Grant Program Funds Teachers to Travel the World and Develop New Lessons

This article originally appeared online in the T.H.E. Journal.

Operating in 36 states, Fund For Teachers has given more than $17.8 million in grant money since 2001, sending educators around the world to develop lessons on technology, STEM, and other topics.

By Kim Fortson
07/23/12

In 2010, something unusual happened at the Boston Community Leadership Academy. Students, claiming to take a restroom break, began skipping class. Rather than footing it to the typical high school hooky locales–the parking lot or the nearby convenience store–BCLA students steered their way toward Megan Baird’s ninth-grade Algebra I classroom.

Word had gotten out that Baird was starting up her “rhythm wheel” lessons and students crowded the doorway to see what all the fuss was about. Inside, Baird’s students clapped their hands and tapped out salsa rhythms on their desks, even danced, all the while internalizing knowledge of measure counts they would later use to solve problems involving the lowest common multiples. They were doing math and, perhaps more importantly, they were having fun.

Baird’s lesson plan stemmed from a two-week cultural tour of Cuba she took in the summer of 2010 with English teacher Elizabeth Lambert, with whom she has shared a classroom for five years. The trip to Cuba—and the lesson plan—was the result of receiving a fellowship from the national nonprofit Fund For Teachers (FFT).

“When you learn something in a vacuum, you haven’t really learned it,” Baird said over Skype from Ecuador, where she has spent the last year teaching English to adults. “You need to learn in relation to the world. Math is the [subject] where kids always ask, ‘Where am I ever going to use this?’ Any time you can say, ‘Look, even when salsa dancing you can recognize an eight-beat rhythm,’ it’s a good thing.”

It’s this type of thinking FFT seeks to reward. Since it was founded in 2001, FFT has given approximately 5,000 teachers more than $17.8 million in grant money–$5,000 for individual fellowships and $10,000 for teams–sending instructors around the world to further their educations in hopes they will impart what they’ve learned once back in the classroom.

“If a teacher is excited about their own learning and their own subject, that translates,” said FFT Executive Director Karen Kovach-Webb.

In 2011, the organization sent more than 400 teachers from 36 states on projects that involved everything from studying the Ottoman Empire and Islamic architecture in Turkey to kayaking down the Mississippi River collecting water samples and observing the role rivers play in shaping community culture.

“There’s always some [projects] where I think, ‘Oh my gosh, who would have thought of that?” Kovach-Webb said.

Teaching Teachers the Technology
Over the course of a decade, Kovach-Webb has observed that proposals often follow current events. After Sept. 11, many teachers asked for fellowships tailored toward analyzing life and religion in the Middle East; more recent requests involve environmental concerns like water scarcity and energy efficiency. Technology is also at the forefront of today’s grant topics.

Last year, Mary Patterson and Doreen Jarvis, two middle school science curriculum specialists for Texas’s Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, attended the World Congress in Intelligent Control and Automation in Taipei, Taiwan, followed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Academy, to bolster their knowledge of the field. Prior to their trip, Patterson and Jarvis spearheaded after-school robotics programs for their district, using them as a way to encourage their sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders to pursue STEM careers.

“It’s just amazing to see how their personalities change,” Jarvis said of her students active in the program. “Their confidence [increases]. Sometimes they’re just different students in a different setting and excel in that kind of environment.”

Patterson and Jarvis utilize the program as training for the All-Earth Ecobot Challenge, a competition in which students utilize math, physics, and computer science skills to program NXT robots to perform everyday environmental tasks, such as placing items in a recycling bin.

The teachers initially pitched a visit to a family-operated robotics factory in Japan but, 10 days prior to their anticipated grant approval, the Tohoku earthquake, and resulting tsunami, struck the country and Patterson and Jarvis had to quickly re-write their proposal. The conference in Taiwan offered a glimpse into other countries’ involvement in robotics; the Carnegie Mellon program acted as a boot camp to bring the two up to speed on the intricacies of programming.

“Normally in an after-school program kids never let us touch a robot, they don’t let us near it–they do everything,” Patterson laughed. “[Carnegie Mellon] gave us a crash course in a lot of programming we taught at our summer camp.”

Both teachers have used the experience as a launch pad to more solidly academic pursuits. Jarvis enrolled in STEM course workshops this summer while Patterson recently received the NASA Summer of Inspiration Grant, which will allow her to start a monthly girls-only robotics camp during the school year, as well as provide an in-service teacher to help out.

Support Systems
Kovach-Webb said one of her greatest disappointments with FFT is the money earmarked–but not used–for regions that teachers do not apply for.

“I have more money to give out,” she said. “Apply!”

FFT offers extensive support for applicants, including a webinar series and a program in which they pair past recipients with applicants in areas of the same subject matter. If a teacher isn’t awarded a grant the first year he or she applies, FFT provides feedback on the application and encourages them to try again.

Baird, Jarvis, and Patterson agree that, while the process is intense, it’s worth it.

“In a culture now where blaming teachers for what is going wrong is more important than honoring teachers for what is going on in the classroom, I recommend [FFT] for everyone. We need a little support sometimes,” Baird said. She advises future applicants to set out a schedule and blocks of time in order to complete the application, noting that they don’t have to fill out the sections in order.

