The N3GO Radio Workshop
The Radio Workshop project, the biggest I've ever
attempted, has finally been completed, and I'm happy to convey that it was
an extraordinary success far surpassing my expectations. The effort
required, far exceeded my plan, but I was committed, motivated, and
energized by the support of teachers and the energy and spirit of the kids
who participated. The students, school staff, and myself, and even my
employer IBM, who so generously funded the project, all benefited from our
It was intended to be a simple
and leisure extra-curricular exercise!
Background & History
The workshop began as a National Engineers Week project
proposal to Clayton Middle School for involving a group of "At Risk"
students in a hands-on electronics prototyping exercise. I designed a
simple Shortwave Regenerative Radio Receiver which can be built in 3 or 4
hours that would mimic the breadboard style developed by early radio
enthusiasts. Transistors were employed rather than tubes for cost,
simplicity, efficiency and safety.
Every effort was made to embrace the elements that motivated our
radio pioneers. Performance, simplicity, and low cost were the sought after
features. Paralleling their model, readily available hardware, was used
everywhere possible. A regenerative receiver architecture was chosen for
it's simplicity, high performance and low parts count.
The circuit schematic was appropriately sized, and
utilized as an
assembly guide. Circuit nodes were highlighted to illustrate component
connection points. Nails were used to secure and terminate the components
on a wooden base, aptly chosen to simulate true "breadboard"
while avoiding the use of solder.
See attached files:
A step-by-step assembly procedure was produced in
Freelance to aid as
a classroom slideshow presentation. Each assembly step was highlighted, and
tests were devised at meaningful breakpoints to serve as periodic
opportunities to validate their progress. These test milestones also served
to keep the students motivated by revealing limited function, and
increasing levels of performance as they were nearing the end goal.
See attached files:
Assembly at Test
Project Scope and Target Student Participants
A project designed to reflect work skills needed in
tech world was proposed to enlighten and motivate "At Risk" students,
stimulate their desire for education.
Those who are college bound benefit from the support of Industry
during National Engineers Week. Those who march to a different drummer are
termed "At Risk", and often isolated from their more studious peers.
educational pursuits are channeled more toward life survival skills and
away from academics.
At risk students who participated in the radio workshop were selected
for 4 primary reasons:
The workshop required a contiguous half day to complete, and their
schedules accommodate this model.
These students lack the support and discipline for college bound
careers, but with suitable motivation, encouragement, and training,
develop the skills required of technicians.
As a group, these students are often short-changed on
opportunities. They are infrequently involved with the student body
activities that explore their constructive abilities, and natural
These students are challenging, but inadequately challenged.
After weeks of preparation, design prototyping, last
performance enhancements, counting and sorting of components, fabricating
custom assemblies, breadboards, and mounting brackets, pre-soldering wire
leads to jacks and controls, identifying and gathering tools, and
negotiating schedules; I was as ready as I was going to be.
Coordination of the Radio Workshop was through Mrs. Laura Pipkin of
Clayton Middle School NC. She and Ms. Pam Biggs were the two supporting
faculty. Two sessions were scheduled (April 5, and April 11) with 8 and 15
students respectively participating.
See attached files:
The result was an unqualified success
Both sessions spanned approximately 5 hours of the school
all students reaching approximately 80 percent completion. A make-up date
was scheduled (May 14) to provide the students an opportunity to complete
their project. All but two accurately followed directions and were
successful without any significant setbacks. Those two had only minor
issues related to component labeling. These errors were easily detected and
guarantee a lasting impression, success isn't an option....
students were successful...,
.....and each were presented certificates of
achievement at the end-of-year awards assembly conducted for the entire
student body. The certificate, and their radio, were sent home with the
students to enable them to share their accomplishment with family and
friends. A short description of the project was provided to assist the
students toward obtaining parental support and encouragement. It describes
the Radio Workshop project, and attempts to highlight the significance of
the student's achievement as well as the goal of stimulating their desire
See attached files:
Our view of the work of our peers is often clouded in
For the pay received; teaching is truly a labor of love.
