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Running A High School Amateur Radio Club; What to do and what not to do? N8ERF on 5/4/13

More input for discussion. Great input by Clifton. By the way, I am jealous that he has progressed his club to the point of being an electives course. I hope that one day my club will advance to that level.

I want to emphasize a point that Mark made about facilities managers. My limited experience tells me he is not underestimating the issue at all and it cannot be overstated. It seems that no matter how much your principal supports an amateur radio program, the facilities czar is the one you need to convince. I understand why, but in my case the facilities director was a bit over protective. He is quite proud that when hurricane Ike came through, none of his buildings got water in them. Here is what I ran into. Antenna installs must be done by licensed, insured, and bonded folks. This means, bidding out the job which can run several thousand dollars - something small and upcoming clubs do not have. I was not allowed to go on the roof without a district maintenance electrician with me. This created major scheduling issues because I was in the classroom all day and the maintenance folks were not available after school hours. No outside people (read supporting amateur radio club members) are allowed on roofs due to liability reasons. I asked about a tower instead of the roof. Better than on the building, but it must be put up by a licensed tower crew and we have to get the necessary county permits. And by the way, only licensed climbers can go up the thing. Put all of this together and it makes getting an antenna up and maintaining it pretty tough. I know you said you have support for the club and an antenna system, but be sure the facilities guy is willing to support you.

I have not had any students complete the licensing program but I have 2 working hard on it and hope to have them licensed by the end of the summer. I agree that cramming is not the right methodology as it sends a message that I don't want to send.

I try to divide every meeting into 3 parts - operating, electronic theory, and hands-on. Middle school kids have very short attention spans so I try to do about 15 to 20 minutes of each. For my middle school kiddos, who still have a difficult time coloring between the lines, I use the Elenco Snapkits for the electronics theory. The kits are reasonably priced and easy to use. The kiddos seem to like them. Newbies are restricted to these. Intermediate kids use a combination of the Snapkits and breadboards. I haven't done much soldering yet but I plan to restrict that to the more experienced, trustworthy, and checked-out students.

For theory and operational practices presentations - keep the presentation short. I hate PowerPoint, but if it must be used, try to keep it to 5-8 slides per presentation. And keep them short and to the point. Long verbose explanations or definitions are just plane boring! Don't read the slides, put them up and then expound on what isn't said on them. Which do you find more fun, listening to a 30 minute PP presentation on operational procedures or working through a short student guide and picking up an FCS radio and practicing the phonetic alphabet and a QSO with a friend? Kiddos like to move around and they sit at desks most of the day. Don't kill their enthusiasm by trying to impress them with how much you know. Just because we are amateur operators doesn't mean we can't use other radio services to help get our kids interested. I have a couple of handheld CBs that I let my kiddos use during geofox hunts.

I do lead most of my club activities. But then again, we are a fairly new club. I have two teachers studying to get licensed. Right now they are more like two more students than instructors. But they do help with kiddo wrangling and grunt work, so I am very happy to have them on board.

I think big projects are great and help keep kiddos interested over the long haul. Preparing for our ARISS contact was a real highlight for my kids. We all learned a great deal during this project and it helped keep us motivated. But I don't feel a big project is really necessary to keep a club going. Several varied short-term projects should work just fine as well. There are just so many things to do that finding something new for the old timers and recycling older projects for the new kiddos should not be a problem.

I like the idea of tracking accomplishments but it doesn't have to be public. In the Navy we had what we called "practical factors." These were hands-on "must know how to do activities" that we were responsible for learning and getting a senior shipmate to sign off. We had a little book that we carried around with all of these "practical factors" in it. We used that little book to track our progress. I use a take-off of this in my math classroom and it works pretty well. I think kids like seeing the tasks all laid out in front of them and they like getting things checked off as they go along. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with public recognition. I also give out certificates when a milestone is reached.

I see no need at all to differentiate between boys and girls. My experience has been that girls tend to make better operators because they seem to have higher confidence levels and are a little more patient. But other than that, I don't have any particular gender issues. I find the boys seem to vary more between the operators and technicians but my girls seem to be fine wearing either hat.

Running A High School Amateur Radio Club; What to do and what not to do? N8ERF on 29/3/13
Dennis, thanks for your email. I am in a better position now to respond to some of your questions. First, congratulations on the success of your previous middle school. It sounds like you have had a lot of success and I hope you will share your experiences as well. My middle school club is pretty young so we are plodding along and learning as we go. You seem to have very good buy-in from administrators and the district. It also seems you have very good financial support. Those are two major hurdles that most new clubs have difficulty overcoming, so congratulations.

Some basic advise:

1) Don't hesitate to use the TI instructors for advice. They are all top notch educators and hams, they know what they are talking about and are more than willing to share it. They are class acts! Go to their classes if you have not and get your teachers to go also. You will need as much help as you can get.

2) Us the ARRL Grant process. We couldn't have done it without them. The league is here to help develop new hams and they love teachers who do the same. Schools should love and use the ARRL, they have been great to us.

3) Find more than one teacher to help make it happen. Teachers get burnt out and their days are tough. Another job after school can be trying and lead to cancelled meetings and death of a club. You need several teachers who can pick up the slack when one gets tired. Consistent activities and meetings is key to longevity. Just like an adult club, if one or two do all the work, the club will die.

3) Be careful, hand select, but do use outside amateur help. For activities like SCR that can occur during the day, having a volunteer who can come in and serve as control op for a few hours is a big help. Heed Mark's words on this issue.

4) Start slowly with a few highly interested students. 5 dedicated students are better than 10 who only come for the cookies and then leave. The brightest are not always the best as they are involved in tons of activities and have a hard time with the timeshare thing. I found a few of mine can only meet one or two days a month because of Science Olympiad, Math Olympiad, GT showcase, sports, umpteen other clubs, etc. I like the ones who may not be the brightest but love doing hands on stuff and are only in one or two other activities.

5) Recruit through word of mouth. If you advertise, which I did during our electives fair and during club rush, you will have hundreds of kids sign up just to be signing up. Then you have a problem of deciding and selecting who gets to be in the club. I prefer to use my core kids and let them talk to their friends. Ask them to bring a friend to SCR or to the next meeting. There is a self selecting process or maybe an inbreeding process going on here in which kids like your core kids tend to follow them into the club.

6) I have not done this yet, but I am thinking there will not be a "First Meeting of the Year" for me. I want my core kids to keep up the momentum. I am planning a summer camping trip for them to west Texas. We will hike up a mountain and activate a SOTA peak. I am hoping this will flow right into next year as if the school year never ended. I will use those kids to continue to recruit others. Hopefully over a couple of years, I will have students from all three grade levels and will gain that momentum that keeps it goings.

More later.

Tom Maxwell
Thornton Middle School/KF5NZD
Happy to see this forum AD6QF on 22/4/12
Hello everyone,

I am very pleased to see this forum come to life. I think it will help a great deal. I teach middle school in a title one campus. I am in the process of putting together a station grant to get the school up and on the air. Bob, I am very interested in the logistics of using pod casts for you licensing classes. Any details you can provide will be greatly appreciated.


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