Newsletter – Volume 8, Spring 2012

In This Issue:
The Journey of Heroes
Connecting the Dots
Retracing the Flight to Freedom
Life is a Highway

Read our recent newsletter, Odyssey.


FFT Fellow Weighs in on Teacher Evaluations

Fund for Teachers Fellow, Robert Jeffers, weighs in on publishing teacher evaluations in an article for Impatient Optimists, a publication of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Read Robert’s eloquent response, here.

On his 2008 Fellowship, Robert used film to explore and document urban gardens across the US and how schools and communities interact with these dynamic public green spaces. Read more about his fellowship experience, here. In addition to his 2008 Fellowship, Robert was awarded the 2009 Plank Fellowship Award and has been recognized for his work with film production and editing classes by20th Century Fox.

Travel Grants Open to Teachers

Travel grants open to globetrotting teachers who aim to improve

Gotham Schools, February 14, 2012
by Jessica Campbell

Faye Chiu and Eszter Weiss, veteran math teachers, spent last summer in Italy and Greece — not bathing on the Riviera or hopping the isles, but retracing the steps of the ancient mathematicians in search of inspiration to energize their curriculum at Manhattan’s Millennium High School.

And while they were soaking up information about Archimedes, other city teachers were going to the far corners of the earth for their students, too: to Sweden to learn about individualized learning plans; to Iran and Turkey to collect information for helping non-Muslim students understand their school’s growing Muslim population; to Brazil to gather tips on getting girls interested in physical activity.

If the trips don’t sound like the average professional development sessions, it’s because they’re not. Instead, enabled by the national organization Fund for Teachers and its local partner, New Visions for Public Schools, are fueled entirely by teachers’ own curiosities.

In the past, New Visions offered the grants only to teachers affiliated with the schools it manages and supports. But this year, the nonprofit added supplementary grants of up to $10,000 that are open to teachers in all city high schools — provided that they teach courses that culminate in a Regents exam, have been teaching for at least three years, and plan to return to the classroom in September. Applications for this summer’s YouPD Challenge Grants are due Feb. 29.

Eszter Weiss and Faye Chiu, Millenium High School math teachers, exploring Archimedes Garden in Florence, Italy on a 2011 Fund for Teachers trip.

The concept behind the grant is simple, according to Robert Hughes, New Visions’ president.

“The best professional development is the professional development that teachers create and define for themselves,” he said.

Hughes said the program’s expansion is meant to recognize stellar educators throughout the city.

“With all of the controversy flowing around teachers it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the extensive commitment that the vast majority of teachers make,” he said. “Despite the rhetoric, we have some of the strongest teachers in the country.”

Weiss and Chiu outside a school in X’ian, China. (Courtesy Faye Weiss)
As a Fund for Teachers partner, New Visions has doled out $2.3 million to 600 teachers since 2003, allowing them to design and pursue their own global journeys towards growth.

The application process is slightly more rigorous for this expanded crop, with the added requirement that they submit a unit plan and video that demonstrates their ability to tailor their curriculum to meet the Common Core standards. The expectation is that teachers will invigorate their practice and curriculum through these travels and then pass on what they’ve learned to their colleagues.

Chiu and Weiss’s trip to Italy and Greece was not their first trip enabled by Fund for Teachers. Through their school’s affiliation with New Visions, Chiu and Weiss also received a grant to travel to Hong Kong and China in 2006.

The first trip was born out of a curiosity about why Millennium’s students from Asia and from Asian-American families were generally more proficient in basic mathematical skills than other students. The teachers designed a six-week itinerary chock full of school visits and interviews that could inform their own practice.

While they saw certain cultural practices around education that wouldn’t translate well back in their New York classrooms — students bowing to the teacher, families being required to financially contribute to their child’s education — they also found strategies that they could steal.

“We were very into open questioning and discovery-based learning,” Weiss said of their pedagogy at the time. “We weren’t into drilling and rote memorization.”

But seeing the latter practiced on the other side of the globe planted the idea that in moderation it might help their students.

“If it’s just creative then you don’t have accuracy, but if you just focus on the drilling and the rote memorization then you can’t develop their critical thinking skills,” Chiu said.

Now Weiss, Chiu, and other teachers in their department try to strike a balance; they make games of drilling students on basic mathematical knowledge and they have started using a skills-based math curriculum, Delta Math, some of the time.

If the trip to Asia was about bringing students into modern times, the trip to Italy and Greece was about connecting them back to ancient ones.

Inspired by a weekend outing to an exhibition of the nearly 4,000-year-old clay tablets that document early Babylonian mathematics, the pair decided that retracing the paths of ancient mathematicians would help them help students better appreciate the genesis of and need for the formulas that can seem so stale in a high school algebra class. The stories they picked up about the earliest scholars have now infiltrated their lessons.

Crafting their own professional development adventures did leave them susceptible to some hiccups, like being turned away by the Chinese Ministry of Education and being denied access to antique math manuscripts at an Italian library. But they said the payoff of charting their own course was worth it.

“It’s self-designed and it doesn’t get much better than that,” Chiu said.

FFT & NVPS Offers Grant Challenge

Fund for Teachers – New Visions for Public Schools Offers Grant Challenge to All NYC Public High School Teachers

February 1, 2012 (New York City) – All New York City public high school teachers have some thinking to do: What do they want to learn and where they want to learn it this summer? By crafting their proposal and submitting to Fund for Teachers, they could receive up to $10,000 to make it happen.