Kovach-Webb stresses that if a good enough case is made, teachers’ proposals will be funded.

“Dream it and tell us,” she said. “We’ll send you.”

About the Author

Kim Fortson is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

Baird studied Cuban salsa dancing to develop the rhythm wheels lesson while Lambert researched the politically charged verse common in Cuban poetry and musical lyrics. The experience re-energized the way the two connected with their students and organized lessons in the classroom.

Teachers Celebrate America with FFT Fellowships

“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” –James A. Garfield, 20th president of US 1881

When given the chance to pursue summer learning opportunities of their dreams, the majority of Fund for Teachers Fellows choose far-flung destinations, soaking in different languages and cultures. But, for many, staying stateside holds the most promise.

Dozens of Fund for Teachers Fellows are exploring American themes this summer: Colonial living, the Civil War, lives of US Presidents and patriotic landmarks. In honor of our nation’s Independence Day, meet the Fellows who will make the spirit and history of America come alive in their classrooms this fall:

  • Patricia S. (Louisiana) will participate in Colonial Williamsburg’s Teacher Institute, learning from mentor teachers, museum staff, and character interpreters, to enhance teaching skills and develop an interdisciplinary approach to creatively teaching this era in American history;
  • Lori M. (Oklahoma) will explore patriotic landmarks in Washington DC and New York City to develop a curriculum that offers an overview of our government, appreciation for our traditions, and hands-on learning opportunities related to our country’s symbols;
  • Ray K. (Chicago) will embark on a driving tour of the geographical areas that shaped the lives of Franklin, Jefferson, Revere, and Washington to increase personal knowledge of the pre-revolutionary colonial era and facilitate students’ inquiry into citizens’ responsibility to confront challenges within their communities;
  • Rebecca F. (Boston) will explore the history of immigration by conducting research at Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum on New York’s Lower East Side to help students gain an appreciation for family members who immigrated to America and to create an interdisciplinary unit that engenders awareness and pride in family histories;
  • Team Underground Railroad (Houston) will visit Underground Railroad and national landmarks in New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC to broaden knowledge of the Black American experience and more seamlessly incorporate African-American history with general social studies;
  • Michael G. (Expeditionary Learning, North Carolina) will tour Civil War landmarks in South Carolina before attending the Civil Rights Institute for educators in Little Rock, AR, to reinforce the connection between key events, people and places comprising the historical struggle for civil liberties; and
  • Lou Ann J. (Oklahoma) will research her personal connection to the Civil War on a 15-day journey through the South before attending the Civil War Trust National Teacher Institute in Charleston, SC, to learn strategies for empowering students to undertake a similar research project using research and technology.

Immigration Issue Focus of Fellows’ Research

The Supreme Court ruled this week on Arizona’s 2010 immigration law; but the summer before that law went into effect, a team of three Taos, New Mexico teachers navigated the controversial border issue – literally. The teaching team of Ned Dougherty, Toni Wright and Josán Perales, teachers at Vista Grande High School, designed their Fund for Teachers grant to research the visible and invisible divisions established by personal and international borders. They focused their attention on the U.S.-Mexico border from the Sonoran region to El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Interviews included representatives from The Minuteman Project, Humane Borders, and the Border Patrol.

We share their timely research with you here in the form of their post-fellowship report detailing their adventure and a newsletter article previously published. Ned applied for and was awarded a 2012 FFT grant to continue the borders research begun in 2009, this time conducting an ethnographic study chronicling the tenuous peace between Catholics and Protestants of Belfast, Ireland, to facilitate students’ perception of prejudice and violence as invisible, yet powerful, borders. You can follow his fellowship at teachpoet.com.

PBS Spotlights Louisiana Fellows

PBS’ South Eastern Education Desk produced a piece about two Louisiana Fellows’ upcoming fellowship to Canada. Danyé Pelichet and Demetria Scott will traverse Acadian communities in Canada to help students make connections with the settlers who migrated to Louisiana centuries ago and imprinted their culture and customs permanently within the state’s collective story. The “French Connection” team are two of our first class of Fellows since going statewide in the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

Special thanks to PBS’ Southern Education Desk and producer Sue Lincoln for this piece.

Fund for Teachers Grant Inspires Replication of Lewis & Clark’s Journey

Elementary school teachers use Fund for Teachers grant to retrace explorers’ 7,000 mile cross-country route: Return to create scaled-down version for students in forests behind school; Trails dedicated to fallen war hero prior to Memorial Day. 

Read the press release, here.

2012 Fellowships Announced

May 7, 2012
Fund for Teachers Awards $1.8M in Grants to Teachers Across the Country; Teachers Become Students Again This Summer

Hamilton County Teachers Receive Summer Fellowships

Their Students Will Reap the Benefits
TheChattanoogan.com
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Public Education Foundation (PEF) on Tuesday awarded fellowship grants totaling $96,630 to 27Hamilton County educators –– to pursue self-designed learning adventures this summer. The fellowships are made possible through a grant to PEF from the national nonprofit organization, Fund for Teachers.
The winning teachers responded to PEF’s invitation to propose their ideal professional development experience and explain how this would inspire authentic learning in their classrooms. Among the exciting and innovative proposals:

Lora Jenkins and Lonna Henriquez, Tyner Middle School Academy, will conduct biodiversity and conservation research in Costa Rica for a documentary and curriculum materials to be used in a school-wide unit.

