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Teaching Basic Electronics to 30 Kids – or, How I Spent My VTO Day

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As the current president of the Broward Amateur Radio Club, I normally volunteer on the weekends by providing public service radio communications for events such as bike rides and teaching the basic electronics to people interested in getting a HAM License. While most of my peers use Modernizing Medicine’s Volunteer Time Off (VTO) benefit for their kid’s school outings, since I don’t have children I instead answered the call sent out to the HAM Radio community asking for a volunteer to teach basic electronics to students at the Broward County Crime Commission summer camp. This was no ordinary summer camp. They transported the kids all over to SWAT, K-9 and other civic demonstrations to give them valuable experiences, plus fed them. I was going to have to step up my game.

I came prepared, with a presentation and a large TV (they had no overhead projector), as well as some science kits I had collected. The initial demonstration was very successful with batteries and lamps, interconnecting wires and demonstrated series and parallel circuits. The kids were interested and entertained. The science kits I used weren’t new so it was a challenge to get everything working – on three separate tables and at the same time. Next, I did a resonance and tuned circuit demonstration. It was a little over their heads, and the wheels started to come off my presentation train – some of the kids were still playing with the lamps and a couple were bored and started shorting out the batteries. One inquisitive participant kept asking questions – reminded me of myself a few years back. I left them with some Crystal Radio Kits that piqued their interest.

Next, I covered semi-conductors, microelectronics and computers, which got a mixed reaction. I showed off a simple timer circuit, complete with blinking lights. Everybody loves blinking lights. They knew what computers were, of course, but were less interested in how they were designed and built. I brought a new Raspberry Pi and showed that off. For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, the Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive computer about the size of a credit card. It plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. People of all ages and abilities can learn more about computing, plus gain basic knowledge about programming in languages such as Scratch and Python. It can do almost everything a desktop computer can – browse the Internet, play videos, create spreadsheets and other documents and play games. I gave a basic computer demonstration using the Raspberry Pi, but much to the kids’ dismay I didn’t bring any games for it. I showed off MIT’s Scratch programming language, but unfortunately the kids didn’t seem interested in programming. As fate would have it, the adult crowd included two Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Engineering interns, who I spoke with at length after the class. I had brought some older version Raspberry Pi’s to give away and since they were designed for the educational market, I saw to it that they went to good homes with the FAU students.

When it was over, I was exhausted. Keeping a large number of kids entertained is very hard work – I’m impressed by teachers who do this every day! Despite being a novice educator, I must have left a good impression, because they asked me back. For next year’s VTO day I’ll be sure to include MineCraft on the Raspberry Pi!