January 2017: Bring the world into your classroom

Kathy's Katch

The overview of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) includes a three-dimensional framework that has students actively engaging in scientific and engineering practices, using these concepts across the scientific domains, and the inclusion of a focused core curriculum of instruction and assessments to ensure students attain the information they need to succeed.

One interesting method of communication, amateur radio, also referred to as ham radio, meets the criteria of a disciplinary core curriculum because of the many features and domains it involves.

  • Within the broad field of amateur radio, the inclusion of electronic circuits, transistors, filters, amplifiers, signal processing, study of the ionosphere, solar weather, communications systems, unit conversions, prototyping, and CAD design targets the physical sciences, earth and space sciences, engineering technology, and mathematics.
  • Amateur radio can be a key tool for communicating with others for collaborative purposes and learning, as well as for individual and group problem-solving
  • There are social applications of amateur radio, too. These radio networks are used for radio operators, as first responders, to report to agencies during emergencies and natural disasters and for local weather-spotting in conjunction with weather agencies. Amateur radio networks work when other traditional networks are down. Students also learn the skill of communicating clearly and concisely during a time of crisis, which is an important, life-long skill.
  • The teaching of the concepts and practice of amateur radio can be started simply, and then built-upon as the students get older.

Take a look at a part of a high school grant proposal which maps the use of amateur radio to the NGSS. And this page contains links to documents that tie amateur radio to various state standards across various disciplines.


There are many examples of amateur radio being used in schools all over the world and each of the projects has a different focus.

  • The Fox River Radio Club (IL) set up a program to get amateur radio into their local elementary schools. The national amateur radio organization, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), did a write-up of the rationale and process of the project. This would be a great place to start to learn more about partnering with a radio club in your area to get started. In addition, local and regional radio clubs often plan “Field Days”, which allow visitors to both observe and try radio communications with a licensed operator. Field Days are a great way to introduce students to the many aspects of amateur radio.
  • The Dorothy Grant Elementary School in Fontana (CA) has an Amateur Radio Club for students in grades 4 and 5. The goals of the club, as stated on their site, are to:
    • Promote community-wide understanding of amateur radio communications
    • Promote interest and proficiency in the use of amateur radio communications
    • Conduct activities and programs to advance the general interest and welfare of amateur radio in our community
    • Help students learn the necessary skills for obtaining an FCC license
    • Help students to enhance reading, writing, mathematics, geography and communications skills
    • Help students learn about electronics and radio communication techniques
    • Have fun with amateur radio

Watch the video below and learn more about their program.

  • The ARRL has put together a compilation of lesson plans both created by teachers and amateur radio instructors that teachers can download and edit to use with their students. The lessons and activities are broken into six categories– basic electronics, amateur radio, satellite communications, radio science, remote sensors, and MAREA (a robot). They also have a Radio Communications curriculum for students studying to attain their license.
  • The ARIIS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Space) project was created and is maintained by both amateur radio associations and world-wide space agencies.  This communications project allows students to speak directly to the crews on the ISS via amateur radio.
  • My son works for an amateur radio company, Remote Ham Radio, that allows amateur radio operators to use their computer or Chromebook via Internet to to get access to remote antennas and then go out over the airwaves. They have a youth project and a monthly contest for students who are FCC-licensed.


As part of a DES video series entitled Discovery History – 20th-Century Biographies: Scientists and Inventors, there is an introduction and timeline of the life and accomplishments of Guglielmo Marconi, the father of amateur radio. His invention of long-distance wireless was the first technology-based communication system. It forever changed personal and business dealings, industries such as purchasing and shipping, and was the precursor to more modern telecommunication, radio, and satellite radio systems.

In the DES video series Greatest Inventions with Bill Nye: Communication, Marconi, James Clark Maxwell, and Heinrich Hertz are credited with being the innovators that brought wireless communication to the masses.

Although fluency with Morse Code is no longer a requirement of the entry-level amateur radio license, students are fascinated with it! They love tapping out their name on their desk and learning how this method of communication is still used. There are even online Morse Code translators which can help students develop an “ear” for listening to Morse Code.

Discovery Education has activities, teacher-created boards, and video segments that include the study of Morse Code in their content for students at all grade levels. Some of these are illustrated below.

To learn more about students (and you) obtaining an FCC license, take a look at the ARRL licensing information page. If you already use amateur radio in your classroom, please share how you use it and any online material, images, or videos you have posted. Having an educational amateur radio network of K-12 students would be a lot of fun and bring the world into our classrooms!


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