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N8ERF

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Running A High School Amateur Radio Club; What to do and what not to do? Mar 21st 2013, 22:50 15 2,579 on 16/5/13

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Running A High School Amateur Radio Club; What to do and what not to do? N8ERF on 8/4/13
It was suggested that I share some of my learnings. I was a little reluctant to do that because we are not trained teachers and I am sure that what we did was not best of class. We are volunteers from the local radio club. However, our experience may provide some value to someone so here goes.

When we first started up our middle school club, the focus was to try to get the students to earn their license. So there would be some classroom instruction without hands on experience and then they would be allowed to talk on the radio but with only a little training before handing them the microphone. The instructor would establish the contact and then offer the student the chance to talk. This approach didn’t work. We would start out with 20 students and it quickly dwindled to only a couple of students. To be fair, a number of the students were there just so they didn’t have to go home. Nothing we could have done would have gotten them engaged. There was a teacher in the room but they were essentially a chaperon.

Eventually, we learned that we had to teach the students how to talk on the air before we handed them the microphone. We made a game out of learning the phonetic alphabet and the more useful Q signals and jargon used on the radio. We made up a script for making a contact and practiced that in the classroom and then had a laminated copy at the radio for them to reference. This was much more successful and the kids were lined up to talk on the radio. I wish I had thought of the “Pile-Up” game that someone else mentioned. We also have not evolved to doing “long term” projects with a goal to work towards and focus on. If we had had a forum like this one from which to learn we may have gotten there.

We eventually developed a philosophy that we had to create fun activities for the students during which they would learn about radio and electronics without realizing they were learning.

One of the volunteers designed a crystal radio set kit, which is built on a board with a CD as the capacitor and the coil was wound on a cardboard tube. The students assembled the kits with adult supervision and learned how to solder in the process. It takes three or four sessions for the students to build their own radio, which they get to keep and with which they can listen to local AM radio stations.

I developed a demonstration of electricity and magnetism around a 6000 gauss magnet that had been rescued from a scrapped mass spectrometer. I built an aluminum frame around the magnet which included a pendulum so I could swing various objects through the poles of the horseshoe magnet. The set up includes an ammeter, voltmeter and a light bulb so I can show the creation of electricity when I pass a coil through the magnet. It is a wonderful demonstration of the conversion of energy from potential to kinetic to magnetic to electrical to heat and light, all in one set up. The kids are especially focused when I swing a piece of aluminum through the magnet and it stops dead, even though they already knew it is not magnetic. They get to see the lines of force with iron filings on a plate. They get to feel the power of the magnet. I also hook up a a power supply to a coil suspended from the pendulum and show how a motor works by repulsion of magnetic fields. They are particularly fascinated by a small electric motor made out of a AA battery, a small disk magnet and a small loop of wire. I also demonstrate the phenomenon of magnetohydrodynamics in which you can get an aqueous salt (copper sulfate in my case) solution to move about by passing a dc current through it while it is in a magnetic field. This is the principle of the silent Russian submarine in the movie, “The Hunt for Red October”. It is a fun and educational demo. Part of the demo shows inductive coupling of house current between two completely separate coils of wire. One is connected to house power and the other is connected to a light bulb. With that same set up I can demonstrate magnetic levitation. It makes me feel like Mr. Wizard, if you are old enough to remember who he was.

I purchased four SnapKit kits which the kids can use to build a variety of circuits. They can spend hours making new circuits. These kits have parts that snap together to form circuits. They follow picture layouts for the circuit diagram, but the parts have the normal schematic symbols written on them. After they become familiar with the kits, I start giving them real schematics that I have drawn up from the picture schematics using a free software program called ExpressSCH. They struggle a little bit at first with the concept of wires, but with a little coaching they make the transistion.

The kids build 2 meter Yagi antennas out of PVC pipe and pieces of tape measure. Then they use them for Fox Hunts where they search for hidden transmitters. We use an Arduino shield to control the hidden transmitter and to send the Morse code ID.

