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.

Teachers’ Exploration of Irish Potato Famine Informs Local Student Prejudice Issue

(March 17, 2011) Minturn, CO, a small town on the outskirts of Vail, relies on international visitors for its livelihood. Ironically, it’s also the increasingly immigrant work force that’s fostering prejudice at Minturn Middle School. With a racially-divided student population (52% Hispanic/47% Caucasian), cultural discrimination extends even to “established” and “new” Hispanic students. Seventh grade teachers Noel Falk and Stephanie Gallegos chose to address these schisms with history. Turning to an earlier era marked by ethnic turmoil, the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-50, this teacher team traveled to Ireland on a Fund for Teachers grant last June to better understand how that crisis led to Irish immigration, American stereotypes, and, ultimately, prejudice.

Noel and Stephanie stand by a soup pot once used to feed famine victims.

“With our $9,500 Fund for Teachers grant, we chose to use Ireland’s Potato Famine and resulting mass emigration to help students comprehend the enormity of leaving one’s home country with only a “dream” as a lifeline – much like our Hispanic families who emigrate from Mexico,” explained Falk. “By applying this first-hand research toward a two-trimester course on immigration, we hoped to show our students the cultural and economic roots of prejudice and how we can address it in our own culture.”

During their nine-day odyssey, Falk and Gallegos visited Skibbereen, the worst-affected area of the famine and home of the Skibbereen Heritage Center and its Great Famine Commemoration Exhibition, and the Abbeystrewery Cemetery, where nearly10,000 Potato Famine victims are buried; the Heritage Center in Cobh, an emigration port for 2.5 million Irish; a traditional farm in County Kerry that simulated an Irish farmer’s life 200 years ago; and the Famine Warhouse 1848 in County Tipperary, where the Young Irelanders Rebellion protested British rule and British reaction to the famine.

Noel and Stephanie tour Abbeystrewry Cemetery, a mass gravesite for famine victims.

Back at Minturn Middle School, the teachers’ experiences and primary sources sparked dialogue about immigration past and present. Students spent the fall digging into the Potato Famine and its impact on Irish/English relations. As students moved across the Atlantic with the Irish, they learned that the rough journey for the Irish immigrant didn’t end when they passed inspection at Ellis Island. Rather, the Irish spent decades climbing the American social and economic ladder while experiencing nativist perspectives and prejudice in the United States. As students now begin studying Mexican immigration, they realize how much the two cultures have in common. The curriculum created a safe forum for students to discuss the roots of prejudice and how groups can overcome social injustices with facts and dialogues. Consequently, Falk and Gallegos report that students’ own preconceived notions of others are changing.

“This Fund for Teachers fellowship provided us the contacts, connections and perspectives we lacked, but that now help us effectively address the central lesson for our students: Individuals can lessen prejudice by better understanding one another,” said Gallegos. “By bringing Ireland to our classroom and shrinking the world for our students, they begin to realize how similar our cultures are and that the Mexicans who immigrate to the United States in search of a better life are not that different than the Irish who preceded them.”

A national, donor-supported organization, Fund for Teachers makes an important contribution to America’s educational conversation by expanding the definition of teacher professional development. By investing $14.5 million in 4,000 educators over the past ten years, Fund for Teachers inspires teachers’ pursuit of meaningful, self-designed work that translates into skills and scholarship directly impacting student learning. For more information, visit fundforteachers.org or facebook.com/fundforteachers.

For more information on Fellows who have traveled to Ireland, visit our Teacher Project Search, and search for “Ireland.”

A Piece of Pi

While math enthusiasts around the world celebrate Pi Day on 3.14 (or March 14), a select group of Fund for Teachers Fellows celebrate math year-round as our Pi Society Fellows. Founded by Apache Corporation Chairman and CEO Steve Farris, the Pi Society incentivizes teachers to design and pursue math-related fellowships that will directly impact students’ knowledge of concepts vital for corporate leadership. In its first two years, the Pi Society is already fueling meaningful work by its Fellows and their students.

Left: Merit sits at the entrance of Pythagoras’ cave classroom on his 2009 fellowship. Right: Bob with his guitar made under the instruction of master craftsman George Riszanyi.

