In today’s world, STEM education is an essential part of preparing students for rapidly changing technological advancements. Radio is all around us, from our cell phones to wifi, and understanding it is important. Teaching amateur radio as part of STEM learning is critical and interesting.
Ham radio, also known as amateur radio, involves using radio equipment to communicate with other amateur radio operators around the world. Even though there are newer forms of communication, ham radio remains relevant and important for those interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
What is Ham Radio?
Ham radio, or amateur radio, is a fascinating and complex field that involves the use of radio equipment to communicate with other amateur radio operators around the world. Amateur radio is all about using radio waves to transmit and receive messages, whether for fun, experimentation, or emergency communications.
There are different ways to get involved in ham radio. You can build and operate a radio station, participate in contests and events, or conduct experiments and research. One of the missions of amateur radio from the FCC is to “contribute to the advancement of the radio art.”
Ham radio offers opportunities for learning and exploration. Whether you’re interested in tinkering with electronics, improving your communication skills, or simply making connections with other like-minded individuals, ham radio has something to offer for everyone.
Benefits of Ham Radio in STEM Education
Getting involved in amateur radio provides a wide range of benefits for students and educators in the STEM fields.
1. Develop Your Technical Skills
Ham radio provides students with an excellent opportunity to develop technical skills, as they learn about the equipment and technologies involved in radio communications. As you build and operate your radio stations, you will gain hands-on experience in areas such as electronics, circuit design, antenna theory, and signal propagation.
In addition, the technical challenges of amateur radio – such as interference reduction and optimizing transmission efficiency – can help students develop problem-solving skills that are valuable in many other technical fields. Some kids who started in ham radio have gone on to found major tech companies like Apple (Steve Wozinak) and Atari (Nolan Bushnell).
2. Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
Ham radio operators are often presented with technical challenges that require creative problem-solving skills. For example, they may need to optimize their antenna designs for maximum efficiency or troubleshoot interference issues that are disrupting their transmissions.
By learning to overcome these challenges, you can develop problem-solving skills that are valuable in a wide range of technical fields.
3. Better Communication Skills
Effective communication is a critical skill in many STEM fields, and ham radio provides an excellent opportunity to sharpen these skills.
Operators learn how to communicate effectively using limited bandwidth and other technical constraints, which can be valuable for students interested in careers such as journalism, public relations, or emergency response.
Additionally, by communicating with other operators from around the world, students can develop cross-cultural communication skills that are increasingly important in our globalized society.
4. Provides Hands-On Learning Opportunities
One of the most critical benefits of ham radio is the hands-on learning opportunities it provides. By operating a radio station, participating in contests and events, and collaborating with other operators, students can gain practical experience in the application of STEM concepts.
This type of hands-on learning is often difficult to replicate in a traditional classroom setting and can help to make STEM education more engaging, fun, and accessible! For instance, you don’t buy a ham radio station from your home from a kit, you choose the parts that make it work best for you. Radio, antenna, power, cabling, and safety all require unique decisions and play a role in your performance.
5. Encourages Scientific Curiosity
Ham radio encourages scientific curiosity and a love of learning. By exploring the fascinating world of radio waves and the many ways in which they can be used for communication and experimentation, students can gain a deeper appreciation for the wonders of science and technology, which can be extremely valuable for students pursuing a career in STEM fields.
It works both ways too, Dr. Joseph Taylor spent his days using weak signal radio options to listen to pulsars and won the Nobel Prize for Physics. He then turned his attention to weak signal ham radio for communication using the moon and meteors.
Ham Radio Activities for STEM Education
Many different activities in amateur radio can be valuable for STEM education.
1. Build and Operate a Radio Station
One of the most rewarding aspects of ham radio is building and operating your own radio station. While it may seem intimidating at first, it’s actually quite simple to get started.
Here are some steps to guide you through the process:
- Get your ham radio license from the FCC.
