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Linden Middle School Students’ Computer-Coding Lessons Take Flight


Many in the technology world may say that middle school is the perfect time to get students to learn coding, but creating a curriculum that captures the students’ interest and excitement is a task that a McManus Middle school teacher has mastered.

Meet, Howard Schulz, a technology teacher at McManus Middle School in Linden, who managed to incorporate his computer coding class with flying drones.

Schulz gave approximately 120 seventh and eighth graders the task to launch drones from one side of the cafeteria, flying them around a cone at the other end of the room and landing them fly them back to the point of origin. The twist however, these drones are not your usual remote control drones but instead pre-programmed drones that required students to use the skills they learned in coding class.

“Every class that week was very excited, very focused,” Schulz said of the lesson in December. “They were like, ‘We’ve got to do this.’ And the people who didn’t succeed, at the end of the class they were saying, ‘Can I have five more minutes?’ No, you’ve got to go to class.”

Landing the drones in a square taped off on the cafeteria floor took a lot of trial and error. Students worked in small groups attempting to get the commands correct, performing flight after flight, modifying their commands based on the results.

“There’s a lot of variables in this,” Schulz told a group of visitors that included Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi, Assistant Superintendent Denise Cleary, Business Administrator and Board Secretary Kathleen Gaylord, and Director of Technology Michael Walters. “If you have a window open and a breeze comes in, the drone will go from going forward to going up in the air. It is challenging, and they are coding.”

During their visit, Dr. Robertozzi and Mr. Walters sat with eighth-grader Isabelle Brito, who taught them the basics so they could give it a try.

“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” Dr. Robertozzi said. “But Mr. Schulz and these students are doing an amazing job at taking what they’re learning in the classroom and applying it in a real-world setting. Technology like this is vital to their education going forward, and this lesson gives them a small glimpse at what’s possible.”

“The drones were a set of lessons to practice what we’ve learned so far – giving simple commands, trying to run for-loops, creating functions – basically taking what we’ve learned in the classroom and applying it to a real-life situation,” Schulz said.

“The students get a little bit bored of coding with puzzles, so we try to bring in something that piques their interest. I was able to find refurbished drones on Amazon. It was really to get them excited again about the coding and to do something fun with them before the holidays.”

And the students’ reaction?

“Well, we’re back in the classroom now, and everybody is saying, ‘When are we going back to the cafeteria?’ ” Schulz said. “I say, ‘We have to go back into the classroom for a little while, then we’ll go back.’ “I think they really like it and they want to do more with it.”

Photo Caption:

McManus Middle Schools students, from left, Elias Vazquez, Ethan Wilms, Tyler Gobel, and Samuel Noblega preparing to run a computer code they wrote using lessons from Howard Schulz’s class to fly their drone in the school cafeteria.

McManus Middle School teacher Howard Schulz working with students on creating computer code to make their drone fly.

McManus Middle School eighth-grader Isabelle Brito working with Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi and Director of Technology Michael Walters on coding to make their drone fly.