Ready For Takeoff: Sydney Teacher Buzzing Over Drone Technology

drone teacher wins prize

Kerry Wallace-Massone has always had yearning to steer her career path to new heights.

After working in administration for a number of years, she made an abrupt turn and went into teaching, at one point studying alongside her daughter at university.

drone teacher is flying highNow, as the winner of the NSW Premier’s Teachers Mutual Bank New and Emerging Technologies Scholarship, the tech expert at South Sydney’s Heathcote High is off on a fact-finding mission to the US to learn all she can about the latest in drone technology.

We caught up with this pioneering educator to find out what makes her tick, and why unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) now have a permanent place in her curriculum.

Q: What made you interested in becoming a teacher?

A: I was a group leader for nippers at Cronulla Surf Club and did my Surf Bronze Medallion whilst in that role and then went on to get my trainers certificate. That meant I could then train both the children and parents in getting qualifications such as Surf Life Saving Certificate and Bronze Medallion. It made me realise that I really enjoyed teaching, particularly when it was something that I was passionate about. About a similar time I started doing some TAFE courses, such as a Diploma in Web Site Design, which I won Most Outstanding Student for in the Sutherland St George region. I also realised that I enjoyed studying, so kept going. I think I mentioned to you that my daughter and I both started uni the same year, but what I forgot to tell you was that my daughter and I were the first people to have a university degree in my family ever (apart from my niece who also finished at the same time, but not in teaching). In my last year of uni I won the Dr Charles Perkins AO Annual Memorial Prize which was a great honour. In 2005 whilst at Uni I was also in the pioneering group for AIME where we mentored local Indigenous students to keep them engaged and at school and with the goal of them going to university. This program is now so amazingly successful that it is now going global! I realised that I had the ability to work with children and help them reach their own goals in a supportive environment, using technologies that interested/engaged them.

Q: What drew you to drones as an exciting, emerging technology to help inspire students?

A: As a technology teacher I am very interested in a wide range of technologies, however it was easy to be drawn into UAV technology because it is constantly coming up in the media, students were constantly talking about it, everyone is saying we do not know where the technology is taking us and the potentials for job opportunities are vast. The technology can be used for a wide range of businesses, for creative purposes or just as a hobby. I love that it gives you a whole new perspective of your world, one that we rarely get to see. It gives you something fun to do with your family, for instance my son and I spending time at the local park flying his drone. Everyone seems to love drones! For instance, if you’re flying, people come up and start asking questions and want to have a go at flying themselves.

Sydney teacher and students love droneQ: As a recipient of the Premier’s Teachers Mutual Bank New and Emerging Technologies Scholarship you will have the opportunity to travel to the United States to gain insight from experts in the area of drone technology. Where are you most excited about visiting?

A: I am definitely most excited about my trip to St Catherine’s Island, a private research island. There I will be with students from Sinclair College and we will be using the drones to capture data on where the nesting turtles have come up overnight to lay eggs. This data will then be entered into a mapping app. This means the researchers do not have to walk along the long steep beach to record the data. This ties in so nicely with Heathcote High where we run an excellent marine studies course. Each year our students travel up to Lady Elliott Island to interact with turtles and wild life on the island. I see the ability to bring STEM into this by using drones and mapping in addition to the science the students are learning about first hand.

I am most excited about meeting Aliyah Pandolfi, a most inspirational woman who brings all her passions together: technology, animal welfare, education and sustainable fashion. Aliyah runs a not for profit foundation with her scientist husband providing amazing STEM educational opportunities which focuses on girls. Kashmir World foundation also runs teacher-training sessions to bring STEM into US classrooms and soon Australian classrooms!

Q: You have also placed a priority on inspiring more girls to take up STEM-based subjects at school. What drove you to champion this as a priority?

A: As a technology teacher I always have many more boys in my classes and the girls are very underrepresented. However, I have noticed when I have girls in my classes they can be very successful in their studies using technology because they generally have a great attention to detail. Girls, when confident have the ability to do really well, but often girls will stand back and let boys dominate engaging with technology. For instance, if I set a team a 3D printing task or an engineering task with mixed groups the girls will stand back, however when the girls and boys work separately they become very engaged and quite competitive. This trend goes forward into the workforce where girls are also underrepresented in engineering, science and technology areas. There are some very interesting, well-paid jobs that girls are just missing out on because they are not choosing the subjects at school or uni. This is a trend I hope to change, we have some amazing girls at our school and I hope to inspire them into future careers where they will have rewarding and well-paying jobs doing something they love.

Q: In terms of new insights around drone technology, what do you hope to bring back from your trip to the United States?

A: Drone technologies are moving at an amazing rate. For instance I am visiting the IEEE Aeronautical Conference and a lot of the sessions/papers/panels are about the future of UAV’s. I’m excited to listen into how 3D printed drones that can be deployed as a rocket and can be deployed above or below a hindrance, such as a canopy of trees. There is also work from an Australian scientist who is integrating robotics, sensors and drones to deliver payloads. I will participate in a session to see how robotics challenges can best be implemented across K to 12 and beyond. Mostly I am excited to learn from this conference is how the women who are there got to be at the pinnacle of their career choices. Many of these women work for NASA and I want to know what the journey was to get there and what were/are the hindrances, so that I can prepare my female students how to best navigate around them.

Robyn Foyster
Robyn Foyster is an award-winning journalist and former Editor-In-Chief of The Australian Women's Weekly. She is also the owner and publisher of Women Love Tech and women's lifestyle site, TheCarousel.com. Robyn runs her own media business, Foyster Media.

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