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.