Why we used a drone to capture school sports day

Technology has changed a lot about education but a drone at sports day is perhaps the most innovative idea so far. A teacher-turned-drone pilot for the day explains more

Jodie Smith

Drone footage at sports day

A drone at sports day? Yes, you read correctly. How times have changed...

From parents cheering on the sideline with disposable cameras to a flying robot capturing live footage of every jump, throw, race and nail-biting finish, this is the reality of life in the 21st century.

But why did we get a drone for sports day? Who flew it? How did they learn to fly it? And what on earth did everyone think?

Let me, one of the drone pilots on the day, explain:

Why use a drone?

Despite the restrictions in place here in Dubai with regards to Covid-19, we decided to go ahead with sports days.

Owing to the strict social-distancing protocols, the requirement to sanitise equipment after each use and a maximum of two classes allowed to participate at a time, we knew that the day would look very different for our students. But with some meticulous planning, we felt they would love it nevertheless.

However, because of Covid-19 control measures, parents were not allowed to spectate. As such, we knew our greatest challenge would be to fill the gap in atmosphere, noise and excitement usually created by the presence of our parents – and we also wanted to somehow make them feel part of the day.  

So, after a lot of brainstorming, the ambitious idea of using a drone was decided upon.

We hoped, by using the drone, children would be enthused and excited at the thought of their parents watching them live, while also ensuring that parents didn’t miss a moment and could watch their child’s sports day in an enjoyable and unique way. 

Where to buy a drone and what it costs

Luckily, the school already owned the drone and it has been a fantastic resource for other events the school has run. The drone was purchased at an electronics store here in the United Arab Emirates and they are now widely available in stores or online.

The cost of a drone varies greatly, depending on camera quality, brand, durability and additional features. Our drone was approximately 2000AED (about £400), but depending on budget, you can find more affordable options.

Licensing issues

You do need to be careful when flying a drone and check what the rules, regulations and laws are within the country or area you are flying it. As this was being used on school property and wouldn’t be flown at a height that would interfere with airspace, we didn’t need authorisation or approval.

Learning to pilot a drone

The app you use on your phone in order to control and manoeuvre the drone is actually incredibly easy to use.

I would not consider myself to be a tech-savvy person, so if I can do it, anyone can! YouTube videos really helped me to learn the capabilities of the drone and, just like we encourage our students, I had to “practise, practise, practise”.

I tested the drone and the photos/videos it was able to take, and angles it could capture, in our athletics lessons prior to sports day, so I felt fairly confident on the day.

How the children responded

Managing it on the day was fairly straightforward. The children were captivated, shouting “Miss Jodie has a drone!” a lot. But staff were great at keeping the students focused and on task. I positioned myself on the edge of the field or tucked away to the side of the track – the drone is able to function a seriously long distance away from your location, which meant I didn’t have to be right in the action and distract the students.

More than we could have hoped for

Was it as good as we’d hoped? Absolutely! It was incredibly useful and did exactly what we had hoped; excited the children and involved parents in these difficult times by allowing them to watch the sports day and their child’s enjoyment in real time!

How was it used on the day?

We used to it capture the children walking out on to the field as an “opening ceremony” and then their group socially distanced warm-ups, which looked fantastic. Its main use was for fun and the novelty factor, capturing all of the smiles and waves from above.

However, what we hadn’t expected was how valuable it would be in helping us see who had won a race.

The aerial footage of the sprint, javelin and triple jump finals looked awesome. We compiled all of the photographs and videos into a highlights video  for parents: it turned out better than we could have imagined.

Parents’ and pupils’ reactions

Parents were thrilled with what we were able to capture of the day and the feedback was amazing. Parents felt really involved and that they hadn’t missed any of the excitement, as the drone was able to catch the atmosphere in such a special way. 

Pupils were, of course, fascinated and immensely excited that they were being followed by a drone.

Future uses

We hope to use it in other sporting events in the future, such as our swimming galas, fixtures and tournaments, as well as whole-school events like International Day and World Book Day.

It creates such a memorable snapshot that is meaningful and perfect to share with the school community.

Jodie Smith is deputy head of physical education at Victory Heights Primary School in Dubai. She tweets @MissJodie_PE

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Jodie Smith

Jodie Smith is Deputy Head of Physical Education at Victory Heights Primary School in Dubai. She tweets @MissJodie_PE

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