We also have scavenger hunts where the kids are divided into teams and are given clues which are descriptions of electronic components or concepts, which are then related to some location in the school and they have to go and find either another clue or a physical component, such as a capacitor or a resistor. For instance, one clue talks about how a transistor controls the flow of electric current. The next clue can be found near the highest point in the school where the flow of water is controlled, (meaning the water fountain on the second floor). At the end of the scavenger hunt we have a quiz on the material in the clues so the students can earn additional points. The teams are awarded with food. The team with the most points gets the most food, but they all get something. It is also wonderful after the kids have run all over the school for about 30 to 40 minutes looking for clues. They are physically worn out and they are so calm and quite that you can actually get them to focus and listen!

The kids love to tear things apart, so one day we will bring in some old pieces of electronic equipment and they get to tear them apart and remove components. They have to try to identify the pieces they are removing.

They have also built low power transmitter kits that transmit voice on the FM broadcast band, which they also get to take home and enjoy while listening on the FM radios.

We no longer spend club time working specifically towards a license. We provide them with free license manuals on loan and we offer to help them learn the material if they want to but we don’t take club time to teach the license material. We have had a few kids get their license but they have been highly self motivated students.

In one meeting we have a Murder Mystery; The Case of the DEAD LED. The students are split into teams and they have to solve the mystery of who killed Ms. Rosie LED. Was it the evil Frenchman, Andre-Marie Ampere or the dastardly Italian, Alessandro Volta? The crime is re-enacted by showing how an LED is killed by too much electricity. The students then have to perform a series of experiments with LEDs, resistors and a power supply, to determine if it was the voltage or the current that kills the LED. By graphing the data from their experiments they learn about Ohms Law along the way.

We tried a college quiz bowl a few times but the kids didn’t take to that too well. I think the problem was we didn’t teach them enough first, so they were not as successful at answering the questions.

We also have the kids build a code practice oscillator that they get to keep.

We have also had the kids build a simple computer consisting of a series of conductive plates on an 8.5x11 inch piece of poster board, connected by wires to a light bulb or a buzzer and a battery. The kids then make up a series of true/false questions about the things we have learned in club activities on a sheet of paper that overlay the cardboard so that the holes punched in the paper for T or F line up over the conductive plates. Using a conductive stylus, the students take each other’s tests. If they pick the right answer the bulb lights up. If they don’t then they get the dreaded buzzer. It was well received and exposed them to a number of math and science principles.

We have also shown videos of amateur radio produced by the ARRL and others.

I believe the keys to whatever degree of success we might have achieved at the middle school, in spite of not being trained teachers and not having a teacher participating other than as a chaperon, are:
1. Have a high volunteer to student ratio so the students don’t have to wait too long to get help with a project. Otherwise they get bored and distracted, not to mention disruptive. We typically have 3 or at most 4 students per volunteer.
2. Food as a reward, sometimes.
3. Activities where the kids are doing, doing, doing.
4. Keep their mind entertained with a challenge, a puzzle, or a competition.
5. Give the students enough knowledge and training to be successful.

Please keep in mind that these are comments from the untrained, wandering in the darkness, seeking the light.

Best Regards,
Dennis, N8ERF
Running A High School Amateur Radio Club; What to do and what not to do? N8ERF on 8/4/13
Tom,
Thank you for some more great information.

I also agree with the need to involve the facilities managers and do it early. In our case immediately after getting buy-in from the principal, we asked her whom we should contact regarding permission to install antennas. She gave us the name of the Manager of Plant Engineering. It doesn't matter the title, but he was the chap in charge of all of that. The principal did us the huge favor of sending a note of recommendation to him and to one of the Assistant Superintendents for the school system. By the time we met with both of them for the first time, they were already behind the idea. It didn't hurt that the husband of the assistant superintendent was also a ham, although not active in the local club. We didn't have to sell them, we only had to start exploring the space where they could get their needs met and we could get our needs met. I believe that our attitude of flexibility and concern for their needs helped us secure a good result. That gentleman is retiring in a month or so but his two successors have been brought on board and we are moving forward with both of them. One of them is in charge of anything we want to do outside of the building and the other has responsibility for any changes on the inside. It is a lot of work and good communications are essential, but it has been a good working relationship.

