Teacher Gets His Hands on Subject

The Orleans Record
by Jim Fuller
Sports Writer

NEWPORT CITY — When Chris Shaffer accepted a position to teach science at North Country Union High School three years ago, he found himself having to learn a whole new ballgame.

A plastics engineer major at UMass-Lowell, Shaffer would be teaching earth science. He was also being groomed to take over the cross country running program at the school as long-time coach Lisa Grout was stepping down.

His passion for running and his desire to understand his subject matter led Shaffer on a journey that wound up among the glaciers, fjords and lava tubes of Iceland this summer.

Shaffer was in Boston to compete in the Boston Marathon in April 2010 when he was struck by the magnitude of the volcanic activity in Iceland. Eyjafjallajökull, pronounced “AY-uh-fyat-luh-YOE-kuutl-uh,” is a glacial volcano that began erupting in 2009. Beginning on April 14, 2010, the erupting began in earnest, halting air travel throughout Europe for six days.

With the marathon set for April 19, many would-be competitors from Europe never made it to Boston.

“It was basically creating a footprint in my mind,” Shaffer recalled. “What causes volcanoes? Earthquakes?”

Shaffer learned that Iceland was situated on a plate boundary — a boundary that separates the North American and Eurasian plates. Because of this, Iceland is in a constant state of “geologic happenings,” Shaffer said.

A glacier lagoon sits in the south of Iceland, along Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier.

“I’ve never taken an earth science course,” he said. “Now I’m tasked with teaching students a subject I’m not 100 percent familiar with.

“It was hard to get excited about something I hadn’t put my hands on.”

Through Fund For Teachers, Shaffer applied for a grant that would allow him to study the happenings in Iceland first hand. “You have to correlate how you are going to bring it back into the classroom,” Shaffer said. “It’s an opportunity for the individual to create their own structured learning.”

By early April, he knew he had been selected and by the end of June, he was on his way to Keflavik, a city just west of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital.

Shaffer and his wife, Sarah, have two children, Morgan, age 3, and Ryan, 5 months. He said he went alone as the timing wasn’t right for the family to make a vacation out of it.

Shaffer drove the 830-mile Ring Road, so named as it takes one around the country. As Iceland is barely south of the Arctic Circle, Shaffer had sunlight 24 hours a day.

“I never had to worry about trying to locate a place before dark,” he said. “I tried to keep my body on the correct time.”

Shaffer said he had no “real time limits.” He was on his own, without the need to meet others or make it to meetings. His days were filled with hiking and exploring.

Shaffer said he was struck by “how different the landscape was from place to place. It was drastically different every few kilometers — a lava field; then pasture land; then a fjord; rocky slopes; dormant volcanoes; pseudo volcanoes,” he said.

“I got to put my hands on this,” he said. “You get to be on a glacier and be around a lava tube. Being around a plate boundary — it’s not a clean cut. It’s like taking a sandwich and pulling it apart. This has definitely excited me for earth science. With geology, it’s hard to pass on the excitement and enthusiasm without having the experience. You can only get so far in the book. I actually took the stuff out of the books and put it in my hands.”

“From having lived in New England, it all seemed mythical almost,” he continued. “You don’t think of Iceland and say, ‘Let’s go vacation there.’ It definitely feels Arctic and remote, but it wasn’t that bad. Being there, you can start wrapping your head around what’s involved in the culture. Everyone is so friendly.”

Not only did Shaffer find time to keep up his running, he also competed in a local 5-kilometer race.

“It was kind of hokey,” he said. “But it was really neat to see how much other races are just like ours.”

Shaffer said one aspect of it he found amusing was how almost everyone participated in an orchestrated Zoomba-like warm-up, led by people on stages that rose 20 or more feet above the crowd.

After the race in which he finished 10th, Shaffer hung out with several of the other runners in a hot tub. He said almost every town in Iceland has a swimming pool, public hot tub, and water slides due to the country’s geothermal conditions.

“It was a neat way to experience that other interest of mine,” he said.

Oklahoma Fellows Tour German Auto Plants

by Silas Allen
The Stillwater News Press

STILLWATER, Okla. — As a part of a program designed to help teachers bring the world into their classrooms, two automotive instructors at Meridian Technology Center took a trip over the summer to the birthplace of the automobile.

David Shields and Shelly Smith went to Germany recently to tour auto manufacturing facilities there. The trip was funded by a grant from Fund for Teachers, a program designed to enrich K-12 education.

