Education Help with Education Education Resources UNAVCO Educator Packet Field Geodesy Learning Modules & Activities Majors-level undergraduate Introductory-level undergraduate Secondary- Grades 6-12 Data for Educators Tutorials & Handouts GPS Tutorials 3D Imaging Tutorials Geodesy Education Handouts & KMZs Lab Book Links

3D View from a Drone | Make a 3D Model From Your Photos



Using cameras mounted to drones, students will design and construct an experiment to take enough photos to make a 3-dimensional image of an outcrop or landform in a process called structure from motion (SfM). This activity has both a hands-on component (collecting data with the drone) and a computer-based component (creading the 3-dimensional model).



This activity was developed for middle school and high school students, grades 6 - 14. This activity could be conducted as an after school project.

Teaching Time

Three class sessions or more (44-55 minutes each or more). One session to develop an investigation plan, one to collect the data, and a final session to generate the models and analyze it.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should be able to have a basic understanding of flying a drone, as well as be able to interpret a computer generated model.

How the lesson is
situated in the course

This activity can be used at any time in an earth science class, though is particularly useful when discussing geologic hazards, environmental issues, remote sensing techniques, or interpretation of models. It is also a great activity to teach students how to design and implement a field experiment for data collection.

Next Generation Science Standards

Performance Expectations: MS-PS4.B, MS-PS4.C, MS-ETS1.A, MS-ETS1.B, MS-ETS1.C, HS-PS4.B, HS-PS4.C, HS-ETS1.A, HS-ETS1.B, and HS-ETS1.C.

Science and Engineering Practices: & bull; asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering); & bull; developing and using models; & bull; planning and carrying out investigations; & bull; analyzing and interpreting data; & bull; using mathematics and computational thinking; & bull;obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Crosscutting Concepts: & bull; patterns; & bull; scale, proportion, and quantity


Students will be able to:

  • Design and implement a field experiment to effectively collect data for use in the generation of 3-dimensional computer models.
  • Investigate how camera angle impacts photographs and how shapes appear within the photographs.
  • Investigate a science question that uses a 3-dimensional model to inform their analysis.
  • Develop and interpret a 3-dimensional model of a land surface from overlapping photographs.
  • Identify additional earth science projects where a drone-mounted camera is useful.


Drones can take photos that can be analyzed later. By planning ahead to have enough overlap between photos, you take those individual photos and make a 3-dimensional image!

In this activity, you guide the students to identify an outcrop or landform to study later or over repeat visits. They go through the process to plan, conduct, and analyze an investigation to help answer their science question.

The Challenge: Design and conduct an experiment to take enough photos to make a 3-dimensional image of an outcrop or landform, then analyze the image and interpret the resulting 3-d image.

For instance they might wish to study a hillside that has been changed from previous forest fire. How is the hillside starting to shift after rainstorms or snows? Monitoring an area over many months can lead to discoveries about how the erosional processes happen and also provide homeowners, park rangers, planners, and others valuable information to take action to stabilize areas to prevent landslides.

Animated gif showing a 3-dimensional model constructed from overlapping photographs.

Materials, Instructions & Download Materials


  • Drone with a camera or a long pole to attach a camera
  • Extra batteries for the drone
  • One-meter circle or square laid on the ground (cloth or tarp) and long tape measure
  • Software to make 3D images from photos: Autodesk Recap, SketchFab: show off your models!, Trnio: a 3d scanning app for iPhone, Scann3d: a 3d scanning app for Android

Lesson Overview & Organization:  This activity consists of these principal parts:

  1. Write a draft question: What are you trying to discover by making the 3-dimensional image?
  2. Make a plan
    • Sketch a map showing planned route ; sketch a drawing of where the photos will be take; create a safety plan
  3. Field work: Take the photos and measurements
  4. Carry out the investigation and collect data
  5. Create the 3d model(s)
  6. Analyze & interpret the model(s)
  7. Assessment: Students describe what have they learned from data and the project.

Teacher Guide and Instructions

A 3D View from a Drone teacher materials [pdf]

Student instructions and worksheet

A 3D View from a Drone student worksheet [pdf]

Additional resources

Learn more about this technique in the Geodesy Tools for Societal Issues unit: Introduction to SfM.

Materials for the 2017 Drones in STEM Courses workshop.

Module Development

This work is based on materials provided by the UNAVCO Education and Community Engagement Program, and the GAGE Facility supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under NSF award: EAR 1261833. This activity was made in partnership with Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP). Activity author: Shelley Olds, UNAVCO. Contributing author: Randy Russel, UCAR Science Education Center.

Send questions or comments about this page to education –at–


Last modified: 2020-04-25  20:35:57  America/Denver