Tina Shrader, 12, wants to be an artist, but she also likes science and thought being a part of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) would be fun.

“I really like sketching,” Tina said. “I'm practicing trying to draw people in a cartoony-ish style”

The soon-to-be Kotzebue eighth-grader asked her parents when she was in sixth grade if she could do the program. Eventually, they said yes, but it had to wait a year.

This week’s ANSEP program focuses on coding, and Thursday, the kids got to fly drones.

Thursday was Tina’s – as well as most of the kids – first time getting a drone in their hands.

Before they set out to learn how to fly the drone – which are about the size of the kids' hands – Sheila Crawford Bunch, the kid’s drone instructor, gave them a lesson.

“I’m giving them a little piece of instruction, but you mostly want them to figure it out themselves because that is how they learn,” Crawford Bunch said.

Teaching the ANSEP kids how to fly drones

Tina said she wasn’t good at flying it.

“I kept on running into that wall over there,” Tina said gesturing across the room. “I couldn’t see the white spot (on the drone) and which way it was facing.” 

She said she felt adrenaline flying the drone, and it was fun but not scary.

Tina Shrader flies a drone during ANSEP program

“You could try and hit one of the targets,” Tina said.

Crawford Bunch said what the kid’ are learning is about much more than learning to fly a drone and hitting a target.

“They are learning how to think,” Crawford Bunch said.

The kids are learning logical reasoning and constructive solid geometry – the foundation for 3D modeling.

“Both are very much in-demand skills these days. They’re huge, exploding fields.”

“Their whole thinking starts to change. They get more systematic, more logical, they're more patient.”

In addition to using the manufactured drones, which they flew Thursday, they built a drone prototype, a frame using 3D modeling skills on the computer, Crawford Bunch said.

“They are constructing it piece by piece and putting it together as a computer-aided design.”

Crawford Bunch said that if there was time, they would 3D print the students’ designs, but instead, they are assembling some that were pre-printed.

ANSEP is using drones to teach kids about 3D modeling because “drones fly in 3D space,” Crawford Bunch said. “That helps with that reasoning piece. But also because it's a career path these days. Drones can be used in tremendous number of applications.

“They are basically flying robots, so whatever you can do with a robot, you can do with a drone, but it flies,” Crawford Bunch said.

Even though Tina wants to be an artist, she thinks what she is learning in this program is valuable. She said knowing how to fly a drone might help her if she gets another job and does art as a hobby or side job.

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