The 2010 Teachers Institutes Begin with a Bang in Tucson
The ARRL Teachers Institute on Wireless Technology (TI) began its 2010 sessions in February with a Teachers Institute course designed specifically for teachers in the Tucson (Arizona) Unified School District (TUSD). Taught at Jefferson Park Elementary School, 21 educators -- including the school principal, school counselor and three resource personnel -- took part in five Saturday sessions, working through an expanded 45 hour Teachers Institute (TIs usually are done in about 32 hours). The teachers completed homework assignments that included building the clock kit, building a flashing LED Santa and reading the first two chapters of What's a Microcontroller? In addition, five parents attended the TI as observers. The course was taught by TI Instructor Miguel Enriquez, KD7RPP, who teaches in the TUSD.
According to Enriquez, breaking the TI into four out of five contiguous Saturdays had its advantages and disadvantages. "The biggest advantage was that we were able to cover more material than normal because I was able to enlist the assistance of two Elmers: Katherine Larson, KF7GFG, and Alex Thome, KF7GFF," he said. "Their assistance made it possible to have 21 teachers and five parents attending the TI. Both Alex and Katherine also presented some additional material, with Katherine using material provided by ARRL Education & Technology Program Coordinator Mark Spencer, WA8SME, on how to instruct the teachers to effectively make use of Elmers, and Alex presenting and demonstrating D-STAR."
Enriquez said it also helped to have the OptoScope and BASIC Stamp software pre-installed on the hardware before the course began, providing additional time to teach basic electronics. "Two of the teachers learned how to install the software to ensure that the process was understood as we add new computers for use with TI materials," he said. "The pressure to get everything in during the usual four days was lessened was another advantage; since the participants are all local, I could easily make up any instruction that we were not able to cover, if it became necessary, but we were able to get it all in." Enriquez pointed out that since the participants were all local, there was no need to pay travel and lodging expenses.
"The biggest disadvantage to non-contiguous TI instruction was setting up and tearing down the 'laboratory' setting four times," Enriquez explained. "That process added an extra hour for Katherine, Alex and I before, and an extra hour after each day's activities." Saying that a possible major disadvantage could have been attrition, Enriquez was glad to report that that was not the case, "thanks to the expert curriculum Mark has designed, the materials Mark has created and the proven track record the TIs have consistently demonstrated. The proof to this claim is the smiles on the faces and laughter of the participants seen in the YouTube videos here, here and here on the Internet."
Plans are currently being developed to host another TI at Jefferson Park for other Tucson area teachers in 2011. "We are developing a Tucson TI Web site to provide a forum for TI-participating teachers to add to the K-5 curriculum planned to be developed by Jefferson Park School teachers," Enriquez said. "We would use the Web site to make knowledge and materials readily available to anyone interested in using the curriculum. We have also discussed plans to seek funding from local donors to fund future Tucson TIs."
According to Enriquez, Jefferson Park Elementary -- like many schools around the country -- is seeking a way to differentiate itself in the marketplace. "School officials have committed to making their school into a ham radio school and providing opportunities to expand literacy in math, science and space technologies. Their close proximity to the University of Arizona, less than 0.5 mile away, is giving them added incentives to promote itself as a science-and-technology-oriented school and will apply to NASA for assistance and support. School officials are currently developing a brochure to be used for recruiting efforts to attract more students to the school."
Four Elmers assisted with the TUSD TI. One presented information about astronomy and will provide the opportunity for Jefferson Park students to use remote imaging via the Internet to get students interested in radio astronomy. A second Elmer demonstrated and assisted with VHF and HF contacts. A third Elmer attended the TI to meet the teachers and begin a discussion of an ATV network for the Jefferson Park students and students from a school in a district 30 miles away. A fourth Elmer conducted and explained the practice of satellite contacts. "We made a satellite contact with Mark Spencer, WA8SME, in California that proved to be both dramatic and inspiring to the group," Enriquez said.
On the fourth Saturday, the group was using a blimp -- guided by a beacon -- that was built by Pueblo High School students. "We plan to add RF control sometime in the near future," Enriquez recounted. "We found most of the PIC code on the Internet, but the Pueblo students had to make it work since it was not 'plug-and-play.' This provided the students with a sense of accomplishment -- they said it felt like they had to break a secret code to make the dirigible fly around. PIC programming is in use at Pueblo High School thanks to the TI." A Van de Graff generator also provided the teachers with an opportunity to learn more about static energy. "Some of them giggled like kids as their shoulder-length hair stood on end. The electrical shocks at the end of the exercise seemed more like legal highs to them."
Enriquez said that building the BOE-BOTs was the class favorite: "We had an experiment of sorts taking place during the TI. We have 40 BOE-BOTs, 12 SUMMO-BOTS, three LEGO Robots and 15 VEX Robots at Pueblo High School. Since I am taking over electronics at that school, they are now available to me. I used some of the extra units and I invited a high school student from another high school and an elementary student to attend the third and fourth session with the idea of gauging how much assistance they would need to build and navigate the BOE-BOTs. The high school student worked independently; the elementary school student only needed assistance with reading the manual. But both successfully completed construction. The elementary school student found a second way to navigate the BOE-BOT through the maze."
Enriquez said that all of the TI objectives were met. "The participants learned quite a bit, and many who had expressed initial hesitancy of going to areas beyond their comfort levels were ultimately grateful for having attended the class. The post-TI survey demonstrates varying comprehension levels of the instruction that was presented. All of the participants successfully completed the assigned in-class activities, including building and navigating the BOE-BOT."
According to Enriquez, Jefferson Park Elementary School is struggling to find a niche for itself as it tries to avoid the closure of its doors due to under-enrollments: "School officials are professing that ARRL and its Teachers Institute on Wireless Technology are their 'ace-in-the-hole.' With the current economic wave hitting the country, I would guess there are other similar opportunities elsewhere for the ARRL and the TI to prove that a small investment can have a tremendous return on investment. I submit that Jefferson Park can be the model we present to other schools facing these sorts of challenges. Hope is a good thing. But the fun and excitement the Teachers Institute consistently provides is the better thing."
The Teachers Institute on Wireless Technology is a four-day, expenses paid in-residence learning opportunity designed for motivated teachers and other school staff who want to learn more about wireless technology and bring that knowledge to their students. A variety of topics are covered during the TI, including basic wireless technology literacy, electronics, the science of radio, radio astronomy, how to bring space into the classroom ham radio operation introduction to micro controllers and basic robotics. Participants do not need to have an Amateur Radio license to attend a TI session.
There are four more ARRL Teachers Institute sessions in 2010: May 24-27 at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico; June 14-17 at Walhalla High School, in Walhalla, South Carolina; June 21-24 at Parallax Inc in Rocklin, California, and July 19-22 at ARRL Headquarters in Newington, Connecticut. The deadline to apply for the New Mexico and South Carolina sessions is April 15. The deadline for the California and Connecticut sessions is May 15. Find out more information on the ARRL Teachers Institute on Wireless Technology on the ARRL Web site.