Best Regards,
Dennis, N8ERF
Running A High School Amateur Radio Club; What to do and what not to do? N8ERF on 3/4/13
Clifton Harper, KE5YZB, provided me the following email response to the questions above. I am posting them here with his permission. Thank you Clifton for taking the time to share.

Dennis, N8ERF

Questions for Classroom Forum: How to Run A High School Amateur Radio Club.

• What is the best way to recruit members to a school radio club, high school or otherwise? What do you tell them, what do you intentionally not tell them?

The best way to recruit members is of course word of mouth among the students themselves but also to set up a table during enrolment, have a brochure describing the course maybe sell a club shirt and have students man the table telling prospective students about the class. Also we do special event type setups where the students get exposed to the radio and get to participate while we tell them about the benefits of radio and taking the class the following semester or year.

• At the first meeting of the year, how do you introduce the club to the new kids to get them excited and interested? Do you lay out your expectations? Do you make it super fun with games, activities, food, etc? What are the expectations you do tell them?

We explain what the intent of the course is and where the course will take them once they have completed it. We explain about contests especially SCR and Sweepstakes among other local events we will participate in. We talk about games we will conduct during the year to help them learn the specific rules and regulations concerning amateur radio. Our expectations for all students are participation in our class and events. We understand that not all students will be able to pass the licensing exam and we let them know that their passing the class is not contingent on them receiving their license. We do however let them know that we will pay any and all fees for their license and will provide them with their first radio. As far as food is concerned, we always feed the kids when we have them participating in something for any extended period of time.

• What do you think is the key to keeping the students coming back?

The key is involvement and personal achievement. If the students don’t feel they are gaining something or have any chance of receiving their license their personal desire will wane and disappear. The student must feel they are in control of their destiny in the class and that they can achieve the ultimate goal or their desire to participate and pursue any remaining goals will vanish.

• In your experience, what is the best way for the students to earn a license; self study, classroom instruction, teach topics, teach questions, etc?

In my experience I have found that the students tend to achieve the greatest reward and make the greatest progress from a combination of self study and classroom instruction including actual hands on experience. Just teaching the test as some try to do, will not result in the students learning and growing, what I always do is teach theory, scientific principal and physical laws. For instance, one of the questions they will encounter deals with wave length. The student needs to know what wave length is, what creates it, what it is made up of, what physical laws control it, how it can be modulated and so on and so forth. To have full understanding of what one is learning and working with is necessary for growth and comprehension. The students will not feel they have really accomplished anything if they don’t understand what they have done. Furthermore, they will lose interest quicker if they do not understand what they are attempting to learn just studying the test.

• Do you lead your club activities all by yourself or do you have local hams volunteer to help you?

To have a well functioning club, resources and help you must have outside assistance. This assistance can be found in a local amateur radio club. Not only are other hams interested in seeing their hobby and passion grow, they are interested in sharing it with young people. There is a wealth of knowledge in the ham community just waiting to be shared so seek the support of your local ham club. One word of advice for your protection as well as that of your program at school and your students many schools have what they call vendor certification or assistant certification. Essentially what these certifications do is perform sex offender and background checks on anyone who comes into contact with the student population. There are different names for the certifications but they all do the same thing. Find out what they are from your local school board and have everyone that comes in contact with the students fill one out and become eligible through the school to come in direct contact with your students. This is just good common sense on your part and will make the school board and parents of your students respect your program more.

• How do you structure your club meetings? For instance do you have short meeting up front to discuss or teach something and then break up into different activities. Do you have a demo of some topic, like AC induced magnetic levitation or a flashing LED circuit made from a 555 timer, or a Jacob’s ladder for example? Are they free to choose their activity or is it more structured?

