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Code Kids


Mark Spencer, WA8SME

The “Cheaper-Beeper” brings communication to life for a classroom of kids.

Morse code is an attractive activity for kids. I think what they like about Morse code is the “secretiveness” of being able to send messages that their parents and teachers can’t read. Summer school programs provide an excellent opportunity to introduce students to Amateur Radio through the use of Morse code. An added side benefit is that the instruction in how codes are used to transmit information is part of the “educational standards” or benchmarks that are required to be taught in our nation’s classrooms. The Boy Scouts has also resurrected the Signaling Merit Badge that includes a requirement to send and receive Morse code. This presents some opportunities for local hams to get involved in their schools.

Ron Miles, N6PAA, and I introduced Morse code to some younger summer school students in a Sacramento suburb school. The opening activity (the hook) involved the students whispering their names and favorite colors in Ron’s ear. Ron, in turn, did the magic of sending that information to me via Morse code and I wrote the message on the classroom board.

The instructional unit spanned 4 hours over 2 class days during which the students performed the following activities:

• constructed their own code practice oscillators (CPOs) from a partial kit

• constructed a Morse code translation sheet

• wrote out their names and other messages in Morse code using their translation sheets

• practiced sending their names and messages on their CPOs

• practiced sending their code to the CWGet computer program to refine their “fists”

• and finally, using different sized and color beads representing “dits” and “dahs,” they constructed an arm bracelet with a Morse code message spelled out.

The “final exam” included sending their names with their CPOs to the instructor and the instructor reading the message beaded in their arm bands.

Preparing a Successful Lesson

If you think you might be interested in doing a similar activity in your local school, here are some things to consider:

• Prepare, prepare, prepare. Teaching is not a trivial activity and it doesn’t take long to lose control of the class when you are not prepared.

• You are the teacher and it is important to dress and act like a teacher.

• Consider the age of your audience. The attention span of the students depends on their age and a million other things. (Younger doesn’t necessarily mean less attention span. Many times the older students are more difficult to keep engaged.) In this case, with the younger audience, soldering of the CPOs was out of the question so the units were presoldered and all that was required was to mount the circuit boards on the mounting board. This simple construction allowed the students to say: “look what I made in school today” when they went home. For a more mature student audience, or Scouts, you might consider a full blown “Solder 101” activity with the appropriate logistic planning for such a construction project. The ARRL will be offering a new CPO kit that is ideal for Scouts.

• Not all students learn the same way (called learning modalities); there are visual, auditory, tactile and combination learners. When you are preparing your lesson, try to approach the content from all the modality directions you can. That is why in our learning activity we had the students copy the code translation chart off the board (tactile and visual), we verbalized the chart using the words “dit” and “dah” (verbal), we had them construct their CPOs (tactile), used their CPOs to send code (visual, tactile, auditory) and translate the coded messages into beads for the arm bands (visual, tactile).

• We live in a society that is driven by the television media with commercial breaks at specific intervals. Unfortunately, this translates into how much time a student will stay attentive to one topic or presentation mode during a lesson period, which determines how long a lesson can last. A good instructor will be sensitive to this “cultural” fact and adjust the lesson accordingly by “changing up” during the lesson.

For instance, you might consider frontal instruction (lecture) for a few minutes, switch to seat work (copying off the board), then asking questions for a few minutes. Next, divide the students into small working groups to work on problems and report back their results to the class as a whole by writing on the board. Along these lines you can add other related activities as appropriate. For the youngest audience the changes should be approximately every 5 minutes, for the middle audience you might get away with 10-15 minutes. An adult audience will stay awake for 20-30 minutes. After that you’ll start hearing snores.

Cheap Beeps

The CPO circuit used was the “Cheaper Beeper” designed by William Gardner, W8WG. It is one of the most affordable, simple and reliable CPO circuits I have seen. The CPOs were constructed on scrap circuit board material that was cut to include the key as well as an area to mount the components. The mounting base was made out of some scrap plastic. The major expense of the CPO is the speaker (the speaker impedance is critical for the CPO operation) and the 9 V battery. I have found a contemporary 8 ohm speaker that works well is the RadioShack part number 273-092. [Construction Information on the CPO can be found at  this link. Ed.]

So I hope that you will consider this method of supporting your school while also advancing the Amateur Radio Service. With the proper amount of planning on your part, you will have a rewarding experience watching the “light bulbs” illuminate in the young students the first time they “get it” and are able to send their names in Morse code.

If you want additional information, you can contact Mark Spencer, WA8SME, the ARRL Education & Technology Program Coordinator, at 530-495-9150 (Pacific Time Zone) or at 774 Eastside Rd, Coleville, CA 96107.



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