David Jordan, AA4KN
Lake Monroe Amateur Radio Society (LMARS) — Special Education Group
D-STAR and AMSAT bring excitement to a Florida elementary school.
With the current focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiatives in US schools, teachers are always looking for new ways to draw student interest into these areas. To promote STEM and to get students thinking ahead about their career path, many schools in Seminole County, Florida participate in “Teach-In.” This is an annual event in mid-November where the parents of students and representatives of special interest groups, such as ham clubs, share their knowledge and career interests with students in local schools.
The Lake Monroe Amateur Radio Society (LMARS) is one of several Amateur Radio clubs in the central Florida area. A few years ago, LMARS formed the Special Education Group to help support local ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) school contacts and other ham education activities. Every year our group participates in the Teach-In activities at English Estates Elementary School in Fern Park, Florida. A small community located just a few miles north of Orlando.
Our group’s approach to Teach-In is very simple. We feature the particular interests of our members. For Teach-In 2011, we had the privilege to talk with students about D-STAR, disaster communications equipment and my favorite, amateur satellites.
Teach-In day always begins with a brief meeting of the Special Education Group over breakfast at a local restaurant where we chew the rag for a while and get our act together for the morning. Then, it’s on to the school.
This morning, we were told to expect some very excited third, fourth and fifth graders. As usual, we arrived around 8:30 AM, unloaded, set up and were ready to go as the third grade classes entered at 9:15 AM sharp. To begin our presentation, our D-STAR expert, Peter Meijers, AI4KM, began our first session by making contact with a station in the Netherlands using his small D-STAR handheld transceiver. Regardless of their experience using cell phones, you could see the students were excited over the idea of Peter talking live to another ham 4500 miles away on a radio no larger than the palm of his hand. After a quick exchange of greetings, Peter asked if any of the students would like to talk to this contact. You can imagine all the hands shooting up all at once, making it tough for Peter to choose just a few to come up and ask questions over his radio.
After a lively discussion with their new friend in Holland, Peter signed off and I was up next to discuss Amateur Radio space communications. I opened this session by playing a few audio clips of contacts I’d made with astronaut tourist, Richard Garriot, W5KWQ, and Commander Doug Wheelock, KF5BOC, while they circled the Earth on board the International Space Station (ISS). I took a few minutes explaining how astronauts and cosmonauts use VHF ham gear to make the contacts and how students, like themselves, can also study and get a ham license so they can make their own contacts with the ISS. I segued into amateur satellites and how hams use them to talk across the US and sometimes to other countries.
For the final segment, Mike Welch, W1MNW, talked about how hams help in emergencies. He told how ham radio becomes a very important means of communicating during hurricanes, tornado strikes and earthquakes and is sometimes the only way to call for help. To add to his talk, Mike brought along his homebrew, battery-operated 2 meter “go-box” station and he let several students use it to talk to a local ham just as they would during an emergency.
Our 2011 Teach-In presentations were a big success. By the time we were through, we had shared our hobby with over 200 students. Due to a lower economy resulting in lower budgets for education and with increasing liability expense, school principals and teachers find it more and more difficult to arrange extra, off-campus activities for students such as field trips to science museums, special events, etc. It’s important that the Amateur Radio community seize opportunities like Teach-Ins to become directly involved with their local schools. Hams can use such opportunities to bring programs that will inspire students to seek science-related careers and perhaps become our next generation of ham operators.
Photos by M. Welch, W1MNW.
David Jordan, AA4KN, an ARRL member, is an Amateur Extra class operator who has been licensed for 39 years. David attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a BS degree in Engineering Technology and worked as a design engineer for a local Orlando firm. David is now retired and spends much of his time promoting Amateur Radio throughout Florida. He is heavily involved with AMSAT and the ARISS program, and recently served on the ARISSat-1 project team. David is also a writer who has contributed articles for QST, ARRLWeb and other ham related publications. David can be reached at 825 Hickory Hill Ct, Orlando, FL 32828-9125, firstname.lastname@example.org.