An Amateur Radio-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiative at an Arizona elementary school culminated on May 22, as youngsters competitively deployed their own radio-controlled rovers to explore a simulated planet set up in the Sonoran Desert. Following in the footsteps of NASA scientists, 25 pupils at Bouse Elementary School — several already holding ham radio licensees — took part in the APS Arizona Rover Project, which is aimed at promoting STEM subjects through Amateur Radio and preparing young participants to earn an Amateur Radio license.
“It was awesome!” said Dave Anderson, K1AN, the president of My La Paz, which sponsored the project in cooperation with Arizona Public Service (APS) and community volunteers. The non-profit My La Paz promotes health, education, and community in La Paz County. “The youth all had the chance to explore the artificial planet, the event was well attended, and the radio links for remote control and video were rock solid.”
The APS Arizona Rover project was part of a 5-month-long in-curriculum education program at Bouse Elementary that Anderson hopes to expand to other schools in La Paz County.
“Its primary goal was to lift up and inspire the youth into science and learning via instruction and exploration of radio science, Amateur Radio, and space research,” Anderson told ARRL. “The goals of the program were to deliver science instruction that met and exceeded Arizona Common Core educational guidelines and to help the youngsters prepare to attain their Amateur Radio licenses.”
Anderson said 23 students got their Technician licenses while also learning and developing electronic circuits, breadboarding, and more within the school day.
Leading up to launch day, participants were challenged to complete different missions using only Amateur Radio technology for remote control, data, and video feeds. In a matter similar to what the Mars Rover scientists do, the students had to complete these missions from a remote location without actually being able to see their robots. Rovers competed in several categories. These included completing specific objectives remotely from mission control and safely returning to their landing vehicle in an allotted time using only a computer interface with their Amateur Radio.
Anderson said first-place winners in their respective categories included Eliyah Jagroop, KI7IZL; Christena Baker, KI7WOI, and Savannah Holden.
Seven radio amateurs mentor in the youth-led Arizona Amateur Radio Association (AZARA). In addition to Anderson, they include Joe Lewellen, K7JEL; Daryl Duffin, NU7X; Neil Hays, W6FOG; Alexander Fulcher, N4SVD; Pat Delong, KD7KEL, and Heather Caton, W8GEM, an educator who teaches Amateur Radio in the schools as part of the curriculum.
A unique facet of My La Paz is its focus on Amateur Radio, Anderson said, because of what it can offer the county’s young people in sparsely populated La Paz County, where many families live at the poverty level. “In many ways, Amateur Radio has become the students’ first social media, since many of their homes have no computers or internet access,” he told ARRL. “It no longer matters where a youth lives or their family income; they can now participate in learning opportunities or making new social connections and friends via the Desert Amateur Radio network.” The number of students now licensed across La Paz County is approaching 100.
“The students of this generation are fascinated by space exploration and robotics,” Anderson said. “And the rover project provides a way to let them explore this with radio science and be inspired into learning while making science fun.”
Anderson said more information, including a rover block diagram, schematics, parts list/sources, and source code, is available on the AZARA website.
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