Living in an isolated rural area, Merit Bean’s students at Mt. Abram High School in Salem Township, ME, are amazed when he begins the year’s math curriculum with a slideshow of his 2009 FFT fellowship to Greece. He introduces the Pythagorean Theory by showing students photos of his hike to Pythagoras’ cave classroom on the island of Samos. He teaches geometrical proportions using photos of Grecian buildings exhibiting the Gold Rectangle premise.

“Using my photographs-ranging from the Parthenon to a shepherd’s hut on the side of an isolated hillside on Tinos- my students calculate proportions in class and then disperse into the community to gather examples of the Golden Rectangle. In January, they returned to class with photos of the geometrical principal at work in libraries, court houses and homes. One of my favorites was a picture of an outhouse that was a perfect fit based on its proportions! The students came away with a deeper understanding of how our isolated, rural community was influenced by Ancient Greece and the ways our cultures are more connected than we realize.”

Bob Dunn’s students at North County Union High School in Newport, VT, experiment with physics under the guise of rock and roll. Last summer, Dunn enrolled in a workshop in Nova Scotia on his FFT fellowship and learned how to make musical instruments while employing mathematical concepts. Under the direction of craftsmen who have built guitars for Keith Richards and James Taylor, Dunn developed skills (and instruments) that served him in creating a math class, “Making Musical Instruments.” In designing and building their own instruments, students considered amplitude and sound wavelength, and selected woods based on their research. A colleague of Dunn’s also created a math unit which focused on calculating the placement of dulcimer frets based on string length. In February, before an audience of parents, faculty and peers, students shared their scientific findings and musical skills on their own hand-crafted dulcimers.

Bob’s student adds clamps to his hand-made dulcimer.

Additional Pi Society Fellows include: Mike Beebe, Littleton, NC, who visited renewable energy technology centers across America to observe, research, and develop a standards-aligned project-based Algebra II curriculum; Padma Rayalla, Atlanta, GA, who observed mathematical teaching and assessment strategies in Bangalore and Hyderbad, India, to implement with International Baccalaureate students; Rebecca Brink, Necedah, WI, who attended the conference History and Epistemology in Math Education in Vienna, Austria, followed by an exploration into the lives of early mathematicians in Athens, Greece, to incorporate the history of mathematics and culture into current curriculum; and Richard Saxer, York, NE, who observed geometry’s relevance and application in prehistoric sites, architectural designs and art displays throughout England and Ireland.

If you are interested in supporting teachers’ and students’ pursuit of inspired mathematical learning, please invest in a piece of the Pi Society by contacting us at info@fundforteachers.org.

Grant Brings World Of Harry Potter To Tony Goetz Students

movies-music-games.com

Cheri Fite is bringing the world of Harry Potter into her classroom at Tony Goetz Elementary School.

Fite, resource room teacher, applied for a grant from Fund for Teachers that allows her to bring the magic of Harry Potter into her classroom.

“When we come back in January we’ll start reading ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,’” Fite said. “When we read certain parts I’ll bring out photos to show them where the scene is in real life.”

Fite can do that because the Fund for Teachers grant helped her travel to England over the summer – where she went in search of Harry Potter armed with a list of questions from her students.

“I found everything and more,” Fite said. “That’s what they want you to do – experience other cultures so you can share that with your kids.”

Fite said her students were full of questions about Big Ben, bobbies and palace guards.

They wanted to see Platform 9 and 3/4, Hogwarts and Diagon Alley too.

“In the dining hall, I got goosebumps when I walked in there,” Fite said, showing a photograph of the room in Hogwarts where the magic begins. “It was so cool.”

She found Platform 9 and 3/4 in the train station where Harry Potter and friends disappear into a brick column to board the train for Hogwarts.

She took lots of pictures everywhere she went.

Fite hasn’t shown her students everything she brought back – yet.

She wants to pull out some surprises while they read the book.

Blayne Allen, 11, said the Harry Potter lesson plans are “awesome.”

“I’ve seen all of the movies and read the seventh book,” Blayne said. “I can’t wait to see the pictures when we’re reading. I can picture the scenes in my head, but not a strong picture.”