The two instructors toured auto manufacturing facilities in Stuttgart and Munich. During the trip, they toured plants owned by BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

One of the more interesting aspects of the trip, Shields said, was seeing the differences in the attitudes toward cars between Germany and the United States. While the Germans take as much pride in their cars as Americans, their driving habits are different, particularly in urban areas, he said.

When Germans commute into a major city, rather than driving to their place of work, they’ll typically park in a commuter lot on the outskirts of the city and take a train into the city, Shields said.

That style of commuting is possible, Smith said, because light rail systems in major urban areas like Stuttgart and Munich are so comprehensive. Unlike urban areas in middle America like Dallas and Kansas City, urban areas in Germany are designed to allow commuters to get anywhere in the city limits without the use of a car.

“If you knew what train to take, you could get there,” Smith said.

Each of the factories Shields and Smith toured included a museum chronicling the history of the company. Those museums included details on how existing technology came to be, Shields said.

For example, he said, the Mercedes-Benz museum has a display that includes the world’s first automobile, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Being in the same room as that kind of history was a great experience, Shields said.

The museum did a good job of explaining how engineers had produced the car simply by trying their options, finding out what didn’t work and learning from their mistakes, he added; one of the exhibits in the museum lists ideas that ultimately failed, but allowed the engineers eventually to build a working product.

“It was just trial and error,” he said.

Smith said he was also impressed with the so-called fit and finish, or alignment, spacing and security of the car’s components. By today’s standards, he said, it might not be impressive, but considering the engineers were working with a brand-new product and using 19th-century technology, the car was remarkably well assembled.

Although they recently returned from the trip, Shields and Smith said they’re already working to incorporate lessons they learned in Germany into their courses. The two took about 1,200 photos during the trip, and they said they hope to be able to use them to show students what the inside of a German auto manufacturing plant looks like.

Another idea they hope to incorporate into their classes is the use of virtual tours. Many German auto factories offer online virtual tours of their facilities, as do several factories in the United States and Japan. Those tours could allow the students to compare an American auto plant — for instance, the Ford F-150 plant in Dearborn, Mich. — with one in Europe to see what methods are different and what are similar.

As important as it is to show students the inner workings of German factories, it’s also important to give them an idea of the culture surrounding the German auto industry, Shields said. To that end, he said, the two instructors won’t simply be giving students an overview of auto factories, but they’ll also be discussing German culture and geography.

Fund for Teachers – Connecting Teachers & Students This Summer

by Delia Gavrilescu
www.argophilia.com

In rather uplifting news from the realm of education, some 430 teachers will be striking out on an expedition around the world this summer. The teachers will embark on a 7 Continent odyssey with over $1.7M in Fund for Teachers grants.

This news spotlights what could become a groundbreaking educational opportunity as teams of Pre-K-12 teachers take up worldwide experiential professional development at the behest of Fund for Teachers. This initial 61 country experiment promises to vastly enrich the teacher professional knowledge base, which in turn promotes mentor-like teaching of via first-hand knowledge.

2010 Houston Fellow Carla Otero at the Van Gough Museum in Amsterdam.

Not only will students benefit from such grants, but the teachers will find new and exciting rewards in their chosen subject cases. One such teacher, Aliyah Frazier, teacher at Atlanta’s Stanton F. L. Elementary, had this to say about his endeavor:

“Receiving a Fund for Teachers grant enhanced my passion as a teacher and is giving me the opportunity to take professional development and enrichment to new heights.”

Aliyah is using the grant to using her grant to research ancient and indigenous cultures of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. In so doing, Frazier can more easily and effectively show students the relevance of Spanish in his classes. Natalie Dennison, another teacher at New York’s Bushwick School for Social Justice, had this to add:

“My 2010 grant allowed me to assist in conservation efforts on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and equipped me with personal experiences I daily use as a visual and anecdotal platform to model, motivate and teach.”

Fund for Teachers, for those unfamiliar, has given almost $16 million in teacher grants since 20o1. Executive Director there, Karen Kovach Webb, said; “These grants catalyze a ripple effect of inspired learning for the teacher, their students and school community.” Her organization is wholly supported by donors who invest in the idea Fund for Teachers expands the definition of what it is to be a teacher. Inspiration is the central theme of this organization.

For more information on this cutting edge travel news, consult the original press release via our friends at PR Web, visit the Fund for Teachers website, their Facebook aspect, or contact them via Twitter. The video below is from the Fund for Teachers YouTube Channel.

