“Switched on Physics”: FFT Fellow and Students Build Robot

Kristi Nix
The Journal of Pearland

Dawson High School’s Switched-On Physics program offers students creative new ways to learn about science. It’s a unique approach designed to allow students to explore and discover new ideas in the classroom.

Some say the program’s success is driven by the enthusiasm and down to earth approach of physics teacher Alexander Graham. It seems his love of learning and physics is contagious.

“Mr. Graham told me the program wasn’t too heavy on the science side of things and I wasn’t much of a science person,” Dawson High School student Jason Ko said. “But, the project turned out to be a real world application in physics. It was really fun. I had a good time.”

Last year Graham applied to Fund for Teachers and won a $5,000 grant. He used the funds to travel to the Philippines to study the Las Pinas bamboo pipe organ. It was an experience that inspired him to tackle new classroom projects such as an alternative energy-driven digital pipe organ and a student driven robotics project.

The robotics assignment offered his students a lesson in physics and computer software engineering, as well as a lesson in creative ingenuity.

Last week, his students held a demonstration of their new robot (ALFRED). The life size machine was mounted on wheels; its motion was controlled by a computer engineered and installed by the students. During the demonstration, the robot roamed the classroom. It then rolled out into the halls of the school, only occasionally crashing into the lockers.

Students also demonstrated the robot’s ability to speak. Future modifications are in the works to program the robot to speak more than one language, students said.

About Funds for Teachers:

Each year, Fund for Teachers awards grants to individual educators across the county to fund a unique, once in a lifetime professional development experience.

Fund for Teachers gives fellowships for self-designed professional growth to PreK-12 teachers who understand the value of learning and their ability as educators to make a difference.

“We recognize that the teacher is the decisive factor in students’ learning,” said Karen Kovach Webb, Fund for Teachers’ Executive Director. “We are deeply committed to the growth of teachers through strategic investments in their own areas of personal and professional interest. We’ve seen firsthand the impact Fund for Teachers fellowships have as a transformative resource for teaching and learning.”

Since 2001, 4,000 teachers have been awarded $14.2 million in Fund for Teachers grants-up to $5,000 for individuals, or $10,000 for teams. Fund for Teachers fellowships have taken place in 113 countries on every continent, empowering teachers to explore countless ideas, terrains, and cultures.

For more information about Fund for Teachers, visit www.fundforteachers.org

Having a blast …off!

10 Jefferson teachers walked on air while at space camp

Dan Benson
Sheboygan Press

Ten teachers from Jefferson Elementary School have returned to Earth after a week at NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala, and are starting the new school year looking to launch new classroom initiatives using what they learned there.

“We gathered a lot of information we’ll be able to use in our classrooms this year. …For years to come, actually,” said second-grade teacher Deb Ericsson.

Jefferson school reading specialist Ann Rodewald completed her tour of the Davidson Center for Space Exploration by studying the restored Saturn V rocket.

The 10 teachers attended Space Camp for one week in early August, thanks to a $10,000 Wisconsin Fund for Teachers grant. They could have applied to go somewhere else, Ericsson said.

The teachers became eligible to apply for the grant after Jefferson was recognized as a 2009 Wisconsin New Promise School, which is given to schools that demonstrate a learning climate that supports all students.

“We chose Space Camp because of what’s happening at Spaceport in Sheboygan and we don’t really do anything with space science at the elementary level,” she said. “And this experience allowed for 10 of us to go. Some others would only allow us to send one or two. Being able to send 10 allowed us to make it a building-wide experience.”

That means students at every grade level will benefit from what the teachers learned and are bringing back.

“I learned so many new applications that I can use in my classroom. I plan to incorporate new ideas to help young learners understand big ideas,” said Jeanine Roseberry, an ELL kindergarten teacher.

“During the week I attended Space Camp, I thought of ways I could integrate space science activities into the art classroom,” said art teacher Connie Berken.

At Space Camp, the 10 teachers put in 45 hours in various activities that included astronaut training simulators and two simulated space shuttle missions. They performed the duties of flight director, pilot, mission specialists and members of mission control, they said.

“I’m amazed at everything that has to happen in order for a successful launch, mission and safe return to Earth to occur,” said second-grade teacher Julie Versey.

Hundreds of students from all over the country were there, but just 33 teachers, Ericsson said, making the Sheboygan contingent the largest by far.

“We were a huge part of it,” she said.

The teachers brought back materials they can use in their classrooms, resources such as websites and a list of contacts whose knowledge and expertise they can tap into, Ericsson said.

