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Report on Demo. station at Tantramar High School

During the 15:30z pass on June 9, 2005, the gr. 12 Physics class at
Tantramar Regional High School in Sackville, NB Canada had the opportunity
to operate voice through Echo. I was the control operator, and I thought
the list might like a report on how the event went and what might be done
better next time.

To begin, though, I must thank most heartily the members of this list who
prepared for this event. A few of you might have heard the cheers that went
up from the gathered students each time someone mentioned Sackville or
Tantramar by name. One op. had prepared brief questions  about doppler and
other phenomenon -- it wasn't copied perfectly, but the students were
impressed: "hey, he's talking about PHYSICS!"

Ms. Mills, the teacher, provided me with the opportunity of meeting with the
class for an hour on Wed. to talk about satellites in general and to
prepare the students. I think this was critical to the experience: things
happen so fast with a LEO pass that nothing could be learned or enjoyed if
there isn't some understanding of what is going to happen.

I began with a light powerpoint presentation regarding Echo, its origins as
a amateur sat., its trip to Kaz. and launch. Then I talked about the two
bands used for voice comm. on Echo and we estimated the length of a dipole
for each of them. I showed them my homebrew crossbeam yagi and asked
which would be the 435 MHz antenna and which the 144 MHz one. I talked
about footprint and polar orbit, and then with Nova I showed them the path
of Echo during the pass we were going to catch.

With 25 students in the class and the demo taking place during lunch, we
figured on about 10 students participating. I broke them into five teams:
communications, antenna pointing, logging, yagi experiment and aos/los
experiment. I made sure everyone in the comm. team had a chance to hold and
talk into the TH-D7A and gave them a work sheet on the phonetic alphabet; I
got the antenna pointing group to swing the antenn around appropriately.

On Wed. we met at lunch and walked up to highest, clearest point on school
property, gathering friends and interested folk along the way.  When the
static could be heard to become more quiet and the pointing  was in place,
the QSOs began. I'm sorry I don't have the log (and it's in a  bit of rough
shape), but Ottawa, suitably enough, was first, then many QSOs in the
states. A report from NY brought quite a cheer: the Empire State is exotic,
I suppose! 

I think the students very much enjoyed themselves. Partly, this was the the
thrill that I think many of us have wherein all the sciences, geophysical
and of radio, come together to make communication possible. Partly, it was
because they had the sense of being in a place of importance.

Things I would do the same:

1. Let the students do the work. I was so tempted to take over the mike and
finish the broken Q's, or to grab the antenna and point it for better
reception, but now that it's over I'm glad I didn't. 

2. Work when Echo is in high power mode. This was just blind luck, but
given the inexperience of everyone involved, QRO compensated very nicely on
a max. 28 deg. pass.

3. Let the list know about this ahead of time: thanks again  for those who

Things I would do differently:

1. I would consider assigning two or three experienced and powerful
stations to be on the other end for the whole pass. Quite reasonably,
people started running QSOs when our operator found herself at a  loss for
words, and it
was hard for her to know when to jump in and get back on centre stage. A
designated station could make it easier to hold the channel, as it were,
and it would make experiments easier to conduct. (With the numbers on hand
and the fast pace, we didn't get around to the experiments.)
2. It would be great if the comms. team members had had a chance to operate
in ham communications before AOS. I should have set up a conversation on a
local repeater during the class time I had. I'd prepared a cheat sheet, but
there's nothing like opening one's mouth. 

3. With a bit of creative wiring, the audio could have been improved. I
worked half-duplex,  removing the considerable fun of hearing one's own
voice (or that of the operators), and probably making doubling more likely.
As Steve, WI2W, wrote me in email:

"I suppose the "ideal" setup would include two headset/mics (one for you
and one for the guest op) and an external speaker for the group all
connected at once. This would require some creative wiring for sure."

Any two of the above would be better. Perhaps someone can patch in a pair
of battery-operated amplified speakers during kids' day and let us  know
how it works. I was maybe overly concerned about feedback. 

Finally, a pitch to all of you: this all started one day when I happened 
to be walking  by the High School and dropped into the office on a whim.
Perhaps not all schools have an administration and science faculty as
receptive as ours, but I bet most would jump at the opportunity.  I think
Echo is an amazing teaching tool; SuitSat will be an amazing teaching tool. 

73, VE9QRP
Bruce Robertson, Acting Head
Dept. of Classics, Mount Allison University
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