7,000K Motorcycle Journey

UltimateMotorcycling.com

Motorcycle Inspiration

While America’s educational system navigates budget cuts resulting from state shortfalls, two teachers from Friendship, Wis., will navigate Lewis and Clark’s cross-country sojourn via motorcycle this summer on a Fund for Teachers fellowship.

Paul Timm and Virginia Fritz, teachers at Grand Marsh Elementary School, proposed their ideal professional development experience to Fund for Teachers through an online application and, fueled by a $8,000 team grant, will now embark on a 7,000 mile journey retracing the explorers’ epic journey to emphasize its historical significance while promoting environmental awareness and physical activity.

The goal, for themselves and their students, is to understand environmental awareness and responsibility, but also to enjoy the outdoors for a lifetime, while treading on nature lightly.

“Only the Apollo trips to the moon rival the Lewis and Clark expedition when it comes to important discoveries and explorations,” said Fritz who, with colleague Paul Timm from Grand Marsh Elementary, will use their grant to follow Lewis and Clark’s cross country journey, emphasizing its historical significance while promoting environmental awareness and physical activity. “To travel in their footsteps and physically challenge ourselves to endure the elements is exhilarating.”

Timm added, “Just as Lewis and Clark did before us, we want to experience all of the natural conditions – wind, rain, storms, heat, and mountain cold. Making the trip on motorcycles adds intrigue and realism to our journey. We want to accomplish something few have, in order to motivate our students to attempt something equally as challenging.”

The teacher team’s month-long, round trip expedition begins on June 27th down the expressway from Wisconsin to St. Louis’s Camp Dubois. From this original expedition starting point, these 21st century explorers will follow their predecessors’ trail westward on state, county and local roads paralleling the Missouri, Clearwater, Snake, and Columbia Rivers. When not riding their 2004 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide and 2002 Electra Glide Police bike, Timm and Fritz will recreate the explorers’ travails with a raft ride down the Snake River and a canoe excursion and subsequent hike along the Continental Divide.

Scheduled highlights include: Camp Mandan in North Dakota, where Lewis and Clark spent the first winter and met Sacagawea; Great Falls in Montana, where they ran into and circumvented this huge natural obstacle; the Nez Perce National Historic Park in Idaho; and Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where they finally reached the Pacific and spent the winter in preparation for their return trip.

Timm and Fritz will document their progress at corpsofdiscovery2.blogspot.com.

Upon their return, Fritz and Timm plan to use their experiences and insights to create outdoor classrooms where their students can also simulate Lewis and Clark’s adventure.

“Our area has an abundance of water and beautiful, scenic landscapes. What better way to expose our students to lifetime activities such as those undertaken by Lewis and Clark?” asked Fritz. “With the assistance of the Department of Natural Resources, we will, with our students, cut and maintain trails, identify species in our forests, and find uses for the area without doing permanent damage. We envision all children in elementary, middle and high school having access to the outdoor classrooms, and that teachers will take advantage of the opportunity for learning to occur in these atypical spaces.”

“As Wisconsin educators continue working to ensure every child graduates prepared for success in the workforce or further education, it is important for teachers to continue their own studies and professional development,” said Jonas Zuckerman, education consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “The educational experiences empowered by Fund for Teachers grants provide powerful lessons that teachers can integrate into rich learning experiences for students.”

“Wisconsin teachers have received more than $190,000 in FFT grants over the last two years,” explained Karen Kovach Webb, FFT executive director. “These fellowships catalyze a ripple effect of inspired learning for the teacher, their students and school community. Our goal and expectation is that teachers, when empowered as lead learners, will deliver better instruction to more engaged students.”

In total, 430 teachers across America received $1.7 million in Fund for Teachers grants to travel this summer on self-designed learning odysseys. A complete list of these teachers’ project descriptions and destinations is available at fundforteachers.org.

Barr teachers going to Cameroon

Harold Reutter, The Grand Island Independent

Denise Pedersen, a Barr Middle School sixth-grade social studies instructor who teaches word geography, can remember how excited a Laotian student was after she had taken a trip to Cambodia and Thailand and it was time to teach the unit on Southeast Asia.

Pedersen, though, knew that she did not learn everything about Southeast Asia during her visit.

“I told the student, ‘You correct me if I make any mistakes,’” Pedersen said.

However, the student surprised Pedersen by saying she did not know that much about Laos. Evidently, the student was either very young when the family left Laos or perhaps the student was even born in the United States, after her family left Laos.

Barr Middle School teachers (from left) Kari Ekberg, Geri Pagel and Denise Pedersen are all traveling to Cameroon in July as part of the Fund for Teachers Program. (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

That same phenomenon can happen with young people at Barr who were born in Latin American countries such as Mexico and Honduras, or African countries, such as Sudan and Somalia.