- Choose a radio transceiver (a transceiver is a transmitter and receiver in one unit) that meets your needs and budget.
- Select an antenna that is appropriate for the frequency bands you plan to operate on, based on your license level.
- Set up your radio station with appropriate grounding and safety measures.
- Learn the basics of radio operation, including proper etiquette and safety procedures.
By following these steps, you can have your ham radio station up and running in no time!
2. Participating in Contests and Events
Another great way to get involved in ham radio is by participating in contests and events. There are many different contests and events held throughout the year, ranging from short-duration contests to longer-term events.
These contests can provide a great opportunity to hone your radio skills, connect with other operators, and even win prizes.
Here are some resources to help you find contests and events:
- The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) maintains a comprehensive list of upcoming contests and events on their website.
- The Parks on the Air (POTA) group is an active cadre of hams who practice mobile radio operations from state and national parks. They are at parksontheair.com.
- Your local ham radio clubs and organizations may also hold their own contests and events, so be sure to check with them as well.
3. Try Fun Experiments and Research
Ham radio also provides a great platform for conducting experiments and research in the realm of radio communications.
For example, you could experiment with different antenna designs to see how they affect signal propagation or conduct a survey of radio propagation conditions at different times of the day or in different weather conditions.
By conducting your own experiments, you can gain valuable insights into the technical aspects of ham radio. One such event is the annual “Strange Antenna Challenge” where hams use anything metal to try and radiate a signal and make contacts. Ladders, crutches, street signs, and aluminum foil are all fair game.
You can also get involved in the HamSCI group, which is “Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation.” They work with universities to do crowd-sourced experiments related to radio. They are mobilizing hams to help explain how the ionosphere changes during an eclipse.
4. Communicate with Other Hams Around the World
One of the most exciting aspects of ham radio is the ability to communicate with other operators from around the world.
By using a variety of different modes and frequencies, you can make contact with other operators in foreign countries and learn about their cultures and experiences. This type of cross-cultural communication can be valuable for learning more about the world and environment.
Here’s an example of Ham Radio Prep instructor Jim – N4BFR – talking with a station 5,000 miles from home: How Far Can You Talk on Ham Radio?
5. Collaborate with Other STEM Enthusiasts
Finally, ham radio provides a great opportunity to collaborate with other people interested in STEM. Whether it’s through participating in a contest or event, joining a local ham radio club, or simply making contacts with other operators, ham radio can help you connect with like-minded individuals who share your passion for science, technology, engineering, and math.
By collaborating with others, you can learn from their experiences and come up with new ideas and insights. Here’s one example, every year college students get on the air to compete and see who can make the most contacts in a weekend. It’s called the Collegiate QSO party, and while it’s not the “Final 4” it’s a fun event we call radiosport.
Ham Radio in Schools and Colleges
Ham radio can also be valuable in formal education settings, such as schools and colleges. There are many schools and colleges around the world that have incorporated ham radio into their STEM education curricula.
Examples of Ham Radio Programs in Schools and Colleges
Some schools offer after-school ham radio clubs or electives, while others may have dedicated ham radio labs or facilities. Here are a few examples of schools and colleges that offer amateur radio programs:
- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has a dedicated Amateur Radio Society that offers a range of activities and events for students, just like other big tech schools like the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech).
- The University of Texas at Dallas has a student-run ham radio club that participates in contests and conducts experiments
- The STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado offers a ham radio program as part of its engineering curriculum
Benefits of Ham Radio in Formal Education
There are many benefits to adding ham radio into a formal education setting, such as:
- It can help to develop technical skills and problem-solving abilities, as students learn about the equipment and technologies involved in radio communications
- Can improve communication skills, as students learn how to convey messages effectively and accurately using limited bandwidth and other technical constraints
- Ham radio provides hands-on learning opportunities that can be difficult to replicate in a traditional classroom setting, as students build and operate their own radio stations and participate in contests and events
- Ham radio encourages scientific curiosity and a love of learning, as students explore the fascinating world of radio waves and the many ways in which they can be used for communication and experimentation
Integrating Ham Radio into STEM Curricula
If you’re an educator interested in incorporating ham radio into your STEM curriculum, there are many resources available to help you get started. One exciting example is the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program. ARISS pairs educators with an astronaut on the Space Station. This allows kids to ask questions about STEM and space exploration live via ham radio while the crew member passes over their school on the ISS.