Club meetings are performed according to proper meeting structure. We meet every Thursday morning before school and students are welcome to come to my class anytime during their lunch time or after school to do radio related activities. During our meetings local hams will come to the meeting and demonstrate some new concept or ham related topic to teach the students for example one week a local ham demonstrated soldiering and built a small LED project while another week another ham demonstrated how to measure and build a J Pole antenna from twin lead in.

• Do you keep your club focused on one or two big projects, like a balloon launch, or do you try to introduce new topics each week?

New topics are typically introduced each week and when contest time comes we focus on contest related topics and of course we always focus on recruitment.

• We can try to structure the club as free play time, or we can structure it as a place where students are challenged in some way. Is having challenging tasks and making a contest out of activities important? What is your insight on how to balance those two approaches?

Club time is never free play time. Free play comes after school or during lunch. Making a contest out of something always increases interest peaks participation. Often we will make a contest between Techs and Generals to see who comes out on top.

• This is a question that the ARRL asks in the ETP grants so I will ask it. How do you measure success?

As any good teacher will tell you, success is measured not in how many I got to pass a test, but in how many lives I have influenced and changed for the better. My goal is to always make the lives of my students better and to give them tools and experience that will aide them throughout their lives. I think I am doing that through the avenue of amateur radio.

• How do you decide who gets to talk on the radio? Is it a first come first serve? Is it based on a signup sheet? Is it a privilege that is earned by some other activity, like demonstrating proficiency in a new skill such as soldering or solving Ohms Law problems? Do students who have earned their own license get priority?

Before any student can talk on the radio they must learn what we call proper radio etiquette. Radio etiquette for us is learning proper exchange of information, voice modulation, phonetic language and how to log. Students must learn their name and how to spell it phonetically and how to respond to another station. We will play a game we fondly call pile up. It involves students being given a 3 x 5 card with a call sign, name, QTH and an RST. Two students are then chosen to be the station calling CQ, one calls and one logs. They call and everyone with a card responds to the call by calling out their call sign, some loud some soft QRP some medium. When a station is called upon to respond there after they remain silent for the duration and other stations continue till they are heard. The purpose is to help students learn to hear call signs, respond correctly, and filter out side noise to hear one particular station. Students must go through this before they can actually man the real radio. Radio is always a privilege where rules are observed, proper conduct is maintained and the reward for participating in all other class related activities.

• We are toying with the idea of putting up a chart with students’ names on one side and the skills we want them to master along the top and then putting a star in the corresponding box when the student shows the requisite proficiency. Good idea or not?

This is a good idea to a point and then it can become a sticky wicket. If your club or class is like mine, you will be considered as an elective and will be required to accept any and all students who wish to participate. If you must allow all students to participate you will inevitably have students with learning disabilities of one type or another who will not be able to master all the skills and make all the required margins for success and putting public recognition out there can open a can of worms some won’t want to open. With all special kids there are laws we must follow that involve what are called IEPs and in a class setting we must follow them and there are modifications we can make should any of the special students attempt the licensing exam. Teachers in different school systems will encounter different reactions to public recognition of achievement with regards to things such as charts. I personally do not use one in my class instead I use certificates and public announcements over the school intercom when students make major achievements. Students know who has done what and who hasn’t, charts can be a problem easily avoided.

• When you have returning students who have already been through the program once or maybe twice what do you do for them to keep them engaged? It seems you would need to have a separate or advanced plan for them.

My returning students become group leaders. Each group leader helps the students that work with them as mentors. I have found that pier to pier tutoring not only encourages growth in the one mentoring but increases the learning curve tremendously. When my returning students are not mentoring they are challenged by computer programs I have about electricity and I also have an electronics lab that they use to design circuitry. Not only do I challenge them to learn more and mentor I also challenge them to progress to the next level of license.

• In view of the differences in the way boys and girls learn and socialize, do you do anything differently to accommodate the differences?

