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2005 News Releases

 

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65 Students Gain Technician Class License In A Single Test Session at Trinity High School

Date : 06 / 01 / 2005
Author : Sean Barnes - N3JQ

Trinity High School (N3THS) just added 65 more licensed Technician class operators to the 21 licenses already residing at Trinity. Four physics classes, totaling 65 students, spent their first marking period of physics learning electromagnetism via amateur radio. This brings the Trinity High School license count for the past three years to 146 (28 in 2002/03 school year, 53 in 2003/04, and 65 more on November 9 th ). Another 13 students expect to take the Technician test at the next opportunity it is offered by the VE team with the Harrisburg Radio Amateur Club.

I'm in my fifth year of teaching at Trinity HS. I worked from 1983 to 2000 in engineering, using my BS in electrical engineering at companies like Link Flight Simulation, General Electric, Lockheed-Martin, and Raytheon. My interest in electrical engineering all came from my experience in 8 th grade licensed as WN3WUZ. I returned to school part-time while in engineering to pursue my masters in physics, to allow me to teach, whereby I came to Trinity HS in 2000.

We have three levels of physics at Trinity: General-Physics, Academic-Physics, and Honors-Physics. I teach the General and Academic-Physics, while Steve Kosman (physics and computer teacher) retained teaching the Honors-Physics when I arrived. I also was assigned Honors Algebra 2. I wanted a more �hands-on� approach with the General Physics class students I teach at Trinity. After two years teaching traditional-style physics, I had my radio interest pricked by an Astronomy Club I started at Trinity. We inquired about making a radio telescope while attending a telescope viewing session set up for Trinity at the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg (ASH). ASH Vice President, Dick Goodman, WA3USG, told me about a radio telescope design he had done. I had also talked to a radio telescope design engineer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory headquarters at the University of Virginia while refereeing water polo there in the spring of 2002. It appeared that amateur radio was calling me back.

I convinced myself to return to amateur radio, and use it as a tool to teach my General-Physics class for the following school year 2002/03. But how? It was then the summer of 2002, and the school year was starting in just a couple of months. I researched the ARRL and found about �The Big Project�. I was still unlicensed, but joined the ARRL. I called concerning getting funding, and was told that my application would need to go through an approval process that would take longer than the 60 days remaining before school started. I found out about a large amateur radio club called the Harrisburg Radio Amateur Club, which meets just 5 miles away from Trinity High School . I attended their meeting in August, just 20 days prior to school starting. I was hooked. And more importantly, so was HRAC president Pete de Volpi, K3PD.

Pete invited me over to his house and shack. He gave me some starter material and a set of test questions to study. I called the ARRL and ordered a set of �Now You're Talking� books for my single General-Physics class at Trinity. I was going to leave my other two Academic-Physics classes alone for this �trial year�. I had just picked up an AP Calculus 2 course to teach at Trinity, bringing me to four separate preps per day. I wanted to carefully control this trial with amateur radio. Heck, I wasn't even licensed yet myself!

Pete asked the HRAC club to loan me a few pieces of equipment, to allow students to listen to amateur radio at the school. We set up a shack in a dusty but spacious storage area behind the physics room. I taught right from the �Now You're Talking� textbook, using a downloaded set of FCC questions ported into Excel to generate randomized tests. I took the test earlier than most of my class, getting my Technician license with two girls in my class about 30 days before the rest of the class took the test. Lenore Brown got KB3IUP. I got KB3IUQ, and Meg McCormick got KB3IUR. Lenore went onto become president of our school club, and Meg got a raise at the Harrisburg radio station where she worked part-time, as soon as she told them about her license.

My single class of General-Physics students all took the test right at Trinity HS. The VE team associated with the HRAC club, and lead by George Burkett, N3YB, graciously agreed to come to Trinity to administer a test session in December. Pete de Volpi showed up for the test session with a Christmas present for Trinity: a Hammarlund HQ-120 receiver that he recently purchased and restored to excellent working condition. We tuned in stations immediately.