“The kids from Latin America get really excited when you start teaching about Latin America and the kids from Sudan and Somalia get really excited when you start teaching about Africa,” Pedersen noted.

But just like the Laotian student, the level of personal knowledge Barr kids have about their home countries depends on how young they were when their families came to the United States.

Pedersen said sixth-graders’ knowledge about their ancestral country also will depend on how much their parents brought with them from their native land and how much they talk about their native land.

In any case, knowledge about other countries is a necessity for any young person in a world that many people now describe as a global village because of the relative ease of international air travel, almost instant connections made possible by communications satellites orbiting the earth, and of course, the Internet.

But there still is no substitute for firsthand experience.

That’s why Pedersen approached sixth-grade language arts teacher Geri Pagel and sixth-grade math teacher Kari Ekberg about joining with her in a grant application to the Malaika Foundation and Fund For Teachers to travel to Cameroon this summer.

The original idea was for Pedersen, Pagel and Ekberg to teach an interdisciplinary unit on Cameroon to sixth-graders during the 2011-12 school year. However, those plans have been disrupted because of the shortfall in state aid that is causing the school district to reduce its budget.

Budget reductions will mean that the district must operate with a leaner staff, which resulted in a number of teachers getting new assignments. Pagel will be teaching eighth grade this fall, while Ekberg will be teaching Top 20, a character education program.

However, folk tales are part of both sixth-grade and eighth-grade language arts, so Pagel should be able to work out some joint lessons that could be used by sixth-graders. And when it comes to Ekberg’s new teaching duties, the topic of culture can easily be included in character education lessons.

In addition, student lessons have already begun in the form of a weblog with a dozen entries on the Barr Middle School website.

The first entry begins with the news that the teachers’ grant proposal was accepted by the Malaika Foundation and Fund For Teachers. The weblog continues with the booking of the tickets; meeting with Ann Masters, executive director of the Malaika Foundation; getting vaccinations to protect against yellow fever, Hepatitis A and tetanus, as well as medications to protect against typhoid and malaria; filling out all the paperwork for passports; and meeting with their Cameroon host family, who are Americans who have worked in the country for nearly two decades.

Pedersen knows the parents in the host family, which is why she wanted Pagel and Ekberg to go to Cameroon. She said the husband is a veterinarian who works with the Fulani tribe on how to better raise cattle. Pedersen said the husband also operates a veterinary clinic, where the wife also works.

As part of the learning process for students on both sides of the Atlantic, the trio of teachers had all Barr sixth-graders fill out postcards so that students in Cameroon can learn about Nebraska. Barr students could tell a little bit about their own interests, describe their favorite foods, and also tell what their parents do for a living.

One student from each sixth-grade class also got to appear on a video where they had an opportunity to ask one question for young people in Cameroon.

“They asked some very good questions,” said Pagel, who noted that students had studied enough about Cameroon to know that it is an oil-producing nation.

“One student asked why Cameroon is a poor country if it produces oil,” Pagel said.

Ideally, the teachers’ weblog will continue uninterrupted while they are in Cameroon. That would allow Barr students to follow their adventures day by day. However, Cameroon is a Third World country, so the teachers are not sure if they will have an Internet connection. In fact, the teachers know they will be fortunate to have electricity. The host family’s home is the only one in the village of 1,000 people to have electricity.

The teachers will spend their mornings in the village teaching students how to speak English, a skill that is highly prized in Cameroon. Although English is a part of the regular school curriculum in Cameroon, that does not mean it is an easy language for young people to learn, especially if their teachers do not have complete mastery of the language.

“If people can speak English (in Cameroon), they can get better jobs,” said Pedersen, explaining why their guest teaching likely will be appreciated.

Afternoons will be spent visiting with villagers in their homes. The trio knows that the villagers will want to be good hosts, so they do not expect short visits. Because their host family has lived and worked in the village for 18 years, they are well accepted by all the residents in the small community. The teachers believe that acceptance will extend to them as well.

Pagel said that gives her hope she will really learn about the culture in Cameroon, not just experience it as a tourist. She noted that earlier in the summer, she will be traveling to Sweden with family members to attend a cousin’s wedding. Because of the short stay, her trip to Sweden will be a tourist visit. In Cameroon, she expects to be immersed in the culture.

“They told me to throw away my watch,” said Pagel, pointing to Pedersen and Ekberg, who have already given her one important cultural tip.

