California Montessori School Wins Big with Ham Radio


Five young hams from Granite Bay Montessori School in Roseville, California, received nine awards at the Sacramento Regional Science and Engineering Fair Saturday, March 21, 2009. This success gives the school more awards than any other Elementary or Middle School in the region. Of the five projects to receive awards, three were based on Amateur Radio.

  • Michael Binon, KI6QOC, and Joshua Fournier, KI6PJW, took first and second places, respectively, in the Engineering category of the Junior division (grades 6-8) for their projects on portable wire antennas and a self-contained solar powered backpack HF station (see Figures 1 and 2).
  • Frankie Moirao, KI6QYS, took second place in the Mathematics and Computer Science category of the Junior division for his robotic data link that operates in the 70 cm ham band (see Figure 3).
  • Noah Cudd, KI6UHT, took first place in the Biology category for his study of the greenhouse effect and greenhouse gasses (see Figure 4).
  • Teri Nittler, KI6QLQ, received a special award from the National Society of Professional Engineers for her project on the aerodynamics of roofs in high-wind conditions (see Figure 5).
  • Michael, Joshua, Frankie and Noah also received special achievement awards from 3M Corporation.

Ham Radio to Go

Michael and Joshua started out with a joint project to build a backpack HF station but then split the project. Joshua designed and built the backpack and its solar power system and Michael designed, tested and evaluated the possible antennas.

Joshua constructed a complete solar powered backpack station using the school's Elecraft K2 transceiver (donated by the ARRL and constructed by the school's students). Joshua calculated the power budget for the system, which determined the battery capacity needed and the size of the photovoltaic panel required to keep the station running indefinitely. Once he determined the battery capacity he had to select an appropriate battery technology to meet the needs of the project. He also engineered and fabricated the mechanical mounting system for all the components. The backpack is completely self-contained and even includes all the hiker's other paraphernalia needed to survive in the wilderness, such as food, water, sleeping bag and tent. Joshua went one step further and constructed a center-fed non resonant doublet and a small, balanced/unbalanced QRP (low power) antenna tuner.

Michael built and tested four different wire antennas, a half-wave dipole, a full-wave delta loop, a quarter-wave ground-plane and a non resonant end-fed wire with a tuner. His tests then evaluated them for size, weight, ease of construction, ease of erection and electrical performance. His testing method used the dipole as a control antenna and measured the other three antennas against it. The antennas were then tested on 20 meters using a Flex-5000A transceiver, which allowed direct, real time A/B testing of pairs of antennas while receiving PSK31 signals. Joshua collected data at a 1 dBm resolution and determined that the delta loop performed best, the ground plane and dipole were about even and the end-fed wire was the worst performer.

Data on the Go

Frankie Moirao designed a data link for robots using off-the-shelf 434 MHz transmitter and receiver modules. His system used the Parallax BoE-Bots1 the school received with the resource package provided by ARRL's Teachers Institute together with the modules to build a packet radio system that would accept data from a PC, packetize it, transmit it to the BoE-Bot and display it on an LCD monitor. The intention is to later integrate this into the school's "Mars Rover" robot project.

Frankie had to overcome a variety of limitations presented by the interaction of the 434 MHz modules and the BASIC Stamp microcontrollers. Ultimately, these limitations resulted in the need to add pad characters to compensate for timing constraints in the receiver code.

These Gasses Aren't Green

Noah Cudd did his project on demonstrating how the greenhouse effect works. His project explained the greenhouse effect with particular attention to how different gasses affect the atmospheric temperature. He expanded these results into a discussion of global warming and possible methods for counteracting the warming effect of greenhouse gasses. Noah is currently studying for his General class license.

A Roof That's There to Stay

Teri Nittler, KI6QLQ, began with an interest in Architecture and a project idea concerning the effect of hurricane winds on house roofs. She built a model house, put it in a wind tunnel and then measured the force on the roof with different wind speeds. She then tried different ideas to reduce the force of the wind on the roof and used those results to determine her conclusion. Even though she didn't receive an official place, the Association of Professional Engineers thought sufficiently highly of her work to give her a special award.

Real World Lessons

The key point to these projects is that they were real engineering projects with real goals. Every single project presented serious problems that required creative problem-solving. All students went from almost zero knowledge to being able to troubleshoot problems effectively, which indicates significant understanding. You can't ask for more than that.

Michael, Joshua, Noah and Frankie will go on to compete in the California State Science Fair to be held in Los Angeles in May. Needless to say, everyone at Granite Bay Montessori School, K6GBM, is very proud of its high achievers.

Granite Bay Montessori School is a private, non-profit [501(c)(3)] preschool/elementary/middle school serving students from age 3 to eighth grade.

All photographs are courtesy of Brian Lloyd, WB6RQN.

Brian Lloyd, WB6RQN, an ARRL member, has been a ham since 1976. Brian became interested in ham radio when he was 8 and talked his father into buying him a 1962 copy of The Radio Amateur's Handbook, a book he still uses today with his students who find its explanations easy to understand. Brian was very active in packet radio and wrote the column "Packet Talk" for 73 Amateur Radio magazine in the late 1980s. His activity in packet radio led him to develop protocols for the Internet, most notably PPP and Multilink PPP.

Brian started and ran several successful Internet technology companies until coming to Granite Bay Montessori School 4 years ago. He started Granite Bay's new science program 3 years ago, which emphasizes physical science and introduces Amateur Radio in conjunction with teaching about electricity, magnetism and light. His students do lots of hands-on building (the kids love to solder!).

The parents and school administrator like the Amateur Radio involvement so much that getting the Technician class license has become an official part of the 5th grade curriculum. Field Day has become an official school function with the playground pressed into duty as an antenna farm. Brian is also an active Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). He is not married but does have two children and three stepchildren. He can be contacted at 3191 Western Dr, Cameron Park, CA 95682-9205.


1Available from your local ARRL dealer, or from the ARRL Store, order no. 1223. Telephone toll-free in the US 888-277-5289 or 860-594-0355, fax 860-594-0303;;






Brian Lloyd, WB6RQN/J79BPL