I do not treat my boys or girls any differently. However you will see a marked difference in the girls ability to succeed on the radio versus the boys. I often use the girl’s success rate on the radio as a catalyst to encourage the boys to beat them. I have noted an equal amount of participation on the boys part as well as the girls with a licensing ratio slightly favoring the boys.

• Is there anything else that you think I need to know in order to be successful?

When ever you set up your program you will need to set it up financially as a booster club where the school has no access to your funds and you are able to spend the funds as you see fit without permission. Also all equipment purchased needs to be through the booster club or donated directly to you otherwise the school owns equipment that no one can operate without a license and will just set around not being used. My equipment follows me should I change schools as does the club. I can give more detail information on this if needed.
Running A High School Amateur Radio Club; What to do and what not to do? N8ERF on 28/3/13
Mark,

Your comments are right on the mark. We realize that we are asking for opinions on these various topics and they have to be interpreted within the environment of the individual school system and the individual school. I agree with everything you said. Having said that I still believe that it is worthwhile to share our experiences in order to generate ideas to consider. If one sets their expectations appropriately, they won't be disappointed.

You are also spot on relative to volunteers. Our school system has a well defined and documented volunteer policy, with a three level system. We have reviewed this in detail with the school principal and the school systems HR folks. I have already gone through the 3rd level of approval which required being fingerprinted at the local sheriff's department for a background check at a cost to me of $62. A level 2 background check is required, at our schools, if a teacher or level 3 volunteer will be present at all times. Also, I couldn't agree more with your comment about being alone with the students. Reality doesn't count, it is only the perception of reality that matters.

Thanks for taking the time to share your perspectives.

Best Regards,
Dennis
Running A High School Amateur Radio Club; What to do and what not to do? N8ERF on 27/3/13
First, my thanks to those of you who have already shared the benefit of their hard won wisdom.

Clifton, KE5YZB, wisely suggested that I put together a list of questions to which I might like some answers. They are listed below.

Feel free to pick and choose which ones to which you might like to respond, if any.

Thanks again for all your help.

Best Regards,
Dennis Klipa, N8ERF

Questions for Classroom Forum: How to Run A High School Amateur Radio Club.

• What is the best way to recruit members to a school radio club, high school or otherwise? What do you tell them, what do you intentionally not tell them?

• At the first meeting of the year, how do you introduce the club to the new kids to get them excited and interested? Do you lay out your expectations? Do you make it super fun with games, activities, food, etc? What are the expectations you do tell them?

• What do you think is the key to keeping the students coming back?

• In your experience, what is the best way for the students to earn a license; self study, classroom instruction, teach topics, teach questions, etc?

• Do you lead your club activities all by yourself or do you have local hams volunteer to help you?

• How do you structure your club meetings? For instance do you have short meeting up front to discuss or teach something and then break up into different activities. Do you have a demo of some topic, like AC induced magnetic levitation or a flashing LED circuit made from a 555 timer, or a Jacob’s ladder for example? Are they free to choose their activity or is it more structured?

• Do you keep your club focused on one or two big projects, like a balloon launch, or do you try to introduce new topics each week?

• We can try to structure the club as free play time, or we can structure it as a place where students are challenged in some way. Is having challenging tasks and making a contest out of activities important? What is your insight on how to balance those two approaches?

• This is a question that the ARRL asks in the ETP grants so I will ask it. How do you measure success?

• How do you decide who gets to talk on the radio? Is it a first come first serve? Is it based on a signup sheet? Is it a privilege that is earned by some other activity, like demonstrating proficiency in a new skill such as soldering or solving Ohms Law problems? Do students who have earned their own license get priority?

• We are toying with the idea of putting up a chart with students’ names on one side and the skills we want them to master along the top and then putting a star in the corresponding box when the student shows the requisite proficiency. Good idea or not?

• When you have returning students who have already been through the program once or maybe twice what do you do for them to keep them engaged? It seems you would need to have a separate or advanced plan for them.

• In view of the differences in the way boys and girls learn and socialize, do you do anything differently to accommodate the differences?

• Is there anything else that you think I need to know in order to be successful?

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