Not all the students passed that day. Those that failed, returned to the HRAC Saturday test site a month later in January, where the majority finally passed. Twenty-four amateur radio licenses were ultimately garnered. Twenty one of my 23 students got their technician class license, plus Mr. Barnes (now N3JQ), one of the student's father (getting back-to-back call sign with his daughter in class) and ARCoT, the Amateur Radio Club of Trinity High School (N3THS), an ARRL affiliated club. We started a monthly meeting our school ham club, where four more non-physics underclassmen were licensed.

Once licensed, I required the students to make 30 contacts, with a minimum of one on the Trinity ham shack equipment. Some students don't have a single study-hall, and limited equipment keeps me from having an entire class dedicated to contact time. I required the students to download Echolink, and make contacts. Ten of the 30 had to be away from North America . It was a great success. I made them verify their contacts by having the contacted person send an e-mail to me, the teacher. There were about 20% non-return on the e-mails, so I gave a �100� to any student getting 30 contacts and 20 e-mails. To further evaluate the contact, I had the students ask a list of basic questions (QTH, rigs at home, years as a ham) to whomever they contacted.

This success propelled me to get my general class license two months later, my extra class license two months after that, and my VE certificate a few months after making extra class. My college-years yielding a Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering and Masters in Physics helped greatly. My 5 wpm from my old Novice license grand-fathered me out of the code, although I had myself back up to 10 wpm with some tapes I had.

I felt confident enough to add Amateur Radio to my two Academic-Physics classes for the following 2003/04 school year. I became more efficient with this group, and had them ready by early November. On November 17 of 2003, we had another 49 students licensed at Trinity HS between the single General-Physics class and two Academic-Physics classes. ARCoT, N3THS, club meetings got another four students licensed. Five of my physics students also took the General Class Element 3 test and passed it a couple months later. I gave them extra credit for passing any additional element. They did not take the 5 wpm Morse code test, Element 1, however.

I did the same thing with Echolink again. The receipt of roughly 1,500 e-mails was a bit of a challenge for me to manage. I kept separate e-filing cabinets for each student, and posted results as they arrived. Again, great success, with very positive Echolink replies. I continued the year to give extra credit for every Trinity ham shack real-radio contact that they made � one free extra-credit point per contact, up to a limit of 25. Every contact had a form-paper with standard questions I asked the students to ask. This helped them as an ice-breaker and led to some great contacts. Students came to me each day and told me of another new and positive experience through Echolink.

Echolink has been a fantastic tool. None of the kids I've taught had an amateur radio licensed relative at home when they enrolled in my physics class. So no one has any equipment at home. But they all have computers and the internet. I was worried that the kids would take too strongly to the internet, and not enjoy the fun of a real radio contact. But instead, I found the students still loved the feeling of a real microphone connected to a radio. I had a few students purchase equipment. I need to look into getting a package deal for new licensees together. Something like a dual-band HT with a mag-mount antenna, at a good starter price.

At the end of last school year, I prepared a presentation for the American Association of Physics Teachers, Central Pennsylvania chapter. I presented this at Bucknell University in Lewisburg PA in March to an audience of about 30 physics teachers throughout central PA. High school teachers and college professors attended. Although not at my meeting, Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman, (1988, muon neutrino) was on hand. I met him after his particle physics presentation, and attended a dinner with him. He is the leading advocate in the United States for �Physics First�. This is a concept that Physics belongs as a mandatory 9 th grade class, since it is the basis for all science. San Diego , Chicago , Florida , and other areas throughout the U.S. are using this new way of teaching science curriculum. Just take out some of physics' strong math, and teach it conceptually to 9 th graders. Allow them to then take �Physics II� their senior year, like Biology II and/or Chemistry II classes are given now. This Physics II would be the strong-math oriented physics. When I talked briefly with Dr. Lederman after his lecture, I told him how I've added Amateur Radio to my curriculum, and could see using ham radio as a great way to teach the 9 th grade �Physics First� students. He encouraged me to continue my pursuits in this direction.

Each year, I have taught Morse code for a week. This represents about three total hours of code. They learn it enough to identify all the characters for a matching written test. But I leave it to them to continue to learn the code to be test-level proficient. I have risen my offer of extra credit for passing the code this year. We'll see if this gets more response.

