Newsletter – Volume 7, Spring 2011

In This Issue:
TA Piece of Pi
Back in the Classroom
Fellows’ Spring Calendar
A Wisconsin Teacher’s POV
Where Are They Now?

Read our recent newsletter, Odyssey.

 

Teachers’ Exploration of Irish Potato Famine Informs Local Student Prejudice Issue

(March 17, 2011) Minturn, CO, a small town on the outskirts of Vail, relies on international visitors for its livelihood. Ironically, it’s also the increasingly immigrant work force that’s fostering prejudice at Minturn Middle School. With a racially-divided student population (52% Hispanic/47% Caucasian), cultural discrimination extends even to “established” and “new” Hispanic students. Seventh grade teachers Noel Falk and Stephanie Gallegos chose to address these schisms with history. Turning to an earlier era marked by ethnic turmoil, the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-50, this teacher team traveled to Ireland on a Fund for Teachers grant last June to better understand how that crisis led to Irish immigration, American stereotypes, and, ultimately, prejudice.

Noel and Stephanie stand by a soup pot once used to feed famine victims.

“With our $9,500 Fund for Teachers grant, we chose to use Ireland’s Potato Famine and resulting mass emigration to help students comprehend the enormity of leaving one’s home country with only a “dream” as a lifeline – much like our Hispanic families who emigrate from Mexico,” explained Falk. “By applying this first-hand research toward a two-trimester course on immigration, we hoped to show our students the cultural and economic roots of prejudice and how we can address it in our own culture.”

During their nine-day odyssey, Falk and Gallegos visited Skibbereen, the worst-affected area of the famine and home of the Skibbereen Heritage Center and its Great Famine Commemoration Exhibition, and the Abbeystrewery Cemetery, where nearly10,000 Potato Famine victims are buried; the Heritage Center in Cobh, an emigration port for 2.5 million Irish; a traditional farm in County Kerry that simulated an Irish farmer’s life 200 years ago; and the Famine Warhouse 1848 in County Tipperary, where the Young Irelanders Rebellion protested British rule and British reaction to the famine.

Noel and Stephanie tour Abbeystrewry Cemetery, a mass gravesite for famine victims.

Back at Minturn Middle School, the teachers’ experiences and primary sources sparked dialogue about immigration past and present. Students spent the fall digging into the Potato Famine and its impact on Irish/English relations. As students moved across the Atlantic with the Irish, they learned that the rough journey for the Irish immigrant didn’t end when they passed inspection at Ellis Island. Rather, the Irish spent decades climbing the American social and economic ladder while experiencing nativist perspectives and prejudice in the United States. As students now begin studying Mexican immigration, they realize how much the two cultures have in common. The curriculum created a safe forum for students to discuss the roots of prejudice and how groups can overcome social injustices with facts and dialogues. Consequently, Falk and Gallegos report that students’ own preconceived notions of others are changing.

“This Fund for Teachers fellowship provided us the contacts, connections and perspectives we lacked, but that now help us effectively address the central lesson for our students: Individuals can lessen prejudice by better understanding one another,” said Gallegos. “By bringing Ireland to our classroom and shrinking the world for our students, they begin to realize how similar our cultures are and that the Mexicans who immigrate to the United States in search of a better life are not that different than the Irish who preceded them.”

A national, donor-supported organization, Fund for Teachers makes an important contribution to America’s educational conversation by expanding the definition of teacher professional development. By investing $14.5 million in 4,000 educators over the past ten years, Fund for Teachers inspires teachers’ pursuit of meaningful, self-designed work that translates into skills and scholarship directly impacting student learning. For more information, visit fundforteachers.org or facebook.com/fundforteachers.

For more information on Fellows who have traveled to Ireland, visit our Teacher Project Search, and search for “Ireland.”

A Piece of Pi

While math enthusiasts around the world celebrate Pi Day on 3.14 (or March 14), a select group of Fund for Teachers Fellows celebrate math year-round as our Pi Society Fellows. Founded by Apache Corporation Chairman and CEO Steve Farris, the Pi Society incentivizes teachers to design and pursue math-related fellowships that will directly impact students’ knowledge of concepts vital for corporate leadership. In its first two years, the Pi Society is already fueling meaningful work by its Fellows and their students.

Left: Merit sits at the entrance of Pythagoras’ cave classroom on his 2009 fellowship. Right: Bob with his guitar made under the instruction of master craftsman George Riszanyi.

Living in an isolated rural area, Merit Bean’s students at Mt. Abram High School in Salem Township, ME, are amazed when he begins the year’s math curriculum with a slideshow of his 2009 FFT fellowship to Greece. He introduces the Pythagorean Theory by showing students photos of his hike to Pythagoras’ cave classroom on the island of Samos. He teaches geometrical proportions using photos of Grecian buildings exhibiting the Gold Rectangle premise.

“Using my photographs-ranging from the Parthenon to a shepherd’s hut on the side of an isolated hillside on Tinos- my students calculate proportions in class and then disperse into the community to gather examples of the Golden Rectangle. In January, they returned to class with photos of the geometrical principal at work in libraries, court houses and homes. One of my favorites was a picture of an outhouse that was a perfect fit based on its proportions! The students came away with a deeper understanding of how our isolated, rural community was influenced by Ancient Greece and the ways our cultures are more connected than we realize.”

Bob Dunn’s students at North County Union High School in Newport, VT, experiment with physics under the guise of rock and roll. Last summer, Dunn enrolled in a workshop in Nova Scotia on his FFT fellowship and learned how to make musical instruments while employing mathematical concepts. Under the direction of craftsmen who have built guitars for Keith Richards and James Taylor, Dunn developed skills (and instruments) that served him in creating a math class, “Making Musical Instruments.” In designing and building their own instruments, students considered amplitude and sound wavelength, and selected woods based on their research. A colleague of Dunn’s also created a math unit which focused on calculating the placement of dulcimer frets based on string length. In February, before an audience of parents, faculty and peers, students shared their scientific findings and musical skills on their own hand-crafted dulcimers.

Bob’s student adds clamps to his hand-made dulcimer.

Additional Pi Society Fellows include: Mike Beebe, Littleton, NC, who visited renewable energy technology centers across America to observe, research, and develop a standards-aligned project-based Algebra II curriculum; Padma Rayalla, Atlanta, GA, who observed mathematical teaching and assessment strategies in Bangalore and Hyderbad, India, to implement with International Baccalaureate students; Rebecca Brink, Necedah, WI, who attended the conference History and Epistemology in Math Education in Vienna, Austria, followed by an exploration into the lives of early mathematicians in Athens, Greece, to incorporate the history of mathematics and culture into current curriculum; and Richard Saxer, York, NE, who observed geometry’s relevance and application in prehistoric sites, architectural designs and art displays throughout England and Ireland.

If you are interested in supporting teachers’ and students’ pursuit of inspired mathematical learning, please invest in a piece of the Pi Society by contacting us at info@fundforteachers.org.