Children and teens from ages 6 to 16 tried their hand at Morse code recently with ham radio operators at the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge, learning to communicate on amateur radio as they also participated in celebrating the 100th birthday of the country’s national parks.
Jim and Ronnie Bogard, both amateur radio operators with FCC licenses, welcomed children on a recent Sunday to the museum’s Discovery Lab, where they had set up portable radio equipment and a mobile antenna. Jim Womack (KC4RD) also set up an amateur radio station in the museum’s Living Light Solar House.
“We focus on Morse code, teaching the children to key, so they can send messages. It is like a secret language to kids,” said Jim Bogard (KY4L). “Kids will hear two-way Morse code contacts from all over the U.S. and can have fun sending their names in Morse code. There are also opportunities to talk on the microphone with other amateur radio stations.”
Amateur radio operators will be at the Children’s Museum’s Discovery Lab from 1-4 p.m. each third Sunday of the month. The last session was September 18. An operator will also at times set up a radio station in the Living Light Solar House. Other special third Sunday activities at the museum include model trains and the Garden Railroad operated by the Knoxville Area Model Railroaders in the World of Trains exhibit, and tours of the Kids Go Green! Environmental Center and Garden and Solar House.
The radio operators and children at the museum are participating in “National Parks on the Air,” sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, an association for amateur radio operators, in recognition of the centennial of the National Park Service throughout 2016. Now that Oak Ridge is included in the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, amateur radio contacts from the city are considered contacts with a national park, Bogard said.
“The Children’s Museum is in an original Manhattan Project structure (originally an elementary school). That makes it a more interesting radio contact,” he said of the year-long effort encouraging ham radio operators to communicate from national parks.
While Jim showed children how to tap their names in Morse code, Ronnie encouraged children to spell their names in Morse code and gave them Morse code coloring sheets.
Ronnie Bogard (KD4ZDR), a member of the Children’s Museum board, said Jim first brought up the idea of ham radio at the Children’s Museum. She said she was excited about it as a great learning experience for kids, as well as something fun to do at the museum.
“Jim is an extremely accomplished amateur radio operator,” she said. “He has loved the part of this that is about science. When you study to get your license, you have to learn how this works. This is a great way to teach kids about science and have fun at the same time.”
“This dovetails very nicely with STEM education—science, technology, engineering, and math,” Jim Bogard added.
“This is a great partnership between the Children’s Museum and the amateur radio community, and it highlights the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park,” said Beth Shea, the museum’s executive director. “This partnership also has the potential to bring more STEM activities into our classes and summer camps.”
Bogard brings emergency “go” kits, small enough to carry in his car, with the equipment necessary to set up the amateur radio station at the museum, noting that modern electronics has reduced the size of station components needed.
He has assisted with emergency communications during tornados in the region. The Bogards belong to the Oak Ridge Amateur Radio Club, and many of the club’s members train to respond in emergencies.
The Children’s Museum is at 461 West Outer Drive in Oak Ridge, and it is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday; and from 1-4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, see the website at www.childrensmuseumofoakridge.org or call (865) 482-1074.
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