Fite put Harry Potter costumes out for her students to explore Friday morning.

The kids of all ages tried everything on, waved wands at one another and said, “Levioso!” and “Abracadabra!”

Each student compared him or herself to a character from the book and talked about scenes they liked from the movie.

All of the activities the students have done so far are preparing them for reading the first book in the series.

Fite’s lesson plans while the class reads include students dressing up and acting out scenes, mailing letters by “owl” and putting on the “sorting hat” and finding out which “house” they’re in.

Russell Bingham, 12, is a redhead – naturally everyone thought he’d make a good Ron character. But Russell said he’d rather play Malfoy, Harry Potter’s nefarious classmate.

Regardless, Bingham can’t wait to start reading the first book.

“I’m looking forward to it because I know the books are better than the movies,” he said.

For Pius teachers, administrators, trip to Rwanda becomes pilgrimage

Margaret Reist
JournalStar.com

The trip to Rwanda was supposed to be an academic journey for two high school teachers, a way for them to improve how they taught about genocide.

That isn’t exactly how it turned out.

The trip the two teachers, their principal and superintendent took last summer to prepare for a visit from a survivor of the 1994 genocide that killed a million people in three months became something much more personal.

Ilibagiza survived, unlike most of her family, hiding in a 3-by-4-foot bathroom for 91 days. Her faith — and a rosary given to her by her father when he told her to run and hide — helped her to not only survive, but to eventually forgive those who killed her family.

It was, in part, that message of forgiveness that turned a professional development trip into a spiritual pilgrimage for the Pius group. That, and meeting the people of Rwanda, seeing the poverty in which they live, and getting to know them and their giving nature.

“When we got there and saw the needs of the people and the needs in our hearts to reach out to them, it became a pilgrimage,” said Jane Connealy, who teaches English and psychology.

“What turned it into a pilgrimage for me personally was recognizing the need for forgiveness in my life.”

The idea for the trip began the summer before, when Pius staff got an e-mail from a member of a Catholic business organization planning to bring Ilibagiza to Lincoln to speak and asking if they’d like to have her speak at Pius.

The school was interested. And since both Julie Schonewise and Connealy teach a social literature class that covers genocide, they were particularly interested.

“I said, as a joke, I guess we’ll need to go to Rwanda and study genocide,” Schonewise recalled.

They applied for and got a $10,000 grant from the Fund for Teachers, which provides professional development money to teachers who want to expand their global awareness.

They decided to include Principal Tom Korta and Superintendent Jim Meysenburg to help make their trip something that could benefit the entire school.

Through a colleague who works for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Schonewise learned that Ilibagiza takes visitors on tours of Rwanda.

Some months later, the four were on a plane to Kilgali, the capital of Rwanda.

They visited the Genocide Memorial, but that really wasn’t the heart of the trip.

“It was the jumping off point,” Connealy said.

From there, they bused to a tiny village called Kibeho, where Catholics believe Mary appeared to visionaries in the 1980s and foretold the genocide. On the way, they visited an orphanage and the Cana Center retreat, where they saw the shrine to Mary, and spent time at an elementary school and a school for the blind.

Kibeho was very poor, and the Pius travelers had no running water for two days. But they found it a place of peace.

“What it was all about was building relationships with the kids of Kibeho,” Connealy said.

The trip really didn’t focus on the genocide as much as it did on the people and culture of Rwanda, Connealy said. But the teachers already knew the ruling Hutu tribe had killed nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days.

Left: Pius X teacher Julie Schonewise looks on while a blind student reads Braille in Kibeho, Rwanda.

Right: Pius X Superintendent Fr. Jim Meysenburg, teachers Julie Schonewise, Jane Connealy and Principal Tom Korta (back) sit with children from a nearby village during their stay at the Cana Retreat Center near Kibeho, Rwanda.

Walking down a dusty road, Connealy said, she could almost hear the killers using the codes for their slaughter: “Cut down the cockroaches. Cut down the tall trees.”

The travelers did hear stories and visited Ilibagiza’s home, which was destroyed during the genocide but has been rebuilt as a place of prayer.

