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Around The World With Amateur Radio
Amateur radio is a great way to reach out and bring the world into the classroom. Students at our school speak with contacts across the country, around the world, and out in space. Projects range from exchanging audio book reviews on air with a class in another province and time zone, to speaking with the Commander of the International Space Station as the crew passes high overhead in orbit. With amateur radio, students in the classroom can have their polar questions answered on air by scientists at an Antarctic research station, or learn more about Canada’s international trade by talking with a class in another country.
As a participating teacher in the Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) Youth Education Program (YEP), I use amateur radio at school each year to inspire students in my junior classrooms, in my after school radio clubs, and in special K-8 school projects. For details about the YEP, visit the RAC web site, at <http://www.rac.ca/> and click on “Youth Education Program.” This national program promotes and financially supports the use of amateur radio in Canadian schools.
IN THE CLASSROOM
Over the past few years, my students and I have teamed up as radio partners with classroom teacher, Brian Jackson in Alberta, radio amateur VE6JBJ, and his grade 5 and 6 students. Each month the students talk by amateur radio as part of our language, math, social studies or science programs. These are some examples of how we connect our students two time zones away by amateur radio.
Eco-Pals: This unique pen-pal program with an environmental theme has been available to grade K-9 classes across Canada from The Green Group in Toronto. As well as exchanging letters, art work, and special projects through the mail, our students have also exchanged ideas by amateur radio on environmental issues in our communities.
Weekly Surveys: During the school year, each class takes turns asking a survey question. Both classes conduct the survey, then compile and graph the results. Sometimes the survey is conducted in class, and sometimes involves other classes. At the end of the week, our two classes share and compare their results by amateur radio.
Audio Book Reviews: The students at each school write, practice, then exchange audio book reviews on air.
Science Studies: Our students listen to live radio contacts between astronauts in orbit, on the International Space Station, and students at schools around the world.
Class-To-Class: Our classes exchange parcels in the mail containing student projects that introduce the class, school and community. After the packages have been opened and the projects studied, the students discuss their similarities and differences on air by amateur radio.
AFTER SCHOOL RADIO CLUB
In my first year of teaching (1993) I set up a shortwave listening centre in my classroom. During my second year, I started a Shortwave Listening Club. To support my school’s application for an amateur radio contact with the International Space Station, I obtained my basic amateur radio qualifications and became radio amateur VE3NCE. With the addition of a ham station in my classroom, it soon became the Shortwave Listening and Amateur Radio Club.
The Club attracts a wide cross section of students—boys and girls; outgoing as well as shy students; students with academic challenges and students with top marks—radio has been a great equalizer. At Club time everyone gets along, shares, takes turns, joins in, helps out, participates, uses good manners, and is really enthused about shortwave listening and amateur radio.
The weekly meetings of the Club are always lively sessions. There’s a lot of talking, laughing and good learning. The only time it’s really quiet is when the students take turns at the microphone. Parents who come to pick up their children are always invited to come in and see what we’re doing. Sometimes I can convince one of them to pick up the microphone too. Our club activities include:
Radio Amateur Survey: The students interviewed radio amateurs on-air close to home and across the country. Using prepared questions, they took turns asking a question while the other club members wrote down the replies. The students thought it was a lot of fun to be the interviewer.
Electronic Circuits: While one group conducted an on-air interview with a radio amateur in another province, the second group built an electronic circuit with a commercial science kit. The donated, solderless kits have been a big hit. After a working circuit is created and tested, I send the students to the office to show our Principal and Office Administrator.
Postage Stamps and QSL Cards: I give each student a bag of donated postage stamps to sort through, with the challenge of figuring out what countries the stamps are from. At other times, I give each student a stack of special postcards, known as QSL cards, that radio amateurs around the globe exchange to confirm contacts. With a stamp catalogue and a world map of amateur radio call signs, along with an atlas and globe, they soon match stamps and QSL cards with countries. Along the way they have a wonderful adventure with world geography and languages.
International Broadcasting Stations: We have been able to hear many different international broadcasting stations on shortwave, such as Radio Netherlands, Radio Japan, Voice of Nigeria, and the Voice of America. The students are excited to hear new languages from distant lands, and music they’d never heard on their favourite local stations. They also tune to news reports in English from stations in other countries to compare the headlines there with the top news stories here.
Canada Science and Technology Museum: On a Saturday, I meet club members and their families at the Museum in Ottawa, to visit amateur radio station VE3JW. Volunteers there soon have Club members and parents speaking with contacts across the continent and around the world.
With amateur radio, the K-8 students at our school have made some remarkable contacts around the world, and out in space. Our gym was filled with students, families and community guests for each of these special events.
International Space Station (ISS): Early one morning in November 2001, students at our school from kindergarten to grade 8 took turns speaking with the Commander in orbit. Details of our successful amateur radio contact, including a digital recording of the event, can be found at the web site of the Almonte Amateur Radio Club, <http://igs.net/~va3aar/>. Dr. Marc Garneau, Canada’s first astronaut in space, invited each of the participating students to write an essay about the experience. The student essays, and the transcript of our school’s contact, are available at the Canadian Space Agency website, <http://www.space.gc.ca/asc/eng/youth_educators/kidspace/creations/text/iss.asp>.
Mount Everest: Amateur radio made it possible in April 2005 to link students at schools across the country with the Kanatek Expedition from Canada at Mount Everest base camp. Students at schools from coast to coast had their mountain climbing questions answered by Professor Sean Egan, of the University of Ottawa, as he stood outside his tent in the early morning light on Mount Everest. An audio recording of the whole cross-country contact, along with a TV clip of the Almonte K-8 event, is also available at the web site of Almonte Amateur Radio Club, at <http://igs.net/~va3aar/>.
Community volunteers of the Almonte Amateur Radio Club (AARC) help each year to make amateur radio at our school such a success with valuable advice, equipment, inspiration, volunteer time at school, and on-air experience for the students. The support of the AARC is appreciated very much.
This year, I’m helping as a volunteer on a national advisory committee to consider a new entry level amateur radio licence for classroom teachers and students at school.
I’d be happy to hear from you with questions or comments about using amateur radio at school. Please contact me by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neil Carleton is a Grade 6 classroom teacher at R. Tait McKenzie Public School in Almonte, Ontario.