The Fund for Teachers – YouPD Challenge Grant is a pilot program extending the traditional Fund for Teachers grant opportunity to all New York City public high school teachers. Since 2003, 600 New Visions for Public Schools teachers received more than $2.6M in Fund for Teachers grants to pursue learning odysseys around the world and engage students in 350 NYC schools.

Read the press release here.

Australia Day in Oklahoma

January 26, 2012 (HOUSTON) – While Australia Day doesn’t mean much to most Americans, it holds special significance for five Union Public School teachers this year.

After applying for Fund for Teachers grants this time last year, five Tulsa-area elementary teachers received $20,000 to pursue new knowledge in the Land Down Under and make learning more engaging for their students. These teachers and their Fund for Teachers fellowship descriptions include:

Team Koala (Keeping Our Attention on Literacy Acceleration)
Traci Gardner, Debora Burry and Lisa Gildea – Clark Elementary
Who observed Australia’s National Accelerated Literacy Program, which garners a 99% literacy rate, to develop and solidify language skills for struggling readers (pictured below with Jane McQueen, facility administrator for Accelerated Literacy in Darwin, Australia); and,

Wonders Down Under TeamKathy Harding and Jennie Morris – Peters Elementary
Who explored the plants, animals and geology of Australia’s rainforest, researching the concept of an ecological niche, to enhance third grade science curriculum (pictured below delivering a check from Peters Elementary school community to representatives of Rainforest Rescue to help preserve Australia’s ancient rainforests.)

“Each location and group of people we visited offered us an insight into the underpinnings of Australian culture and education,” said Gardner, reading specialist at Clark Elementary. “These experiences prompted reflection on our current classroom practices and encouraged us to develop strategies for improving literacy learning and cultural awareness at our school.” Team KOALA is currently working to implement literacy strategies observed on their Fund for Teachers fellowship through student book clubs, writing workshops, and cultural awareness lessons.

Team KOALA with Jane McQueen, Facility Administrator for Accelerated Literacy.

“Teaching in today’s test driven culture, we don’t have a lot of time to deviate from the established curriculum. Therefore, it was important that this fellowship complement our curriculum, rather than add to it,’ explained Harding, teacher at Peters Elementary. “The wonderful thing about Fund for Teachers is that we had the flexibility to expand our knowledge in all of the necessary areas. Though our intent in the rainforest was to study the animals, the primitive plants were equally remarkable. We went to Mount Isa to see fossils of the rainforest, but also in the complex was a mining museum. The strange landforms we saw are made of rock and will fit nicely into our new third grade curriculum. The native didgeridoo we brought back makes some very strange sounds, especially when we play it!” Students of Harding and Morris are conducting research on Australia, using primary sources gathered by their teachers last summer, to create board games about the continent.

“Learning about the interrelationships in the natural world made us realize that we can’t isolate ourselves from the rest of the school, or the country, or the world. We all depend on each other and what we do often has ripple effects that might not be obvious at first,” said Harding.

On the Trail of Lewis and Clark in Wisconsin

Field Notes, January 2012
by Jim Rosenberger

Since the bicentennial celebration we all have worried about a loss of interest in Lewis & Clark history, then something happens which shows the magic of the story of the Corps of Discovery is alive and well.

I received an email from Don Peterson at the Lewis and Clark Trial Heritage Foundation headquarters in Great Falls, MT telling me of a Mr. Paul Timm who had inquired about the signs which appear all along the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail. Mr. Timm lives in Friendship, Wisconsin and Don thought I might be interested in contacting him. I did email Mr. Timm and found something truly impressive was taking place in Wisconsin relative to Lewis and Clark.

Paul Timm is a physical education teacher in Grand Marsh, Wisconsin. He and fellow teacher, Ginny Fritz received a grant from Fund for Teachers because Grand Marsh Elementary was a Wisconsin School of Promise/Recognition for two consecutive years. This past summer, with the help of this grant, Paul and Ginny, along with their spouses, traveled the entire Lewis & Clark Trail by motorcycle. They traveled nearly 7,000 miles in 22 days, visiting many of the sites, interpretive centers and museums along their route. Like the Captains, Paul and Ginny had to improvise along the way, especially when they confronted Mother Nature in the form of the flooded Missouri River.

Lolo Pass: An unforgiving wilderness, then and now.

Upon their return Paul and Ginny started on a project to bring cross curricular activities to their students. “We wanted to incorporate physical education with history and science”. To accomplish this they blazed replica of the Lewis and Clark Trail through one of their school forests located just north of Grand Marsh Elementary School. The westbound trail is .75 miles, the Clark return trail is also about .75 miles and the Lewis route is about .8 miles. Signs will be placed along the trail to indicate where you are and what historical significance the location has. Community schools, businesses, teachers and students are working together to have the trail completed by spring.

The trail will be used for history, science and physical education classes. It will be mostly used for hiking, bicycling, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. The trail will be open to the community and no fees will be charged. Since it is school property, it is considered public land and the hope is that the community will use it as much as the school. Paul and Ginny would like to see Grand Marsh use the trail for a yearly celebration similar to Westfield’s Rendezvous Days.

It is exciting, not only to see this enthusiasm and interest in Lewis and Clark history here in Wisconsin, but also to see the effort being put forth to utilize the story of the Corps of Discovery for the education of our students. Our Chapter has offered any assistance we can give to help accomplish this and Chapter members will be updated as progress is made.

You can read about their motorcycle trip on their blog, “Corp of Discovery, II“.

This article appears in number 41 of “Field Notes”, a newsletter created by the Badger State Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Inc. The publication can be accessed here, in its entirety.