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Students explore radio waves at Kids College

Justine Wettschreck/Daily Globe Worthington Police Officer Bob Fritz shows students how to use a radar gun Wednesday during Minnesota West Kids College 2010. Fritz is teaching a series of classes about wireless technology for seventh- and eighth-grade students.

WORTHINGTON -- Yesterday they clocked cars and found coins. Today they hope to contact the International Space Station. Just another day at Minnesota West's Kids College 2010.

Kid's College has classes that involve building rockets, bowling, archery and aquatic adventures for fifth- and sixth-graders; art, emergency response, aquatic gardening and psychology for seventh- and eighth- graders.

Each class has an emphasis on fun.

Over in classroom 115, Worthington Police Officer Bob Fritz had kids lighting light bulbs with radio waves and stepping outside to find coins with metal detectors. His series on wireless technology kept the students busy.

"Radio waves are everywhere," he explained.

An example of early radio wave technology saved 700 lives, he told the kids, launching into the story of the Titanic and the Morse code used to send out the SOS.

Traveling 617 million miles an hour, radio waves are used for communicating in a variety of ways.

"Radar is used by baseball players, airplane management, to forecast the weather and to catch big fish," Fritz stated.

For a little hands-on fun, Fritz took his group down to the lake with a special radar gun called a LIDAR -- LIght Detection and Ranging -- to see how fast the drivers were traveling on West Lake Avenue.

"Pull the trigger, look through the window, and it will show you how fast he's going," Fritz explained as a student gripped the radar gun.

Each student was offered the chance to try the gun, and Fritz offered a $5 gift certificate to whoever clocked the fastest car. Unsurprisingly, given the group of students standing next to the road, most drivers went by at or under the posted 30 miles per hour.

After each student had tried the radar gun on a moving vehicle -- one had actually checked the speed of an older sister who happened to drive by -- they headed back toward the campus. On the way back, the students used the radar gun to check how high the rockets, shot off by another class, were traveling into the air. Some of the rockets reached heights of 500 feet or more.

Back in the classroom, Fritz walked the kids through the process of using a metal detector. He explained how the technology can be used to locate pipes and electrical lines by sending radio waves into the ground.

"It is also a fun hobby," he explained.

When asked what the metal detectors were worth, Fritz said one belonging to his daughter cost $120, but the other one -- his -- was worth around $700.

"So I hope you guys are really careful with it," he stated.

The kids were paired off and headed back outside. In a grassy area, Fritz had scattered about 50 coins for them to locate. The students took turns finding coins, then tossing them back into the grass for the next class to "discover."

Fritz said hopefully today the kids will be able to make contact with the space station via amateur radio, but it depends on timing, where the space station is located and what the astronauts on board are doing. Earlier this week, they did magnet experiments and learned to decode Morse code.