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Report on Echo in the Middle School Classroom


After two mornings of teaching a total of three 50min classes, I can say
that a presentation based around AMSAT activities (and Echo specifically)
works very well at the 6th grade level. However, the students were already
engaged in a science curriculum regarding basic aeronautics, astronomy and
planets, and they were about to discuss satellites to a greater or lesser
degree in the coming weeks. 

After an introduction to the idea of a satellite and their uses, the bulk
of my presentation centered around the design, building and
journey to launch of Echo. I'm afraid I pillaged Bill Greene's on-line
photo archive. (Students always love the one of Echo strapped into its own
seat aboard the plane to Kazakhstan.) 

Then I prepped them to listen to a short QSO between myself and David
EB4DEH, who kindly sent me a mp3 a year ago. For today's class I arranged
with a local ham to have them do an satellite-style contact over a local
repeater (giving callsign and gridsquare). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to
alert him that the schedule had changed. Nevertheless, the students were
interested by the repeater's response, and I could show that it was much
like the equipment on-board Echo.

Finally, I talked about some Cubesat projects, including Genesat and the
upcoming CanX-2, of special interested due to its Canadian origin.
Surprisingly, to me at least, Cubesats seemed to resonate with them. (My
daughter, who was in one of the classes, confirmed this impression by
listening in to later conversations.) I think their simplicity appealed, as
well as the fact that these were made by university students on a budget. 

I'd say these presentations went well, even though we never listened to a
satellite live. Something to consider if the technical challenges of doing
a live demo seem to daunting. In effect, your experience and enthusiasm
will carry the event. It should be said that I am a university professor
and used to working in the classroom (though my teaching is in the
Humanities). Nevertheless, this age group warms quickly to the guest
speaker and is easily impressed by the cool stuff.

While the teachers involved thanked me profusely, I think I should pass on
their gratitude to the AMSAT community for providing such an engaging basis
for education. And to think that they never even spoke over the bird!

I have some recommendations for AMSAT based on this experience. First, a
more extensive set of free-to-use educational diagrams would be very useful
and, I think, an excellent recruitment tool. They would probably find their
way onto Wikipedia and other places, with a reference to AMSAT. There may
be more than I think already available: the AMSAT website was briefly and
uncharacteristically unavailable when I was working on the presentation on
Sunday night. 

More ambitiously, I think we should consider establishing the
infrastructure for a network of Middle or High Schools clubs or classrooms
who are affiliated with the cubesat and APRS satellite initiatives and have
stations that feed them data. 

What sort of infrastructure? There's two important components I can think
of. To my mind what matters here from the school's and students'
perspectives is kudos, recognition from a larger group. If this is so,
CalPoly or some other institution could produce some certificates
recognizing Ms. Smith's class in Podunk Hollow, NB as a "Member of the
International Satellite Collective" or what-have-you. Make a website, and
list the participating schools for each year. Ms. Smith feels (rightly,
mind you) that she's done something to make her class part of the larger
world, and her school administration has something to brag about, too.
Participation would be determined by submitting telemetry, simple as that.

If the CAPE people are thinking of engaging local schools, they might
consider how much little greater effort it would take to globalize the
effort, seeding cubesat stations around the world. Bob's Navy lab would
also be a great place for this. 

The other component of such a job would be to streamline and automate the
collection and dissemination of telemetry. I'm working on a Jabber project
that does this; stay tuned for more.

73, Bruce
Sent via AMSAT-BB@amsat.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.
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