STEM Night at Anne Fox Elementary School

The Schaumburg Amateur Radio Club (SARC) was invited to participate in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Night at Anne Fox Elementary School in Hanover Park on Thursday May 2nd.

Robert Benwutz at Anne Fox Elementary STEM Fair

Leo Ribordy (N9NBH), SARC Education Chair organized the effort and recruited Daryl Jenks (KB9RHR), Robert Benwitz (N9JAX), SARC Board Member, Bill Riess (KW9WR) SARC Board Member, and Dennis Calvey (KD9HIK), SARC Publicity Chair.  Bill was called away to assist in a disaster relief effort and was unable to attend.

Our objective was to introduce as many people – students, parents, and teachers – as possible to Amateur Radio, and hopefully encourage them to follow up.
We knew going in that we’d have a very short period of time to get people’s attention, and then only a few minutes to deliver the message.

Our setup included a large supply of hand out literature, giveaway pens, a 32” monitor running a slide show about Amateur Radio, two base stations with antennas, and a couple of straight keys connected to buzzers.

The event was staged in several school hallways and the gym.  SARC was assigned a tabletop in the gym.

Leo and Daryl had brought radios and antennas for demonstrations, but it was quickly determined that all we could get was noise.  HT’s were able to hit the SARC repeaters with difficulty.

Tough RF conditions – LED ceiling lights, built up steel deck roof, interior cinder block walls, no way to get an antenna outside, and to make matters worse, a storm outside and a Van de Graf generator demonstration about 25 feet away.

So, while we couldn’t use the radios, we were able to talk about them, and stuff that HAMs do on the air.

The big hit for SARC was Robert’s Morse Code demonstration.  Almost every kid that saw his straight keys asked what they were and that’s all it took.  He gave a brief history of Morse Code (The Original Text Messaging!), and then wrote their name, with the letters arranged vertically, on a piece of paper.  Then he showed them the classic dots and dashes for each letter.  A quick lesson with the key, and then he had them send their name.  They walked away with a souvenir – their name written in Morse Code – and the parents got a bunch of literature.

There’s really no way to gauge how effective we were, but we did learn some lessons for the next time:

  1. Monitors running a slide show are OK, but they’re not effective at drawing people in. We think radios connected to a monitor showing things like PSK Reporter would be better.
  2. Hands on stuff, like Robert’s Morse Code demonstration, are key (pun intended) to getting engagement.
  3. The next time we try this, we’ll ask if we can check out the venue for antenna placement in advance.

If you have any suggestions for a HAM related hands-on activity that we could use in the future, please let us know.  It must be a quick commercial, and cost is an issue.