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ARRL Takes Technology to the Classroom — a Dozen Teachers at a Time

08/27/2013

Through its Teachers Institutes the ARRL’s Education & Technology Program (ETP) has been working for more than 10 years to promote the teaching of technology. In a new teach-the-teachers twist, the program recently sponsored a Teachers Institute on remote sensing and data gathering. At the inaugural four-day session held in late July in Dayton, Ohio, 12 teachers explored the use of remote sensors for gathering data in space, on Earth and beneath the sea

“Remote sensing allows us to reach inhospitable and inaccessible portions of our environment for study,” explained ETP Director, Mark Spencer, WA8SME, who coached the Dayton workshop. Spencer pointed out how the thread of remote sensing technology runs through all aspects of basic electronics, the science of radio, and microcontroller programming.

The Dayton Amateur Radio Association — which sponsors the Dayton Hamvention® — funded and hosted the TI seminar in its brand-new classroom. All participants previously had attended an introductory Teachers Institute.

In the workshop, the teachers configured sensor packages for a high-altitude balloon, a SeaPerch underwater robot and a land-based Boe-Bot. Spencer introduced Mars Lander/Marine Amateur Radio Robotics Exploration Activity (MAREA) concepts in his class. MAREA is a hands-on learning activity designed to engage students in learning programming skills for command and control of robots, using Amateur Radio packet as the means of communication. Students in the workshop used APRS to send commands to remote robots as well as via the ham radio packet station aboard the International Space Station!

Spencer wants to see more teachers incorporate science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or “STEM” — education, so they can help their students understand the concepts behind classroom demonstrations, not just observe the end result.

“Having students witness a balloon launch is not STEM education,” he says. “Having students learn about and develop the sensors carried on the balloon, then participate in the balloon launch and recovery and apply mathematics to give meaning to the collected data to study the environment is STEM education,” he maintains. Teachers attending the Dayton session got the point.

“This was the most valuable workshop I have attended,” one teacher enthused. “It introduced the way STEM should be taught.” Another teacher, who will be designing and teaching a STEM class, feels the workshop gave her a valuable head start.

“Career changing” was how middle school teacher Bill Richardson, N5VEI, from Mississippi described the workshop. He said remotely controlling the robots using XBee® modules or via the ISS offers “so many potential lessons that I am giddy about teaching it.” His school will begin teaching binary numbers, binary searches and analog-to-digital conversion to eighth graders.

This seminar marked the first time MAREA concepts were taught in a large group, Spencer said. A number of the teachers later expressed interest in incorporating MAREA activities in their own classroom lessons. Spencer also presented two new classroom resources for using satellite telemetry data from experiments to be launched on the next AMSAT Fox satellite, set to launch in 2014. These will help students study satellite “wobble” and power regulation from solar panels. -- Thanks to Allison Barbieri

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