Real world lessons taught by drone racing

Drone racing — as seen via online videos — looks crazy fun. But the growing sport has a serious side, says Matthew Ehrhardt. The assistant director at EHOVE Career Center in Milan in northern Ohio, says drone racing teaches his students real-world lessons such as how to work within a team and perform under pressure.  And that’s just the beginning. We asked Ehrhardt to tell us more about his school and the Ohio Drone Racing League, which he helped form:

Q: Tell us about EHOVE.

A: EHOVE (Erie, Huron, Ottawa Vocational Education) Career Center serves 16 school districts as well as online and charter schools throughout our 800-plus square miles in Erie, Huron and Ottawa counties.

We offer advanced career technical training for high school students in our area. We provide 25 career technical programs, serving students in grades 10-12 and beyond.

Our students are challenged with engaging career technical and academic courses that incorporate real-world experiences and the latest technology. High school students have an opportunity to earn industry credentials and college credits to prepare them for the transition to a post-secondary program or entry into a high-level, in-demand technical job. Local business partners provide educational and occupational experiences for students that will assist them in becoming productive, employable citizens in the community. These opportunities give students the chance to learn a variety of skills by expanding the walls of the classroom to include the community.

EHOVE has longstanding relationships with local employers that graciously provide our student internships, on-site hands-on team projects, job shadowing, industry tours, informational interviews, classroom guest speakers, community service experience and event/equipment sponsorship.

EHOVE’s annual career fair provides employers with the opportunities to connect directly with our talented students to fill their current or future positions. Business partners serve on EHOVE’s advisory boards and provide critical information needed to ensure that we are meeting the current workforce demands.

The links below will connect you to footage captured from just a few of our business partners who have most recently provided invaluable student learning opportunities:

Eitri Foundry along with the Village of Monroeville, Ohio — solar project
Original post

Bellwether Farm — state-of-the-art-building and green technology
Original post

NASA — Engineering and Innovation Club/3kVA Solar Project
On Youtube

YouTube video

Second video via Facebook

Cedar Point — FIRST Robotics Team
Post on Facebook

FutureMaker 30 Business Partners
Post on Facebook

Q: Does EHOVE have a STEM-related emphasis?

A: EHOVE is very passionate about STEM education.  We have a sophomore program called Explore STEM. Within this program we offer BEST Robotics, VEX Robotics and drone technology and racing.

In addition, we offer Computer Network Tech, Engineering Tech, Exercise Science and Rehab Therapy, Medical Careers and Visual Media Tech. Also, we have elective courses such as Fab Lab Maker, Science by Design and Data, Privacy and Security, to name a few.

Here is the STEM outreach we provide throughout the school year:

  • FIRST Robotics/Lego Robotics: EHOVE’s robotics team, the Mavericks, is a house team for the NASA Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. This team was started in 2006 as a way to engage, inspire and support local STEM education. Any student in our geographical area in grades 9-12 can join. Our robotics team also sponsors educational outreach activities in the STEM and robotics field for our partner school districts. In addition to NASA Plum Brook, we have many local businesses that have contributed to our success and outreach activities at EHOVE.
  • Saturday Youth Enrichment: Saturday mornings in February are dedicated to career exploration and youth enrichment for students in grades 1-8. Students can participate in two classes to explore a specific career field. They complete hands-on activities in various areas such as robotics, construction trades, animation or video design. (They also can select courses that utilize fun lessons to enhance their writing or Spanish-speaking skills. Or, they can explore the arts by selecting courses such as dance, guitar or theater. Parents can participate in classes with their children or take a course designed for them.)
  • STEM Summer Camps: STEM Summer camps are a great way for 4th- through 9th-graders to experience careers within various fields such as STEM and more while having fun and meeting new people. The camps give students focused, hands-on learning experiences while working in a team.
  • Engineering and Innovation Club: EHOVE’s Engineering and Innovation Club is a sport-for-the-mind club for 7th- through 9th-grade students to learn about innovation, creativity and engineering that can spur change in our world.
  • Students work with robotics by designing and programming VEX Clawbots through C-coding in a virtual world and with a real robot. In past years, students have designed and fabricated a wooden mask with joinery using the laser cutter and Techno CNC router. This year, students learned how to build and fly drones.

These applications help students practice critical thinking through the engineering pathway of design-develop-test-evaluate. All projects were built in the STEM or Fab Lab.

Q: How did the Ohio Drone Racing League come about? Besides yourself, who was integral in the league’s formation?