This NASA video shows a 2022 contact with schools in the Caribbean.
Keeping an eye on Earth! 🌎
Students from the Caribbean and Central America had the opportunity to learn about natural disaster research and monitoring, as seen from the unique perspective of the @Space_Station. pic.twitter.com/EUOdBFjRxx
— ISS Research (@ISS_Research) March 7, 2023
Also, the ARRL offers a range of educational resources and curricula for schools and colleges, including lesson plans, activity guides, and certification programs.
In addition, Ham Radio Prep offers bulk pricing discounts for schools and groups looking to get licensed! Reach out to [email protected] to learn more.
By integrating ham radio into your STEM curriculum, you can provide your students with a unique and valuable learning experience that can help to prepare them for the rapidly-evolving technological landscape of the future.
How to Get Started in Amateur Radio
If you want to get started with ham radio, Ham Radio Prep provides you with a ton of free resources to help you!
1. Ham Radio License Requirements
To operate a ham radio station, you’ll need to get a ham radio license from the FCC. There are three different classes of ham radio licenses, each of which requires passing a different exam.
Image: Answer sheets used in Ham Radio Examinations
The entry-level license is the Technician class, which allows you to operate on a variety of frequencies using relatively low-power equipment.
To prepare for the Technician exam, you may want to consider taking our online course – Technician License Course, which provides comprehensive study materials, videos, and practice exams to help you prepare.
2. Ham Radio Clubs and Organizations
Joining your local ham radio club or organization can be a great way to connect with other operators near you, learn new skills, and also get involved in contests and events.
There are many different organizations around the world, ranging from informal groups of enthusiasts to larger, more established organizations. In the US, many hams get involved with the American Radio Relay League (ARRL): ARRL is the largest organization of amateur radio operators in the United States.
Other countries have their own amateur radio groups, like Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC), The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB), and the Japan Amateur Radio League (JARL).
Beyond national societies, you’ll find groups that focus on particular types of operating. This includes the Parks on the Air, HamSCI and ARISS groups we mentioned. Morse code aficionados, space weather fans, and high-altitude balloon enthusiasts are a few of the groups that gather in person and virtually as well.
3. Ham Radio Equipment and Tools
To get started with ham radio, you’ll need to have the right equipment. At a minimum, you’ll need a radio transceiver and an antenna, as well as various accessories such as a power supply, cables, and connectors.
There are many different types of equipment available, ranging from entry-level handheld radios to more advanced base station setups.
Some popular brands of ham radio equipment include Yaesu, Icom, and Kenwood.
As you can see, it’s simple to get started with ham radio and begin exploring the exciting world of radio communications.
Getting involved in amateur radio is an amazing way to level up your STEM education. From developing technical skills to enhancing communication abilities, ham radio offers a range of advantages for both students and educators.
If you’re an educator interested in incorporating ham radio into your STEM curriculum, there are many resources available to help you get started, including educational materials and certification programs. Additionally, Ham Radio Prep offers bulk pricing discounts for schools and groups looking to get licensed, making it easier than ever to get started with ham radio.
For students, ham radio offers a unique and exciting way to explore the world of radio communications and connect with other STEM enthusiasts from around the world. Students can gain practical experience in the technical aspects of radio communications, while also improving critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are valuable in many different areas of STEM.
Whether you’re a student or an educator, there are many resources available to help you, and we encourage you to get started with ham radio and level up your STEM education.