10 Years of Radio in the Classroom
by Andy Sennitt, 9 May 2003
In 1993, a newly qualified Canadian schoolteacher called Neil Carleton had a brilliant idea: he decided to use shortwave listening as a teaching aid. Through publicity on international broadcasts and in publications such as Passport to World Band Radio, Neil was able to make contact with other teachers around the world whom he inspired to start similar projects in their own schools
By means of a regular newsletter, The Shortwave Classroom, teachers were able to share ideas and information about using radio to teach geography, social studies and other subjects. The aim was to use shortwave broadcasts to familiarise the students with languages and cultures they might otherwise not encounter, and to give practical instruction in using shortwave receivers.
Ten years on, Radio in the Classroom is flourishing. A recent session took place at Naismith Memorial Public School, Almonte, in November 2002. Neil Carleton conducted a series of 45 minute workshops for students in grades 5 and 6 (ages about 10-12 years), using radio to travel the world. He writes:
“With the twist of a dial, or the push of a button, the 80 students in the workshop travelled by shortwave across time zones, oceans and continents to hear the voices and music of the world. We stopped along the way to listen to French, German, Spanish, different accents in English, as well as some unknown languages. At a few of our destinations we listened to pop, classical, Latin beat and Middle East music. The students learned to use a portable shortwave receiver with digital readout, along with a frequency chart of international broadcasts in English.”
A number of international broadcasters, including Radio Netherlands, have actively supported the Radio in the Classroom project by supplying station souvenirs such as mouse pads, stickers and pens as well as frequency schedules. We’ve also set up a special Web page exclusively for the students in Neil Carlton’s workshops so they can interact with the staff of our English department.
As well as using shortwave listening in regular classroom activities, Neil runs an after school shortwave listening club. In addition to international broadcasts, his students now also monitor the voice communications of space shuttle astronauts in orbit above the earth. In order to support his school’s application for a radio contact with the International Space Station, Neil studied for his amateur radio licence, and in the winter of 2001 was given the callsign VE3NCE. He now operates a 2 metre amateur radio station in his classroom.
On Friday 23 November 2001, astronaut Frank Culbertson, KD5OPQ, spoke from aboard the Space Station with nine youngsters at the McKenzie Public School in Almonte, only the second Canadian school to be so honoured. The contact occurred at 5.47 AM local time, so pupils planned an “astronaut-style breakfast” on the day of their contact. For his efforts in organising the event, Neil received a Teaching Innovation Award from the Upper Canada District School Board. The reward recognises teachers for their exemplary efforts and achievements in the teaching profession.
A number of the students became so interested in international broadcasting through Neil’s classes that their families purchased shortwave radios. Neil also has a few sets to loan out, and several receivers have been donated for this purpose.