A: The Drone Racing League started out of a STEM conversation with Jeff Abbas, president of Buckeye Broadband, in winter 2017. Buckeye Broadband is a telecommunications provider located in Toledo and Sandusky. EHOVE partners with Buckeye to provide opportunities in STEM education across northern Ohio.

Jeff is a proud supporter of FIRST Robotics where he is a mentor and judge. He believes such STEM activities empower and engage students. From this conversation, we began research to start our Drone Racing League.

Our team at EHOVE looked for a company that would meet the needs of our students and be cost effective. Dave Jenkins, director of operations at EHOVE, came across Safety Third Racing.  We reached out to them in spring 2017 and have been working with them ever since.

Safety Third Racing was started three years ago by Frank Costello and Will Nickley as a community-based drone-racing organization in New Jersey. Since then, it has become the largest such organization on the East Coast, and the only such organization actively pursuing educational drone racing in Ohio. Check out Safety Third Racing at

To help provide outreach for the racing league, we partnered with North Point Educational Service Center in Sandusky, Buckeye Broadband in Toledo, Safety Third Racing Academy in Columbus, Buckeye FPV in Columbus, and 12 local schools and school districts: Sandusky City Schools, Perkins Local Schools, Sandusky Central Catholic School, Edison Local Schools, Margaretta Local Schools, South Central Local Schools, Willard City Schools, Norwalk City Schools, Huron City Schools, Oregon City Schools, Penta Career Center and EHOVE Career Center.

North Point ESC helped us reach out to local districts to pay for the drone training for the district teachers and mentors who are involved in their network. Doug Crooks, superintendent of North Point, and Dr. Lonny Rivera, director of innovation, have also invested by writing curriculum that will help support the growth of this program. That curriculum should be available this fall.

Q: Who can participate as a racer, and how do the meets work?

A: Any student in grades 6-12 across Ohio can participate. A typical race involves students from two to four schools at a host location. The races are held in a gym or large auditorium.

Students build and fly their micro drones around a track in a four-person drone race. The drone that records the fastest time wins. Here are highlights from this past drone season from Sandusky High School. (Clip one, Clip two)  Click here to see the May 5, 2018, Tournament Race Track.

Short clip of drone racing

Q: What are the goals of the league?

A: The goal is to encourage students to get excited about STEM education by making it fun and creating a sense of pride by being part of a team. This league also provides real-world learning experiences for the students. They learn to problemsolve, fabricate, innovate, work cooperatively and share learning.

Another goal is geared toward the adults. The drones give our teachers and advisers a concrete tool that can be used to teach students about math, science, engineering, physics and so much more.

The development of this league has opened the avenue for curriculum development. North Point ESC is bringing experts together this summer to develop model curriculum for the classroom.

In addition, there will be a series of professional development sessions offered during the 2018-19 school year that will equip teachers in our region and beyond to use drones to teach core academic content that aligns with Ohio Learning Standards.

Q: Tell us more about what students are learning from participating in the league.

A: Students are learning many important academic and non-academic lessons through the drone racing league. They are learning how to problem solve and innovate as they quickly discover that the equipment needs constant maintenance and repair. Comments have been made by teachers that for the first time the Maker Space Labs in their schools are being used with a purpose.

Students are getting online to print out replacement parts and are even making their own modifications to existing designs to solve problems as they arise. Teamwork is another skill that is being taught and developed. For every drone pilot, at least three or four pit-crew members are needed just to keep the drone operational. During a race these pit-crew members are often called upon to troubleshoot and repair drones on the spot in a somewhat high-pressure environment.

Q: Do you hope to spread this concept to other schools and districts?

A: Dr. Rivera is currently working with the Educational Service Centers throughout the state to help implement professional development and site management training to allow school district to host races. The goal is to have a series of regional events throughout the school year that will culminate in a final championship event that will most likely be held in Columbus.

This is the first time to our knowledge that organized drone racing has been conducted.

Update from Dr. Rivera of North Point ESC
I have assembled a team of top educators from our region to develop curriculum.

The team met last week to start curriculum and will share the finished resource with everyone involved in the league. We really want to fuse real world application into the classroom. Learning needs to be relevant.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about the league?
A: The league is not just about fun and racing. It is being developed to help motivate and inspire our students and teachers to think differently and promote innovation.

In the near future, we would love to connect high-tech industries in our region to the students who are competing in this league. Companies such as Amazon, GE and Honda, plus the U.S. military and many others could benefit from the talent that is being developed through this drone racing league.

Below are some videos that will give you a better perspective of our league and training for instructors:

  1. Drone Racing Training Day for Educators 2018 Click Here
  2. Full Drone Race May 5, 2018 Click Here
  3. How to build a micro racing drone Click Here


Scroll to Top