I've had the pleasure of guest speakers come in from the local amateur radio community, whom I met on the air. Jon Kohn, N3AJB, let us borrow his Heathkit SB-101, and showed us some early 2-meter contacts. Tom Miller, KB3CVO, from the South Mountain Repeater Association, came in and showed us SSTV. Dave Hoffman, N3PRO, came in and showed the class how to use the Central Pennsylvania Repeater Association repeater for an IRLP connection. Bob Marzari, W3PT, came in and did an analysis of our shack for aiding in antenna design. Bob also aided me in getting hooked in contesting, as I helped at Bob's shack working 100+ contacts for the W3UU HRAC station, which was the bonus point station for this past year's PA QSO contest. Kurt Wann, K4ITO, came to class to tell students where amateur radio might lead them in a career. Kurt worked for IBM, and has gone to schools to give Engineering Week talks about careers. He nicely tied amateur radio into his discussion. John Jaminet, W3HMS, is scheduled to come in during late November to talk to my class about Amateur TV and satellites.

We have a tight budget at Trinity, so the gifts from Pete de Volpi and other hams have been most welcome. Pete donated an ICOM IC-738 HF rig, ICOM IC-V8 2-m HT, Yaseau FT-1500M 2-m mobile radio, HP-202 2-m HT, lots of antenna wire, coax, insulators, 10 m mag-mount mobile antenna, a years' worth of CQ and QST, miscellaneous tubes, relays, crystals, and his recent copies of the ARRL handbook and antenna book. A 2-element HF antenna followed in the spring. Our Trinity HS shack is truly �The Shack that Pete Built�. Pete also encouraged donations from other hams, including an ICOM IC-T2H 2-m HT from Jeff Kisner, W3JWK, and an ICOM IC-229A mobile 2-meter radio from Mary Crider, WA3HUP.

All this equipment went into the newly refurbished ham shack at Trinity. The physics room and ham shack underwent an entire remodeling just prior to the 2003/04 school year, thanks to a grant from the Whitaker Foundation and Fred and Kathy Alba. This had been a planned remodeling for the physics room and lab, and fortuitously benefited the ham radio club.

The shack is a little bit of a wreck during the first marking period, since I keep a lot of the equipment out on the teacher's front table. I use it daily in lectures. It is great having all of this actual equipment to immediately show the students first-hand as they learn about it. But the shack remains open all school year for any licensed student to use anytime. Students may use it before school, during study halls, at lunch, or after school. Equipment may be signed out overnight.

I integrate 7 different labs in during the first marking period use of Amateur Radio. #1 is on compass heading and vector addition. #2 is wave fundamentals with a slinky. #3 is wave reflection, refraction, diffraction, and interference with a water wave tank. #4 is electrostatics. #5 is Ohm's Law. #6 is series and parallel circuits. And #7 is building a 2-meter wire dipole antenna, with lowest SWR at 146.0 MHz. The students definitely like the antenna lab, because we do some soldering and constructing. The initial cut of the antenna at 468/146.0 yields an antenna that I immediately make a contact on a local repeater. The students are impressed, to say the least. I did receive an amplifier lab through an ARRL sponsored gift. I am working on its integration yet this year.

Well, word on the street at Trinity must be good concerning physics with amateur radio. For this current school year, I had to drop teaching my two Honors Algebra 2 classes, because physics enrollment increased by 48 % in Academic Physics at Trinity HS. My additional 24 students enrolled this year pushed me to add two more physics classes to teach. I now have one General class of nine students, and four Academic class, totaling 65 more. It was this entire group of 65 Academic-Physics students who passed their test on November 9 th . The General-Physics class will take it a little later.

I'd like to thank the designers of two great study-tool web sites. Sample tests at www.qrz.com are fantastic. Two weeks prior to the FCC test, I have the students turn in daily tests taken from home on the QRZ site. I simply have them print the last page of the test showing their score. I ask that they get a 60+% for the first five daily tests, and 74+% for the final five. I give them 10 points per each turned in, as long as they exceeded the bottom percentage just stated.

