Miami-Dade Middle Schoolers Learn To Code Drones To Dance With Music

Jan 23, 2019

Some 100 South Florida middle schoolers powered up drones in the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall on Wednesday, turned on the ‘Cha Cha Slide’ and coordinated the machines so they flipped and turned along with the music. Other kids performed choreographed dances with the drones, tumbling into breakdancing. 

For the last 13 weeks, these seventh graders from Hialeah Gardens, South Miami and Dr. Henry W. Mack middle schools participated in an after-school intensive aviation and coding program known as Kitty Hawk. The curriculum, designed by the Arsht Center, immerses kids in aviation-centric field trips and coding and STEM-related workshops. 

According to Jairo Ontiveros, the Arsht Center Director of Education and Community Engagement, the program tears down barriers between STEM education and young minority students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Middle schoolers from across Miami-Dade County prepare to use code to compete in the Adrienne Arsht Center's Aerial Ballet competition under the STEM and arts education program Kitty Hawk, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019.
Credit Lily Oppenheimer / WLRN

He said this “drone aerial ballet” is a showcase of what students have learned from workshops and field trips.

“The idea of merging the arts with STEM, that’s what this program is all about,” Ontiveros said. “They pre-code it so as the music plays, you see the drone actually carrying out the choreography of the music itself.”

Ontiveros said the drone ballet raises the bar. The students previously worked with Boeing and ATR Americas engineers to code the drones to operate on their own.

Middle schoolers from across Miami-Dade County prepare to use code to compete in the Adrienne Arsht Center's Aerial Ballet competition under the STEM and arts education program, Kitty Hawk, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019.

“All of these students have also sat in and participated in flight simulators at Boeing,” he said. “They get to work with their engineers hands-on on aviation concepts. After that they go to the next module, which is drone design and learning about coding with the drones.”

Jada Smith, who attends Dr. Henry Mack West Little River Center, used the visual programming language Scratch.

“Basically flying the drone, it’s cool, we’ve never experienced anything like this before,” she said. “Now that we’re here, it’s really not that hard, it’s not confusing at all.”

She said the program sparked her interest in a future career with drones.

This is the first year of the actual drone competition, but the second year of the overall program.

Middle schoolers from across Miami-Dade County prepare to use code and dance to compete in the Adrienne Arsht Center's Aerial Ballet competition under the STEM and arts education program, Kitty Hawk, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019.
Credit Lily Oppenheimer / WLRN