When an opportunity to share ham radio with children presents itself, you seize the moment. At least that's Mike Welch's, KF4HFC, philosophy. Each year, the public schools of Orange and Seminole Counties of Central Florida hold a Teach-in. This is a day when the county school principals and their staff invite individuals to share their particular careers and other interests in a classroom environment. For several years, The Lake Monroe Amateur Radio Society (LMARS) of Deltona, Florida has supported this effort and with Mike as lead, has gathered a group of their members to bring the fascinating hobby of ham radio to the local schools. 2007 was no exception.
In July 2007, Mike and I had the opportunity to work together during an Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) contact at a local children's hospital. Later, he asked me if I would be interested in helping him out with the annual countywide Teach-In held in November. This was the first time I had heard of the event, but always looking for a chance to share ham radio and especially amateur satellites with anyone who'll listen, I saw this as an opportunity I couldn't refuse. As November approached and I started gathering materials for the sessions, I started worrying that speaking in front of kids might not be as simple as it seems. I had felt comfortable speaking before local ham clubs with all of my friends out there, but this would be in front of kids. Who knows what questions they might ask and would I be able to answer them at their level without losing my audience?
Lights, Camera, Action
Finally, the day came. To start the morning, we all joined Mike at a local diner and, after a short orientation with him over breakfast, we proceeded to English Estates Elementary School. Filling the ranks of our group were Mike and myself along with James Williams, N4ZKT; Bob Herring, KI4LUE; Jim Schilling, KG4JSZ, and Peter Meijers, AI4KM. After arriving, we were met by the principal, Beth Sharpe, and a member of her staff. They were very well prepared for the day and in a short time we were escorted to the cafeteria where we set up.
I was probably the newest member of our group in 2007. The other guys had previous experience and knew some of the "stuff" to bring along that would interest the kids. Among the equipment we brought was a portable 2 meter repeater normally used for EmComm purposes and various handheld transceivers. Since my main interest is in talking through the birds, I had stashed my new Kenwood TH-D7A handheld transceiver and a dual band Arrow handheld beam; but Jim brought along a special surprise that we saved until last.
Around 9 AM, children were led into the cafeteria for our first session. They were a noisy but excited group of third and fourth graders. The kids quickly settled down, however, as Mike explained what ham radio is all about and what it means to him. He then introduced James who discussed the method for getting a ham license. Following James was Peter and Bob sharing their particular interests in the hobby. Finally, it was my turn and since my interest dealt with ham radio in space, I decided to share something from space with them. I invited one of the kids to come up to the front with me. I pulled an object about the size of a dinner roll out of my jacket pocket, put it in his hand and asked if he knew what it was.
"A rock!" he shouted.
Yes, but what kind of rock? I asked.
"A heavy rock!" and he was right. It was an iron meteorite. I proceeded to explain that just as it had once been in space, many groups of hams have built their own satellites, placed them on rockets and sent them into space so they can talk through them to other hams around the world. Our allotted time with each group was limited to 30 minutes, so I quickly touched on how the ham satellites can easily be accessed using just a small handheld radio and the Arrow antenna. It was now time to move on to our last speaker.
The Grand Finale
Suddenly, a motor noise was heard from the back of the cafeteria. All the heads turned to see Jim's remote controlled car racing down the main aisle. If this wasn't impressive enough, he had mounted an amateur television (ATV) camera on the front of the vehicle and was broadcasting the video signal to a cafeteria television. Jim's presentation held the children spellbound as you would expect.
Before the morning was over, we had the opportunity to share our hobby with about 200 children. I'd like to suggest that everyone look for any opportunity to get the word out about ham radio to our kids. Don't believe for a minute that it is destined to become a thing of the past. Realize that ham radio incorporates the Internet, digital communication, television and a myriad of technologies. If you are reading this article then you should be interested enough to share your love of Amateur Radio with others, especially our younger generation.
Anyone who does presentations about ham radio to groups of kids or adults can find a selection of brochures relating to all aspects of ham radio in the Event Materials area of the ARRL Web site Services page (www.arrl.org/brochures). The ARRL Education department hosts the Education page of the Web site wherein you will find a wide range of information and materials to help present and educate young and old about Amateur Radio. Finally, the ARRL Public Relations Department hosts the Media Resources page (www.arrl.org/pio) with resources and ideas for presenting Amateur Radio to the general public in a variety of ways. -- Ed.
David Jordan, AA4KN, has been a ham for 35 years. He is an active member of Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT), ARISS, the ARRL and his local club, LMARS. His main interest is in introducing kids to ham radio. A resident of Orlando, Florida, David is a retired engineer and he can frequently be heard Thursday evenings as net control for the Florida AMSAT net.
David Jordan, AA4KN