Ideas from our Fellows: Designing my Fellowship
Monica Harned describes her FFT fellowship planning process
- How did you get started? What was your initial inspiration?I had to envision what I wanted my students to gain from my fellowship. What was the big idea I wanted them to take away and how would this fellowship afford me that opportunity? I knew I wanted my fellowship to reflect STEAM ideology and getting girls more involved in STEAM careers. This was my drive and motivation. I chose to focus on bridge design and construction because it is also a passion of mine and I wanted to share that with my students.
- How did you decide where to go and why? I began writing the curriculum for my unit on bridges. When this was completed I was able to design the itinerary around my curriculum. Deciding where to go was difficult! I knew that traveling to The Netherlands was a non-negotiable. The modern architecture there is spectacular and I didn’t want to miss several of the bridges located there. I also knew that I wanted to go to Poland for two reasons; first, that I understood the language and could brush up on my conversational skills and second, that I could potentially interview a civil engineer. Once that was confirmed, I looked at the surrounding countries and found many bridges that were of interest. I created an itinerary that had one feature in common, all were canal cities, and where there are canals there are bridges! I also chose locations that would bring in the art history component as well as architecture, since my unit on bridges was integrating STEAM ideology.
- What did your research process look like?
For each component of the proposal, the guiding question I asked myself consistently was, “How will my students’ benefit from the information I am bringing back?” If I had a limited answer or none at all then I knew it wouldn’t be a worthwhile visit other than just for pleasure. Since bridge design construction is something that really interests me, I developed a unit that was problem-based and relatable to students. The unit will also focus on women in architecture and art history.
- How did you find and contact experts?
While I was in the midst of the application process, I informed my students of what I was proposing. A group of them began researching “cool bridges” and the Redzin Bridge came up on a Google search. As I researched further, I learned that it was an award winning bridge designed by Chief Civil Engineer, Jan Biliszczuk, who also was a professor at the Wroclaw University of Science and Technology. Since this part of Poland was on my itinerary, I simply emailed him introducing myself and my proposal and requesting an interview with him. He responded and agreed to the dates. It was THAT EASY! This was a bit harder to do in other locations however, not all of the modern bridges were designed by local engineers and some of the universities were harder to contact. One thing I did learn was to just ask! Most people want to share their knowledge and expertise and this proved true during my experience.
- Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently or advice you would give?
The one thing I wish I did differently during the planning phase was to inform Jan Biliszczuk of the other countries I was traveling to. During our interview, he informed me about the engineers he worked with in Prague and Amsterdam and how he could have connected us if he knew I was traveling to these places. Hence the advice, “Just ask!”Prior to my departure, I had a different idea of how I was going to log my adventure. I wanted it to be interesting and educational so I struggled with the format. Ultimately, I used Facebook and Instagram to log the journey in an informational way. Looking back, I wish I posted candid photos of where I was and what I was doing even if I was eating! Kids love this stuff! I also wish I took more pictures of myself in each of the locations. I know my students’ would have loved to see me in more pictures. There’s another piece of advice, include yourself in as many pictures as possible!
Monica Harned teaches at Race Brook School in Orange, CT. For her FFT Fellowship, she investigated the design, history and art integration of various bridges in The Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic and Poland to create a STEAM unit for gifted students and increase interest in related careers with girls in upper elementary grade levels.
What’s next: 10 Steps for Planning Your Fellowship