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2016-03-27. By Patrick.
Fig. 1. Patrick with some of the Enrichment Club students at the front of the school. The picture was taken during the few seconds it took for the kids to decide that they were ready.
This last Thursday we had our first Smith Middle School Enrichment Club ARDF session. We had beautiful weather. The timing for me to get to the school and setup the transmitters was about right. The equipment held up fine. And the kids had a good time. With just that, I would have called it a success. But the kids didn't just have a good time. They were super eager and worked hard at the challenge we presented.
We used our newly built 80 m transmitters, six of them. They were placed around the school grounds with orienteering control flags to mark their locations. The transmission frequencies, timing, and messages were as in a classic 80 m competition. There was a homing beacon always transmitting on one frequency. And there were five foxes transmitting on another frequency, each on transmitting for only one minutes. Three transmitters were placed where they could be seen from the front of the school. In the center was the homing beacon. On the left and the right were two of the fox transmitters. The other three foxes were hidden in woodsy areas around the school.
We only had eight receivers to loan out. So eight volunteers were chosen from the Enrichment Club to try out ARDF. And unfortunately, we had to turn away a bunch of students. We met at the front of the school where Kelly and I explained what ARDF was and what they were going to try today. Basically, the idea was to have them listen to our intro, try out the receivers on the transmitters they could see, and then go off to search for the hidden ones.
"Wow, that's really complicated," said one of the kids part way through the introduction. "Yes, this is really complicated," I agreed. Kelly and I only had one experience with ARDF and kids so far, the Avatar Club outing last year. That time, there had been only two low power transmitters to search for. Because they were low power and because we were not sure how well the kids would do, we placed them on one side of a trail and the kids were told which side. It had gone very well. Today we had better transmitters and were trying something much more ambitious. Kelly and I were ready to spend the rest of the time at the front of the school helping the kids figure it all out. We finished our intro and were waiting for the first questions as the kids fiddled with their receivers. We thought the questions would come right away because the kids had had the transmitters in hand for half the intro. But instead, the first thing we heard was "OK, let's go!" And the kids took off!
For a few seconds, Kelly and I just watched them go off, stunned. Where are they going? They can't possibly be read, can they? We decided that I would stay at the start to record return times, as we had said we would, and Kelly would walk around the school helping where needed. I figured I would find the entire group come back at the obligatory return time with one or two of the transmitters found. But just about ten minutes later, three kids came running around the corner of the school, running full speed toward me. They had found all three transmitters.
Overall, it was a perfect setup for the students we had and the limited amount of time. Some got through it super fast, some took most of the time to find all three, and some only got one or two. Even with the unanticipated mass start, the kids spread out very quickly as they chose different paths around the school and went at different speeds. With the early finish, Kelly ran over to the Enrichment Club maker space group. There she grabbed some of the kids that wanted to try out ARDF but for which we had no receivers. Our top finisher from the first group taught the class to these new students and then took them off to search for transmitters.
In general, the conclusions are as follows. In a middle school, there will be a group of students that will be eager and quick at understanding the principles of ARDF. The pool from which we drew was a maker space type Enrichment Club with self selected students. So these had the innate desire to figure out tech. Out of that group, the ARDF kids were also self-selected and had the inclination to be outside and do physical activity. We don't know the potential of the rest of the student body but we can tell there is a fair bit more interest than just the kids that got to try it out. I suspect this is as with all activities, some kids get interested right away, other see their friends doing something and then get interested. So, the limiting factors in getting kids into ARDF have nothing to do with building excitement or finding ways to explain complicated concepts in simple terms. There are plenty of excited kids and they figure it out as they go. For us and for a long time to come, the limiting factor will be the number of receivers we have to loan out.
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