Hands-On Technology Training, Robots, Ham Radio — What More Could Teachers Want?
Educators from across the US who attend the ARRL’s Teachers Institutes on Wireless Technology enjoy the challenge and camaraderie of these professional development workshops. More important, they acquire knowledge and skills to help their students grasp the essentials of radio science, basic electronics, robotics, space and satellite communication technology and, of course, Amateur Radio. Funded through the generosity of donors, the ARRL Education & Technology Program (ETP) created the Teachers Institutes to offer educators hands-on training and experience with wireless technology fundamentals that will enable them to integrate wireless technology instruction into their classrooms. According to the teachers attending, they did just that.
“I have never come away from a professional development feeling like the course was designed to actually get us to use what was taught,” said recent workshop participant Glen Hanneman, KJ6BQK. “The amount of training, resources, and networking opportunities the TI workshop afforded me is astounding! Having vertical integration with colleagues from fifth grade to junior college gave me a great perspective on how the technology instructional progression runs.”
ARRL Headquarters in Newington, Connecticut, and Parallax Inc in Rocklin, California hosted “Introduction to Wireless Technology” sessions this year, and two dozen teachers from 14 states took advantage of the opportunity.
“Educators from around the nation seem to have the same challenges getting [technology] into the classroom as I have, no matter the grade level,” said Hanneman, who took part in the California workshop. Nine participants at that session already had Amateur Radio licenses, but a ham ticket is not a requirement for enrollment.
Tommy Gober, N5DUX, an instructional technologist at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, taught the California workshop, held July 15-18. He kept a journal that detailed the day-to-day activities and discussions that the TI inspired. The first day of class Gober reviewed the basics of electronics, and that quickly generated the first of many discussions within the group.
On day three of his TI session Gober demonstrated a ham radio “fox hunt” and a successful ham radio contact with the SaudiSat-1C (SO-50) satellite. Workshop participants also got a bird’s eye view of Earth via the NOAA-19 (NOAA-N Prime) satellite. “Several [teachers] were instantly hooked as soon as you could make out the peninsula in the Baja Mexico and the Gulf of California,” Gober recounted.
Teacher Elizabeth Frank, who attended the TI-1 session at Parallax, appreciated the hands-on aspect that Gober’s workshop provided, as well as his attitude. “[In] a powerful response to a student’s complaint, ‘This is too hard,’ [Gober] said that the truth is that, ‘It’s not hard, it’s just new.’ This viewpoint was extremely encouraging,” said Frank.
ARRL Education & Technology Program Director Mark Spencer, WA8SME, instructed the TI session at ARRL Headquarters July 8-11. Eight of the participants at that session were hams. “It’s fast-paced, but in the end, it kinda gels together,” Spencer said about the TI session. Within their allotted four days the workshops cover an ambitious curriculum. The differing levels of knowledge among the teachers helps shape each session’s progress. Sometimes Spencer finds he can’t cover everything he’d like to. Spencer’s group of educators was eager to learn and interact with each other, and that sometimes drove them off topic. As one TI attendee recalled, “[Spencer was] accessible and open to all questions, even when they went in the ‘wrong’ direction or ended up making us dwell on a given topic for ‘too long.’”Spencer didn’t let such “bird walks” hinder him from returning to the main agenda to cover microcontrollers, programming and robotics.
In the workshops’ robotics section teachers build and program a Parallax Boe-Bot®. On the floor of ARRL Headquarters’ main hallway, Spencer created a black electrical tape maze in the shape of the letter “E.” Teachers practiced programming the Boe-Bots to stay within the lines, in the process learning the fundamentals of BASIC programming.
Spencer said feedback from teachers and instructors alike is imperative to keep the TI seminars attuned to teachers’ needs. “Attending the TI has been one of the best experiences of my life,” Frank said at the end of her workshop. “I signed up in order to learn more about the science behind wireless communications and to gain confidence in introducing ham radio into my classroom. The Institute has surpassed my expectations for both of these goals.”
For his part, student Gordon Romney, AG2G, said he was grateful to have been selected to participate in a TI. “I learned new concepts in so many areas. Please thank the donors, ARRL and Parallax for making this program possible.”
Your support of the ARRL Education & Technology Program will help ARRL to continue this important educational initiative.