Brian Fahey, Normal Park Museum Magnet School, will travel the Netherlands and France to explore how cultural, economic and political needs affected human/environmental interaction throughout history.

Katie Hawkins, Brown Middle School, and Rachel Price, Red Bank Middle School, will attend the Reading and Writing Summer Institute at Columbia University and meet with young adult author Lois Lowery to discuss the craft of writing for young adults.

Stacy Williams, East Brainerd Elementary School, and Rita Schubert, East Ridge Elementary School, will attend a creativity workshop in Barcelona and a brain-based workshop in Texas to acquire strategies to ignite creativity in students from poverty.

Susan Morrison, East Hamilton Middle/High School, will venture to Cambodia to meet survivors of the Khmer Rouge and discover the potential for grass roots activism in third world economies.

2012 Fund for Teachers Fellows in Chattanooga

These teachers and 19 others from Hamilton County will join 450 peers from around the country to whom Fund for Teachers awarded $1.8 million in teacher grants for 2012 summer exploration and learning. This is the first year that Hamilton County educators were eligible for these fellowships, made possible through PEF’s new partnership with Fund for Teachers.

“This has been a rewarding and rigorous process to select these 27 teachers from the 83 who applied. Almost all had compelling ideas and proposals,” said Dan Challener, PEF president. An independent Selection Committee of educators and community leaders made the final choice on the basis of the creativity of ideas, the thoroughness of research, and the passion expressed for teaching. “Returning from their fellowships, these teachers will deepen the knowledge of their students thanks to the insights and experiences they gained from these grants.”

Fund for Teachers enriches the personal and professional growth of teachers by recognizing and supporting them as they identify and pursue opportunities around the world that impact their practice, their students and their schools. For more information, visit fundforteachers.org and facebook.com/fundforteachers.

Public Education Foundation partners with Hamilton County Schools to help students succeed by offering professional training and coaching for teachers, principals and administrators; human and financial resources to promote research-based innovation; and research that promotes continuous achievement. Since 2000, PEF has helped to bring over $60 million in supplemental, philanthropic funding to the school system. For the full list of Fund for Teacher awards, please visit pefchattanooga.org/fundforteachers.

To view the original article, click here.

FFT Grant Leads to Student Service Projects

Original article appears on My Ballard, accessible here.

Local students fundraise for a community service trip to the Amazon

April 13th, 2012
By: Almeera Anwar

Most students have to wait until college to study abroad, if they do at all, but a handful of Ballard students are getting the opportunity to go to the Amazon in middle school.

The program started about six years ago when Todd Bohannon, a first grade teacher in Ballard, applied for Fund for Teachers grant that enables teachers to go and have experiences they otherwise would not. The goal of the grant is to help them become better teachers. Bohannon said it was kind of a fluke that of all the places he could take students, he decided on the Amazon. “I applied to the grant during a week of where we were just stuck in snow,” said Bohannon, “And a friend from work, who had previously received the grant, told me to just pick the place that was the craziest and most out there – and I picked the Amazon!”

This trip will be the fourth time Bohannon is taking kids to the Amazon. The group is comprised of about 10 – 15 students, all middle-school-aged, and usually one of two parents join the trip as chaperons. The majority of the recruitment for the trip has been through word of mouth from kids that Bohannon previously taught and their friends. “Every time I go it’s a new experience because I get to see it through their eyes,” said Bohannon, “It’s unlike anything that they have been to, so when they arrive, a part of them just lights up, a part that doesn’t anymore. You can see them just let go of our culture and experience nature.”

Bohannon said it’s always rejuvenating to get away, and it immediately puts things in perspective for him, saying “It makes you realize how small you really are and how our problems really are not that big.”

Jen Fallon’s son, Colin, is going on the trip for the first time this year. Colin, a 7th grader at Salmon Bay, heard about the opportunity from a friend’s brother who went in 2009. Fallon said it was all Colin’s motivation and something that he really wanted for himself. Fallon is excited for her son to go because she thinks it’s important for students, especially from America, to see how the rest of the world lives. She thinks her son is most excited about how different this trip will be from anything that he knows, and that he’ll get a lot of personal growth from it.

“My husband and I are not big travelers and we’re middle class individuals, so I certainly never could have taken him to the Amazing rainforest,” said Fallon. “So it’s great for him to get a chance to go with his school. When we were kids, opportunities like this were never an option!”

Each trip is a little bit different; this year the group will be spending longer in the jungle than ever before doing a much larger community service project. Bohannon thinks the students will get a lot more out of this because it will allow them to interact longer with the local community and to hear their stories.

The group is still fundraising for their trip this year and will be at the Ballard Sunday Markets in April and May, when they can, selling Equal Exchange coffee and chocolate.