Ilibagiza’s family traveled with them from Kilgali to Kibeho, and Ilibagiza’s sister-in-law talked about how she survived the killings.

She told the travelers how she and her family were taken from their home, forced to lie in the dust while the killers fired at them. The bullets missed her, and she pretended to be dead.

Later, the 17-year-old girl was warned to flee by a boy who was among a group of killers but ran ahead and warned her they were coming.

That was something the teachers learned on their trip — that there were those among the killers who tried to help.

Throughout the trip, the Pius group learned about Ilibagiza’s ability to forgive. And they brought that message home to Lincoln, deciding forgiveness and reconciliation should be a yearlong school theme.

The teachers, with Schonewise leading the effort, had already developed curriculum ideas teachers could use to tie into Ilibagiza’s visit.

To some extent, the trip was always grounded in religion, because the travelers are all Catholics who teach at Pius.

And Immaculée Ilibagiza — who will be in Lincoln this week to talk about how she survived — is also a devout Catholic.

  • Family Consumer Sciences classes are making sundresses to send to the school in Kibeho.
  • Art classes are making Seven Sorrows rosaries.
  • Industrial arts classes are talking about building codes so they understand just how small the bathroom where Ilibagiza hid was.
  • Language classes are learning Kinyarwandan.
  • Social studies classes and social literature classes are studying the genocide.
  • Theology classes are learning about the visionaries in Kibeho.

On Wednesday, students from the 10 Catholic middle schools will join Pius students for an assembly with Ilibagiza.

Being able to reach that many students is important to the teachers — to help spread her message.

“It’s really about forgiveness,” Connealy said. “The power of forgiveness. To forgive others, and ourselves.”

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com

Teachers in African history lesson

Rob Sgobbo
NY Daily News

With the help of a fellowship, two South Bronx high school teachers jetted to Africa—and brought a taste of the continent back to their classrooms.

Catherine Mitchell, 29, and Wendy Eberhart, 32, English teachers at the East Bronx Academy for the Future in East Tremont, were awarded a fellowship grant last year from the Fund for Teachers, a non-profit that offers cash for educators to travel around the world to conduct research of their choosing.

The duo flew to Ghana and Senegal in the summer of 2009 to study the traditional art of storytelling—an experience they’ve brought back to their Bronx students this fall.

“Teaching in a high-stakes testing world, speaking and listening skills get short-shifted,” said Eberhart who teaches ninth-graders.

“Going on this fellowship totally blew up how I teach.”

The fund gave the teachers $7,500 to travel to the West African countries—where they spent three weeks asking locals to share their favorite ancestral tales.

“Everyone we spoke to had something to share and tell us,” said Mitchell, who has her 11th and 12th graders act out traditional African folklore.

Catherine Mitchell, an 11th-and 12th-grade teacher in the South Bronx, uses her experiences from trip to Africa in the classroom.

“This experience taught me how to bring something engaging back to the classroom to help my kids.”

Mitchell and Eberhart said the experience was “life-changing,” and since their trip, the two distilled their experience into a set of lessons to teach storytelling skills, while also breaking down misconceptions their students may have about the faraway continent.

“People talk about Africa like it’s a country,” said Eberhart. “A lot of our students don’t know much about it.”

Mitchell began her lessons last week, using photographs of African landmarks to spark conversation about her travels.

One particular photograph of a Senegalese “slave castle” where African slaves were kept in dungeons beneath a European mansion, particularly hit home with the young Bronxites.

“I was just so surprised,” said Monique, and 18-year old senior in Mitchell’s class. “It makes me want to go there and see this stuff for myself.”

Mitchell also brought in drums, rattles, traditional African garb and statues used in Ghanaian storytelling.

“You only hear about the bad stereotypes about Africa,” said Pablo, a 19-year old senior, who said a lot of students only think of Africa as poor and disease-ridden.

“You just don’t know these things until you learn about it.” But it wasn’t just the kids who benefitted—Mitchell said sharing her experience has changed the way she views teaching. “It keeps things more interesting, and pushes me,” she said. “I’m learning alongside them.”