education donated supplies worth about $3,500 to the class, including batteries, battery chargers, motors, control boards and propellers needed to build the drones.

Beyond building interest in STEM, the goal of the course is also to help introduce Hersey and its career pathway offerings to the students. Throughout the class, students move to different part of the building, visiting the coding, graphic arts, automotive technology, media & journalism, engineering and manufacturing classrooms.

The majority of the students in the Next Generation of Engineers class at Hersey attend Thomas, River Trails and MacArthur middle schools. The class is broken into two sections, with 25 students in each, and runs through the middle of December.

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