Posts Tagged ‘teaching.’

School Daze

A daze, that's what it was.

Last night was the second session of our eight week Technician class license class. I think some of our seventeen students walked out of the building with dazed expression on their faces. And I guess that's to be expected right now, as we're out of the introductory "This is Amateur Radio" feel-good fluffy part and we're now into the heart of the course, which is basic electricity and components and all the good stuff.

The concepts of current, resistance, voltage were easily digested by their inquiring minds. The concepts of capacitance, inductance, reactance and impedance? Not so much. But Marv K2VHW and I broke it down into the simplest "lay terms" that we could and I am pretty confident that they have a basic, rudimentary (if not shaky) understanding of the concepts.  I am trying pretty hard to find "real world" equivalents that they can relate to, so these concepts don't totally fly over their heads.

I have to admit that back in Ye Olden Days, when I was studying for my Novice license, I wore the very same expression on my face when I left those sessions each Tuesday evening in October and November of 1978.

If you have no concept of electricity and electronics, it CAN seem daunting. But if our students do the required reading, and maybe even do a little Googling on their own, they will have that "Aha moment!" when it all comes together.

As a class, they have several things going for them. The first is that our young students are whizzes at note taking.  While Marv is handling the teaching part of a segment, I try to keep an eye on our charges, to watch facial expressions and such.  The younger students have their highlighters and pens going at warp speed, taking notes and marking pertinent paragraphs and sentences in their license manuals. The older adult students are no slouches, either.  But there's one important difference - their facial expressions are more telling.  While the "kids" are sponges, absorbing all this stuff, every now and then, I will see one of the adults screw up their faces as if to say "What?!?"  It's at that moment when I will try to pause things for a bit and try to interject an example or some such thing that they're familiar with that brings the concept home to them.

The important thing that we try to stress as much as we can (without beating them over the head with it) is that they HAVE to do the required reading homework.  This way, we can answer any questions on any sticky points that they might have. We also give them the reading material that will be covered in the next week's lesson, so that they're not walking into the material blindly.

These two weeks will probably be the very hardest of the eight week class.  Electrical concepts and components last night. And next week, electronic and basic radio circuits.  After that, we'll get into "the good stuff" - propagation, antennas, operating procedures, setting up a station, etc.  That material is probably more in line with what they expected when they were signing up for an Amateur radio course.

I will make it my business during this coming week to make up a handout with some Internet sources that they can refer to in order to make the "meat" that they were fed last night just a little more palatable.  As any licensed Ham knows, this is an ongoing process that doesn't end with passing the test. In fact, it's just the very beginning.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Radio Scouts

radio_lgRadio Merit Badge Requirements

I was cleaning up the shack on Friday. Unfortunately, the shack becomes a dumping ground for “stuff” that I think I may need at some point in the future. I have a bag of RS232 serial cables. Probably have at least a dozen. 75 ohm TV coax cable and splitters. POTS (RJ-11) two and four wire extension cords. A collection of Palm Pilots with a multitude of accessories. I don’t think any pf the Palm Pilots work anymore. A vast cornucopia of audio cables and connectors. A box of WiFi routers. Computer keyboards. Etc. Etc.

So, I was cleaning and organizing the “stuff” when I just happen to come across a station calling CQ on 40M. “CQ CQ 40 Meters, CQ Boy Scouts, Boy Scouts, this is KD0VMM”. That definitely got my attention. After a short QSO I figured out that these were Scouts from a camp about an hour north near St. Joseph, MO called Camp Geiger and these Scouts were working on their Radio Merit Badge. I continued to monitor the Scout’s QSOs until I heard a bugle blare in the background. The Merit Badge Counselor got on the air and explained the bugle (which had just blown at the top of the hour) signaled an end to that hour’s Merit Badge class. Additionally, there was another Radio class that was just beginning and the Scouts would be back on the air in about 20 minutes. Sure enough, this was the case and I was able to talk to another Scout. After an email exchange with Bruce, owner of KD0VMM, he explained that another group of Scouts would be back on the air next Thursday and Friday as they were finishing up their requirements for the Radio badge.

How cool having a Scout camp offering the Radio Merit Badge! I attended Scout camp many a summer as well as even being a counselor one year, but the Radio badge was never offered as a merit badge that could be earned. What a great opportunity to introduce Scouts to radio!

Wireless-1923After a bit of research, it was interesting to see that back when the badge was created in 1918 it was called the Wireless Merit Badge. Then in 1923, it changed names to the current Radio Merit Badge. Requirements for the badge has evolved over the years… and most recently in 2009.

What I didn’t ask Bruce, KD0VMM, was if the Scouts had the opportunity at camp to earn the Morse Code Interpreter Strip. The Morse Code Strip is a fairly recent edition to Scouts and can be earned by:

  • Carrying on a five-minute conversation in Morse code at a speed of at least five words per minute.
  • Copying correctly a two-minute message sent in Morse code at a minimum of five words per minute. Copying means writing the message down as it is received.
  • Sending a 25-word written document in Morse code at a minimum of five words per minute.
  • Boy’s Life, the Boy Scouts of America’s monthly periodical, recently put up a web application called the Morse Code Machine. Looks like fun!

