Friday 17 March 2023

Some of the events or activities we undertake are spontaneous (e.g. our kite supported antenna outings), others have become routine through repeated operation (e.g. our Mills, Lighthouses and Railways Special Events), some are a logistical nightmare (e.g. VHF Field Day, although the imposition of the Clean Air Zone in Bristol is making Lighthouses similarly challenging) and some events just fell together in a way no one would have anticipated (e.g. Airfields where our initial recce resulted in all of the arrangements being resolved in one visit!).

This event was different. This event needed planning, organisation and quite a lot of preparatory work. Why was this? Well, unlike all of the events listed above which are an excuse to get out and play radio, and perhaps talk to a few visitors who might be interested and generally have fun; this event was aimed at explaining amateur radio and demonstrating things to an audience of people who might never have heard of Amateur Radio. Above all we were in a primary school environment and were going to be “performing” with groups of Year 6 pupils.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, how did the South Bristol Amateur Radio Club come to be involved in a school event? Well, we blame Anna M7EPA, it was definitely Anna M7EPA’s fault, although she was egged on by Steve M1ACB, and in fairness we don’t really need much of an excuse to break out the radio equipment and show off the hobby! This all stated at National Hamfest in 2022. Anna M7EPA had previously met us during Lighthouses on the Air earlier in 2022 and we met up again at Hamfest where Anna M7EPA suggested we mount an event at her children’s Primary School. Steve M1ACB was also there and offered support from the RSGB with materials and activity suggestions. The original plan was that we’d try to do something with Southville Primary School that year, but as it transpired we couldn’t find a date that worked.

Penguin class send greetings messagesStudent receives SSTV

The event was, therefore, rescheduled to a more compatible time and tying in with British Science Week was an obvious move given how many STEM topics can be wrapped up in Amateur Radio.

Well before the event we met with the School to try to understand what they expected or could accommodate and determine what we could offer so that the activities and arrangements could be planned to fit around both the school environment and the available times. Due to individual commitments it was only possible for us to offer one day of activities and it was decided to limit this to the Year 6 pupils. Year 6 is the final year of primary education, pupils in this year are typically 11 – 12 years old and would be moving to secondary schools in the coming September.

Southville Primary School has 3 Year 6 classes: Penguin, Puffin and Pelican and it was agreed that each class would visit us for about 1hour 20 minutes or so with the first class joining us before morning break, the second between morning break and lunch and the third class joining us after lunch. The format of the period was roughly as follows:

  • A presentation about Amateur Radio by Anna M7EPA to the whole class. This introduced some basic concepts such as waves, as well as who uses radio and some fun things like the phonetic alphabet allowing the pupils to spell their names to each other phonetically.
  • The class was then split into 2 groups who undertook:
  • HF SSB Operations:
    • Half the group worked with Ken G4XCB operating the FT991 on HF SSB and passing greetings messages to other stations,
    • The other half of the group worked with Dan 2E0IGS, now M0KJF, to log the contacts and place stickers on a map of the places stations were worked
  • SSTV Activities:
    • Half the group worked with Kevin 2E0AWX to receive SSTV images sent across the classroom. Two different receiving methods were offered:
      • Simple audio coupling where the students held a handheld up to the internal microphone of a normal Android tablet running Robot36.
      • Direct cable connection from another receiver to a Laptop running QSSTV under Debian (Bullseye) with the Mate desktop.
    • The remaining half of the group were shown how to transmit SSTV using MMSSTV under Windows by Andy G7KNA.
  • We also had a number of PMR446 handhelds that the students found highly entertaining in use around the playground.

The SSB station used an 80m doublet antenna set up as an inverted vee in the playground. Although band conditions were less than ideal we made contacts around the UK and into Europe. The students were excited to speak with people from other countries passing greetings messages and learning something about other parts of the world even if this was just what the weather in Germany was currently doing!

SSTV ImageSSTV ImageSSTV Image

Sending pictures across the room was almost magical, with no wires, no internet, just some tones that could be heard on the handhelds any one of a selection of pictures that the students chose could be sent to their classmates across the room. The students selected the pictures and made the transmissions happen.

SSTV ImageSSTV ImageSSTV Image

Prior to the day’s activities, the pupils were encouraged to design a QSL card for the Special Event Callsign GB1SPS which was turned into an eQSL image where contacts made throughout the day will be confirmed.

More HF SSB ActionSocial Media Coverage

The day was challenging, and quite tiring it has to be said. But, it was also immense fun and really gratifying to see the children actively participating in the activities and clearly enjoying themselves, we must thank the staff of Southville Primary School for allowing us to disrupt their usual routine and for looking after us so well, the Deputy Head said:

Sorry, I didn’t manage to grab you at the end of the day…I just wanted to thank you and the team for a cracking day. The children were really engaged and enthused throughout. I spoke to some of them individually at lunch and they thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The club would like to thank Anna M7EPA and the following members who gave up their time to help with the event, in no particular order these were: Kevin 2E0AWX, Dan 2E0IGS (Dan is now M0KJF), Chris 2E0TBS for organising the support materials used on the day, Ken G4XCB and Andy G7KNA.