“Many of them are other educators around the United States and even around the world — Australia and Morocco, for instance,” she said. “We’ve set up Facebook accounts where we can continue the conversation and learn how they are using what they took back to their buildings.”

Fifth-grade teacher, Vicki Kulhanek said, “This experience demonstrated what is needed to be done in our classrooms to pique students’ interest in these areas.”

An all-school “space event” is in the works for next May, Ericsson said, and plans call for making a trip to the next space shuttle launch in June 2011 in Florida, she said.

“Our hope is to use our experiences at Space Camp to motivate our students to be future scientists, engineers and astronauts,” Ericsson said.

Summer Travels Inspire Lessons

3 Zachary Elementary teachers win travel grants

James Minton

ZACHARY – Three Zachary Elementary teachers won grants this year to fund working summer vacations they plan to turn into lessons for their students.

Breigh Rainey and Kristy Gilpin, who teach gifted second- and third-graders, won a $10,000 grant from Fund for Teachers to visit sites in Italy and France associated with the Renaissance. Spanish teacher Darketa Green won a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for a week of intensive language instruction.

The three were the only Louisiana teachers chosen this year for 25 fellowships offered by Fund for Teachers, a program to encourage teachers’ professional growth founded by former Apache Corp. board chairman Raymond Plank.

“As soon as we found out about this organization, and even before we talked about the idea of applying, we were immediately drawn to it because it was for teachers to design their own really authentic, professional learning experiences,” Rainey said.

Gilpin said she and Rainey are fascinated by one of Renaissance’s most notable figures, Leonardo da Vinci, and “the whole thing about our (application) was that we would go to Italy and follow in the footsteps of these great thinkers from the Renaissance.”

Breigh Rainey, left, and Kristy Gilpin are shown this summer at the Colosseum in Rome, one of several stops on an itinerary that allowed them to experience the culture and environment that inspired some of the great thinkers of the Renaissance. The Zachary Elementary School teachers received a $10,000 Fund for Teachers grant for the trip, which they plan to turn into a learning experience for their students.

The two went to Rome, spent a lot of time in Florence, then traveled to da Vinci’s hometown, Vinci, as well as Milan to see his “Last Supper” and Paris to see his “Mona Lisa.”

Green said a grant-writing workshop and an e-mail from Superintendent Warren Drake encouraging teachers to try for Fund for Teachers grants convinced her to apply.

“The fact that they were funding international travel made me think, ‘This would be a great experience if I could go,’ ” Green said.

Green already had looked into taking one of the courses offered by Spanish Abroad Inc., a company that offers classes in many Spanish-speaking countries.

In Playa del Carmen, she lived in a house near the school.

“I felt like I needed a refresher, and I felt I would get a more authentic taste of the language if I were actually there. They only spoke Spanish at the school, so I had no choice but to draw on what I knew and jump right in. I was nervous about it at first, but you kind of just have to do it,” Green said.

The grants could be written to include buying digital cameras or artifacts for later lessons in Zachary Elementary’s classrooms.

“When we were there, and we went to a museum and saw some books we wanted to bring back to our students, we actually had budgeted money to buy those things,” Gilpin said.

Rainey said she and Gilpin were inspired by the detailed notebooks da Vinci kept and the two of them emulated his style during the trip with their sketches, quotes, observations and ideas. They plan to encourage their students to develop similar “thinking books” during the coming year.

While on the trip, Rainey and Gilpin communicated with their students by blogging and once with a Saturday Internet teleconference with a group of students.

When not in class, Green visited local shops to buy items that will help her students associate with the countries where Spanish is the primary language. She also visited a private nature preserve and the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.

The three want to write curricula built around their travels.

“Our focus was not on one particular topic like fossils or fiction literature, or any thing like that,” Rainey said. “It was really about those sparks and inspirational things every good teacher does to invigorate their students and get them excited about learning.”

Gilpin said the two wanted to learn what inspired the great thinkers of the Renaissance and hope to inspire their students “to be the next great thinkers, the next da Vinci or the next Einstein.”

“I’m actually going to have a whole (teaching) unit around my trip,” Green said.

“We’re going to spend three or four weeks on it, and one of the things we’re going to talk about is the Chichen Itza pyramids. I find that they’re very fascinated by that,” she said.

In addition to this year’s winners, Zachary Elementary teachers Brandie McNabb, Melanie Alexander, Leah Boulton and April Smith won Fund for Teacher grants last year to attend several workshops on cooperative learning at the Kagan Summer Academy in Orlando, Fla.