Americans tend to create a daily schedule that they religiously follow, almost down to the minute. Pedersen, on the other hand, said they have been told that people in Cameroon “hope” their morning English classes will start on time.

“Relationships are more important to people (in Cameroon) than time,” Pedersen explained. If a Cameroonian meets a friend on the way to a meeting with another friend, he or she may end up seeing the second friend far later than originally planned. But because relationships are valued more than time, that is not considered bad manners.

That is yet another reason that Pedersen, Pagel and Ekberg do not expect short stays when they are welcomed into a person’s home.

The teachers all plan to get fitted for a traditional Cameroonian dress, which uses yards of fabric. They definitely will wear those dresses in Cameroon, but they also have talked about wearing those dresses for their students at Barr.

The timing of the trip means the teachers will be leaving for Cameroon in late July, then returning home on Aug. 11, which is one day before the first teacher day in the Grand Island Public Schools.

Ekberg said she never considered that traveling to any African country would be among her life’s goals. However, she said the travel itinerary to Cameroon will coincidentally allow her to cross one item off her so-called “bucket list.”

“We have a 24-hour layover in Paris, so I’ll get to see the Eiffel Tower,” she said.

From Umbria to Ulaanbaatar

Many thanks to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) for featuring Fund for Teachers in their latest edition of Education Update. Read here about three Fellows who shared their “experiences of transformative personal and professional growth achieve through exciting, death-defying, and enlightening adventures” for the article.

City Teachers Travel the World, Bring Back New Lessons for Their Students

WNYC.org

Students aren’t the only ones looking forward to summer adventures. Dozens of city teachers are heading abroad on travel grants, and hoping to bring their experiences back to the classroom in the fall.

Kate Philpott-Jensen is one of 48 New York City school teachers to receive travel grants from the donor-supported group Fund for Teachers. She was awarded $5,000 for her proposal to travel to American Indian reservations in the Northwestern United States.

Philpott-Jensen teaches U.S. history and government at East Side Community High School. She said her students come from diverse backgrounds. “Within U.S. history, they’re really interested in, and sort of find that issues of race and identity really gripping, really personally relevant,” she said. “I wanted to bring the narratives of Native American Indians into that.”

She’ll spend three weeks conducting interviews to explore issues of sovereignty and government – specifically, how government relates to the governed. She said she noticed that the history of American Indians post-1800s was lacking in the current curriculum, and will use her research this summer to gather primary sources and develop new lessons for her students.

Left: Kate Philpott-Jensen, who teaches U.S. history and government at East Side Community High School, is traveling to several American Indian reservations on a $5,000 grant. Right: Kendra Din

Philpott-Jensen wants the information to foster lively discussion and raise new questions in the classroom, and said she hopes to have her students work on developing and defending their own policy proposals based on their studies.

Other fellows of this year’s Fund for Teachers program expressed similar hopes. Kendra Din (photo top left) teaches math and physics at the Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem. She won a $7,500 grant from the group, to study relationships between mathematics, art and architecture in Turkey and Iran.

“When you travel, you learn so much more than just learning something straight out of a textbook, and that sounds so awkward for a teacher to say, but it’s absolutely true and that’s why I wanted my students to apply for their passports,” she said. She, too, teaches a diverse group of students, and said her school has a growing Muslim population. Part of her goal is to foster more tolerance and understanding of different cultures and religions.

For her project, Din intends to visiting mosques, buildings, bridges, and other sites to study Arabesque art and mathematics. She hopes her findings will make a particular unit of algebra a little bit more engaging for her students next year. “This particular art form is created with a lot of math, specifically the conic sections unit of Algebra II,” she said.

Din will bring pictures and videos back to school next fall, to give her students a first hand look so they’ll be better able to detect the art forms and the mathematics behind them. She would also like to have them create their own artwork using those principles.

Travel projects from this year’s New York City fellows vary greatly, from studies of local Peruvian music, formulated by Jessica Chase and Daniel Nohejl of the Bronx Guild, to observations of India’s caste system, as proposed by Katie O’Hara, of the Bronx Leadership Academy II.

Fund for Teachers has been awarding grants to teachers nationwide for nearly a decade. This year, the group says it granted $1.7 million dollars to a total of 430 teachers across America.

“Disability is not inability. Give me a chance to prove it.”

Fund for Teachers Fellows Danielle Merdin and Terri Wellner traveled to Kenya to establish a Virtual Information Project partnership with classes at Nairobi’s Kilimani Public School, an inclusive school for students with disabilities, similar to their school in Boston. Watch their touching documentary here.