    … as a final note, don’t forget about the Boy Scout’s Jamboree-On-The-Air (JOTA). This event occurs annually during the third weekend in October.

    The Times They Are a-Changin’

    My intent for this blog is to serve primarily as a notebook – a place where I can capture important details concerning my amateur radio activities and then refer back to them if needed. This includes interesting websites, hamshack successes and failures, equipment settings, as well as plans for the future. Occasionally the subject matter on the blog opens a bit broader… beyond amateur radio .

    The cliche about some long time hams of having life “take over” at some point in a ham career is a cliche for a good reason. Sometimes the balance tips and radios are put on the backshelf. I’m at a mid-life career transition point, retiring from the military and moving into “the next phase”. Plan A is to become an elementary school teacher. None of my previous academic work really supports this transition and despite popular misconceptions, in the state of Kansas… you can’t just show up and say “Hey, I’d like to be a teacher!” It is actually a somewhat difficult process. Fortunately a nearby university has a well respected program that I am not too far from completing. The program is time intensive (this semester I am taking 13 credit hours… while working full-time). This is my last semester behind the desk. I start my retirement transition at the end of December and in January I start student teaching.

    One of the great aspects to the program I am in is that I get plenty of time inside elementary grade classrooms so I have a clear idea of what I am getting into. Over the last 12 months I have had the opportunities to visit numerous classrooms seeing various grade levels and teaching styles. It is great going into this transition with my eyes wide open.

    However, this educational experience (along with work) has been time-intensive. My time in front of the radio (or submitting blog entries) has been seriously limited. The hamshack has become somewhat of a dumping ground (for my other hobbies of O gauge model trains and 80′s arcade games) and only recently was I able to did a path out from the door to the operating desk. My goal is to adjust the balance just a bit and spend a little more time with the radios. We’ll see how it goes.

    QRP and Frustration

    One of the biggest caveats that’s always mentioned to potential QRPers is what I like to call the “frustration factor”. All the QRP “how to” books bring this up. I’ve read them, you’ve read them …… I’m sure you’re familiar with all the bug-a-boos:

    “Hams new to HF should never start out using QRP.”

    “QRP is difficult, don’t expect much success.”

    And my favorite – “Never call CQ using QRP.”

    In my personal and most humble opinion, these statements, if they are taken as absolute truisms or rules of thumb, are pretty much hogwash.

    But rather than refute these, or dwell on the negatives, I would like to accentuate the positives. If you’re new to the QRP game or are perhaps thinking of dipping your toe into low power waters, you SHOULD do several things to maximize your chances for success.

    DO put up the best antenna that you can. A tower and beam are the best, if you have deep pockets and plenty of property and an understanding wife. If you’re like the rest of us mere mortals, that will probably mean dipoles, verticals or whatever. If you can, put them outside and put them up as high as circumstances permit. If you install a ground mounted vertical (not a bad choice) lay down as many radials as you can. If you’re stuck in HOA Hell, attic dipoles have yielded success. Magnetic loops, either home brewed or commercially built, such as the Alex Loop have saved the bacon of many covenant restricted Hams.

    But whatever the case may be, just remember a quote that my friend Chris KQ2RP recently reminded us all about in his blog. To quote K2TK, “A poor antenna has infinite gain over no antenna”. In other words, while a better and higher antenna will maximize your QRP experience, ANY antenna is better than none. However, if you’re reduced to loading up your mattress boxspring, then you had better lay in a supply of Advil. Do whatever you can to put up the best aerial you can under your circumstances. This is not the place to skimp.

    DO use the full “QRP Gallon”, which is the full 5 Watts for CW or 10 Watts for SSB, if you’re just starting out. While Rockmites and other flea powered radios do a great job, save QRPp for after you’ve gained some experience. QSOs made with less than a Watt ARE a heckuva lot of fun, but if you’re a QRP Newbie, save them for later.

    DO make use of the various tools available to you. Reverse Beacon Network is one of these. Not only can you use RBN like a Cluster, to see who is on and who is calling CQ, but you can use it to gauge your own performance. Not getting any answers to your CQs? Check out your own call on RBN to see where and how you’re being heard. You can also use RBN to compare one antenna against another. I did this to check out my vertical vs. my wire on 80 Meters one Autumn evening last year. I picked a lonely, deserted frequency and called CQ with one antenna for about five minutes, and then switched. By going to RBN, I was able to see how (roughly) how one did against the other.

    And while we’re talking about calling CQ, go right ahead and call CQ if you want to. Odds are you will be heard by someone, somewhere, depending on propagation. Many times, when a band has seemed dead, I have called CQ and have been answered, and have had great QSOs. I see no reason on God’s green Earth why calling CQ should be limited to those running power.

    DO jump into the DX pileups! This will give you experience, which will be your greatest teacher. Getting on the air, making QSOs, and experimenting with antennas, participating in the QRP Fox hunts will teach you more than any Website, book, or Elmer. Getting your hands dirty and learning “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em” will make you a veteran QRP op in no time. But remember, then it will be YOUR time to share what you have learned with those who come after you.

    72 de Larry W2LJ
    QRP – When you care to send the very least!

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