When GREC science teacher Wade Leonard talked his principal into offering a course in drones (and drone mapping) a couple of years ago, he did see a lot of potential.
But he wasn’t all that sure what that potential would be.
“We’re now solving problems we didn’t even know were problems,” he said. “And we’re seeing all sorts of new tendrils of potential.”
Leonard’s program, which teaches students how to fly a drone and what to do with it once they get it up in the air, has already blazed new trails.
For example, they’ve done studies in Alderville for the Black Oak Savanna and Tall Grass Prairie, tracked last summer’s storm damage for Central Frontenac and the Office of Emergency Preparedness Ontario, done a study of a maple sugar bush, tracked milfoil in North Frontenac lakes, several projects for Central Frontenac included a 3D model of the Caboose in Sharbot Lake, trail mapping and volume of the Olden dump (which even shows trails where bears have dragged off bags of garbage) and are scheduled to create a database of headstones in North Frontenac.
“Our first field trip was to the Black Oak Savanna for the Alderville First Nation,” he said. “We got looking at it and learned that the grass is in colonies — you could see individual plants and colony density became the basis for an ecological study.
“You can’t get that from a satellite because not only does the image have to go through the entire atmosphere, it’s always at an angle and you’ll never see individual plants.”
Each job brings something new.
“When we did a project for Wheeler’s Maple Products to see what might be the best route for the sap lines, we discovered that we could do elevation data,” he said. “We didn’t know we could do elevation data until we got there.”
That’s become useful for other projects as well. For example, they’ve discovered they can see the bottom of a lake in 15 feet of water. They have images of how effective the Malcolm/Ardoch Lakes burlap methodology has been.
“And the Tryon Road severe weather research . . . lots of people were interested in that,” he said. “We saw the extent of the damage.
“We’ve filled a gap.”
And they’ve even attracted the attention of some professors at Carleton University.
“Professor Jesse Vermaire told us ‘we don’t do this on the scale you can,’” Leonard said. “He said ‘we’re doing it on scales of metres and you’re doing it in hectares.’
“We’re going to Carleton to talk to him and some other professors.”
Leonard said his program fits in well with the “Authentic Learning” program at GREC, which also includes their forestry program.
“It’s solving real world problems,” he said. “Through inception, planning, execution, analysis and communication.”
To that extent, he’s changed up his program slightly, making students responsible for setting up dates, looking at weather forecasts for the proposed flight, where to fly and even consulting and communicating with the partner for the mission.
“We’ve got it set up now so everything is hyperlinked for the students such as permission forms, pre-flight, and the students do it all themselves,” he said.
And, with changes in regulations coming in June, students 14 and older will be able fly the drones themselves.
“My read on the new regulations is that not only will the students be licensed but potentially will be able to conduct missions.”
Where this program will lead is anybody’s guess but they’re already breaking new ground continuously.
“Context is everything,” Leonard said. “This is such a new area and we’re the only program in Ontario schools that does mapping.
“We’ve just been out there poking around and stumbled on some techniques that haven’t been done before.”
Sounds like their techniques will be used quite a bit in days to come.
If you’d like to see some of the videos Leonard and his charges have made, have a look at his YouTube channel Wade W Leonard.