With those increased privileges to contact other amateur radio operators around the world, Martell’s enthusiasm has increased, so much so that he offers an elective class on ham radio at Henry County Middle School. Turning a personal interest and passion into a class is exactly what Assistant Principal Andy Buchholz had hoped would happen at HCMS.
"When we changed how our elective classes were scheduled three years ago, we did so with the intention of making these classes something that both the kids and teachers could get excited about and would enjoy doing with that time,” Buchholz said. “By doing so, we sought to increase the levels of rigor and engagement present in these classes."
In his ham radio class, Martell is leading new radio operators toward their first level of licensing, which requires the passage of an “amateur technician” test that students can take in December. Modeling continuous learning, Martell is also studying to take the “amateur extra” test at the same time as the students. The content for the tests is riddled with middle school science standards like understanding of analog and digital sound waves, basic principles of electronics and communications, Morse Code, and a number of math applications – all of which fit in nicely with providing students a class that is fun and interesting, but also full of science connections so they are also learning content.
“I told them in order to do all the fun stuff, you’ve got to know the material and prepare for the test,” Martell said of the 18-week class he hopes to transition into an after-school club. “The ultimate goal is to not have my enthusiasm for the club be the driving force, but rather the increase in achievement through hands-on learning and kids' enthusiasm take over once we hit a critical mass.”
At least one of Martell’s students doesn’t mind studying for the upcoming licensing test and says he confident he’ll pass. Eighth-grader Jackson Marshall said his experience with the class so far has been “incredible” and that one day he would love to have a radio of his own at home one day.
“With this class, I can get my technician license which can help me in a few jobs, but mostly I just think it’s really cool to talk to people in other states on a radio. Not too many people do it. It’s rare to find people around here who do it,” Marshall said. “I just think it’s really cool and interesting and I thought it would be a cool thing to get into.”
According to the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), amateur radio (ham radio) is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together. People use ham radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones. It's fun, social, educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need. One of the goals of ARRL is to increase the number of ham radio operators, something Martell hopes to accomplish through his class and club.
“I’d like to get at least two new licensees per year, and my hope is with all the new licensees, we can get the word out and visit classrooms. So when geography class is studying Europe, we can go and help them talk to Europe. When classes are doing their Titanic unit we can go in and talk about Morse Code. When the eighth grade is studying human impact, we can explain how radio waves changed the world,” Martell said. “The club will be instrumental in that because I want the kids to do the work and lead the instruction. Leadership is a big part of this.”
Martell’s class and the future club will get a boost if he receives an Education Station Grant from the ARRL, which would provide the needed equipment for a basic station start-up, valued at about $1,400. Right now the class uses Martell’s home radio and a temporary antenna.
“If we get the grant we will have some pretty nice equipment to help lure other students, and maybe even staff, into getting their licenses in the future and growing our club,” Martell said. “There have been a couple of schools recently around the country that have talked to the International Space Station by ham radio and it's an exciting experience.”