This project was personally rewarding on many fronts. It
enabled me to
exercise my engineering skills, share the passion of my radio
communications hobby, and create a fun and unique educational experience
simulating the workplace, for a group of students who have not been
inspired to value education. The effort was enlightening as well as
enriching, and allowed me to discover and experience a number of important
lessons as well. Some were subtle, and not surprising, while others were
quite revealing. Among them are:
An activity performed casually in 1.5 hours, expanded to 3 hours to
allow for coaching, is insufficient time for an audience of more
one. This is particularly true when there is only one coach.
Practice/dry-run prototyping is essential. I would have failed
had I overlooked this. Missing tools, unordered supplies, and many
errors in the instructions were all averted by testing the final
Budgeting lacks accuracy until all of the bugs are worked out of
process. I ran over budget by approximately 20 percent due to
unanticipated extras such as safety glasses, batteries, and an
for spares to cover breakage and losses during assembly. Fewer
participated than projected, and this careless oversight wasn't a
Attempting to develop, coordinate, and execute on a mission of this
without assistance can quickly become overwhelming. It could have
considerably smoother had I recruited the support of 3 or 4 support
Relying on the school's staff for assistance is unreasonable. They
require training to become effective coaches, and their jobs extend
beyond classroom instruction.
Activities of 3 or 4 hours duration require occasional and regular
breaks. The students are conditioned to breaks every hour, and not
running 5 or 6 hour marathons now common in the workplace.
Coordinating activities that require more than 1 or 2 hours of the
student's participation is complicated by their regular class
Nor do all participating students share a common schedule.
Coaching an activity that's new and foreign to the audience
great deal of one-on-one support. The level of effort is very near
required to perform each of the tasks independently on my own.
Enthusiasm wanes quickly if signs of progress aren't evident. The
milestones were quite beneficial at rejuvenating interest,
It's easier to control a classroom when the pace is fast. This is
support volunteers would most benefit the process.
School teachers are grossly underpaid.
My wife is a patient and tolerant if not understanding person.... a
lesson I re-learn each time I embark on the path of following my
Persistence and commitment can often
lead to big rewards.
It's often said that problems can be transformed into
and the string of scheduling delays, though somewhat problematic, clearly
Follow- on and benefits
The Raleigh Amateur Radio Society held their
annual hamfest at the NC
State Fairgrounds on Sunday April 8, 2001. I entered the prototype
the receiver I designed in the "Home-brew" contest, and
presentation toward it's application as an educational workshop for
middle school students. I walked away with the first place cash
$50.00. There were several competing entries, and my entry
won on it's
merit toward promoting interest in "home-brewing" among
our youth, and
in our schools.
The annual "Hamvention" in Dayton, Ohio was held the
weekend of May
18-20, 2001. This "COMDEX" of amateur radio, is attended
by thousands of
amateur radio enthusiasts and every major amateur radio
supplier around the world. This led to another first place design
contest win in the "School Projects" category, and
recognition for myself as well as for IBM as my sponsor. This
has generated much interest, and I've since been recruited by QRP
(Amateur Radio Club International) to document and contribute my
for distribution among schools, and scout troops worldwide under a
proposed joint sponsorship of QRP ARCI and the ARRL (American Radio
Relay League). The ARRL is the lobbying voice for amateur radio
operators in the US on issues relating to license privileges, and
frequency allocations coordinated by the FCC, and the ITU.
Delays encountered in the resolution of student and teacher
conflicts slipped completion of the radio workshop to the end of
academic year. This became a fortuitous timing opportunity for the
participating students. An annual awards assembly is held at the
each school year to recognize special achievements by members of
student body. At Risk students rarely participate in these
but their successful completion of the Radio Workshop became an
opportunity for special recognition of their accomplishment. I
this opportunity by designing personalized Certificates of
for each student. These Certificates were presented during this
assembly by Mrs. Pipkin who coordinated the Workshop on behalf of
Clayton Middle School.
Thank you IBM, and Clayton Middle School, NC , for
supporting me on this
project. It was an "Engineering Refresher", and an experience I'm
needed. Since I can now safely conclude that I didn't bite off more than I
could chew, I will admit I did over indulge a bit. On the other hand, I can
also proclaim (at least metaphorically).... "A Fat Camper is a Happy
Network Products Applications
If you are interested in the Radio Workshop Project,
please email Gary at