The other site is www.ah0a.org with Ham Academy . This free tool to do drills isolates on chapters and/or sub-chapters. This is a great weekly site to use as the students study for the tests I give them. I give tests after chapters 1, 2/3, 4/5, 6, 7, 8a, 8b, 9, and 10 in the �Now You're Talking�, 5 th edition. Basically, once we've covered enough text to cover 50+ questions worth of material, I give them a 50 question random test on the material just covered. I also give a ½ way exam when we covered 250+ of the 511 total question pool for the Technician license. These 50 question tests usually take about 20 minutes, allowing me the remaining ½ of the class time to cover new material.

I have the entire course prepared as a set of power-point slides. On the slides where a statement is written that directly pertains to a test question, I have the test question in parenthesis listed on the slide. I might one day link the actual test question to the parenthesis test number, to pull the test question up immediately with the slide. This is just a thought for now.

I have a SmartBoard up front in my classroom now. It is a touch-sensitive 4x5 foot board that I project the computer image onto. I can touch the screen just like my hand is a mouse. I can pick up �pens' and write on the board electronically, to circle key items, etc. I can simply have a blank computer display on the screen and use the empty board for doing all my writing. Easing is done by a simple touch of the board � no dust!

I ordered a total of 40 General study books from the ARRL, for the students who wish to work toward Element 3. I give strong extra credit for passing this element, and even more extra credit for passing the 5 wpm. I hope to get some past the Element 1 this year, since I want to be competitive in the School Club Roundup, and need students with their HF privilege, which is General class and above. Additional extra credit can be achieved by participating in the School Club Roundup, or going to local amateur radio club meetings, participating in public service events using amateur radio, or making additional radio contacts.

I am encouraging the students to apply for some of the many scholarships listed through the ARRL. Hopefully, one of my students will get one. We have an assembly at the end of the school year to honor the scholastic achievements of our students. I hope to have one of my students gain a scholarship, and go forward for recognition. I'd like then to have all those in the school body stand who have their amateur license. With 600 students in grades 9-12, we'll see almost 100 of them stand up in the auditorium at the end of this school year. That should look impressive. One in six students at Trinity HS will have their amateur radio license. Awesome!

At Back-to-school night, I meet with all my student's parents for about 12 minutes. I explain my curriculum to them, and show them our equipment. I reference VOIP articles from Money Magazine, etc., to show them how Echolink has been on this cutting edge. I had a parent come up to me this past October and ask if he could take my class! I make a quick contact, usually Australia (about as far away as you can get) on Echolink. My random contact with New Zealand this past year actually had the guy know me! He recalled my students project on Echolink from last year. I could not have planned his accidental comments better. He was looking forward to more students this year. I told him how my students like the English speaking countries like Australia , New Zealand , and England . I like to be daring and try countries I have to look up on a map!

The International Space Station is equipped with amateur radio equipment. A program called ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) exists to get schools to make contacts with the ISS. The waiting list is almost two years long. But since the crews all have amateur radio licenses, and they have free time to read books, listen to music, and even get on the amateur radio equipment, some lucky random amateur radio operators get to talk to the astronauts on NA1SS, the ISS. We've listened to the ISS frequency when it has flown overhead and heard amateurs conversing through the equipment, but we have not (yet) contacted an actual astronaut.

By teaching amateur radio at the beginning of the school year, it allows me to get the students to use their license on the equipment at school. I feel responsible for them as their Elmer. I want them to get off to a good start, and have me available to answer any of their questions. At the end of the school year, I have them all research their college or university of choice that they are going to attend and find their amateur radio club. For those seeking other endeavors, I have them simply research an amateur radio club in the city where they will be living after graduation. I want to be sure that I'm turning them over to another Elmer.

Their culmination project of 30 contacts really pulls it all together. The students are a little skeptical at first, with these random conversations with people they don't know. But they quickly come to realize the �family' that our amateur radio community really is. The students are at a very competitive age in their life, where they are seeking out who they are and competing for scholarships and college entrance. Amateur radio is such a refreshing academic course, because every licensed amateur radio operator, in every country, seems willing to help the students.


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