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.

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.

“Made in China” Means More to Cincinnati Teacher After FFT Fellowship

November 30, 2011 (HOUSTON) – The Chinese government censored his blog documenting communism’s impact on citizens. The government also blocked his entry into Tibet, where he hoped to learn more about the contrast between urban and rural daily life. But government constraints ended and authentic learning began when Harvey Lewis, III, returned to his classroom at Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts equipped with first-hand experiences from his Fund for Teachers fellowship last June.

After teaching social studies for ten years, Lewis was dissatisfied with students’ “textbook version” of China. He wanted to provide lessons that furthered students’ understanding of, competitiveness against and, ultimately, cooperation with their Chinese counterparts. To do so, he needed to move beyond facts and figures to more authentic learning about China’s government and people. Seeking out and obtaining a $5,000 Fund for Teachers grant, Lewis spent the month of June exploring the economic and political climate in one of the most influential countries on the planet.

Lewis meeting a monk in Mongolia after being denied travel to Tibet; Stopping to visit with a local on his way to Hua Shan Mountain, one of five sacred Taoist mountains.

“My Fund for Teachers fellowship took me by planes, high speed trains, bicycles, boats, camels, and foot across Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, and Mongolia, but speaking with ordinary Chinese about their lives, challenges, and dreams proved to be the most rewarding experiences,” said Lewis. “My goal was to immerse myself in Chinese culture and history to then share the material I collected with students in my government and economics classes. It’s easy to label China as a homogeneous state with government-mandated uniformity. But my photographs, videos, and personal accounts from China are helping students develop a greater appreciation of China’s complex society.”

Lewis’ itinerary included observing schools, interviewing teachers, touring sites, and exploring the architecture and lifestyles of Shanghai’s increasingly affluent middle class. He also visited Yanan to see the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party from 1936 to 1947, a major Communist pilgrimage destination. After his passport was rejected on the border of Tibet, Lewis cycled through Mongolia to experience the slower paced life characterized by rural farms and Buddhist monasteries.

In addition to daily sharing examples from his odyssey, Lewis also models life-long learning for his students. “Students appreciate the authenticity of first-hand accounts and have evidenced a desire to learn as much as they can from my fellowship,” said Lewis. “I also serve as an example to my students, demonstrating the exciting opportunities available to them by exploring and immersing themselves in another culture.”

Lewis is one of 10 Cincinnati teachers who used approximately $50,000 in Fund for Teachers grants to embark on self-designed learning odysseys last summer as scholars, researchers, and adventurers. Now in its second year of funding teacher grants in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area in collaboration with Strive Partnership, Fund for Teachers invites all eligible teachers to apply online for 2012 summer grants. The deadline for applications is January 27, 2012.

For more information, visit fundforteachers.org or “like” us on Facebook.

Following in the Footsteps of a World War II Veteran

Humble, TX, Teacher Retraces Namesake’s Steps – from Point of Engagement to Final Resting Place – to Make Soldiers’ Sacrifices Relevant for Students

(Houston) November 10, 2011 – On June 5, 1944, Silas DuFrene stood on the Cliffs of Dover facing his ultimate fate across the English Channel. Sixty-seven years later, his nephew and namesake stood in the same place, pondering his uncle’s sacrifice and preparing for a 15-day pilgrimage to help students at Eagle Springs Elementary tackle the question “Why do soldiers fight and serve?”

Armed with an $4,100 Fund for Teachers grant last June, Silas DuFrene retraced a World War II soldier’s journey–from his uncle’s engagement point in England to his final resting place in Epinal, France. DuFrene’s itinerary included London’s Imperial War Museum, soldiers’ barracks and the British Museum’s WWII archives. He followed his uncle’s journey to the beaches of Normandy, adding stops at the Hôtel Meruice, a Nazi command post during the occupation of Paris, and the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation commemorating the memory of more than 200,000 people sent to concentration camps. Silas also left for Krakow, Poland, to experience Auschwitz. His tour ended where his uncle’s did, at the American Cemetery in Epinal, France.

“At the end of my fellowship, I understood why our soldiers go to war and fight. To protect the life of another is truly a high calling.”

“I wanted students to understand why soldiers, like my uncle, fought and died in this war. But helping young children visualize the people and events of World War II as real and relevant, rather than facts in a book, is daunting,” explained DuFrene. “On my fellowship, I visited key places and collected information to help students grasp our soldiers’ dedication to protecting those who are unable to protect themselves.”

“I can recall the moment I walked onto the D-Day beaches in Normandy. It was almost as if I could hear the chaos of that military invasion nearly 70 years ago,” said DuFrene. “I felt such a sense of such gratitude for the sacrifice those men displayed that day. As I walked around the memorial cemetery, I the true enormity of that sacrifice overwhelmed me. And after visiting Auschwitz at the end of my fellowship, I understood why our soldiers go to war and fight. To protect the life of another is truly a high calling.”

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

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


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.