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.

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.

“Switched on Physics”: FFT Fellow and Students Build Robot

Kristi Nix
The Journal of Pearland

Dawson High School’s Switched-On Physics program offers students creative new ways to learn about science. It’s a unique approach designed to allow students to explore and discover new ideas in the classroom.

Some say the program’s success is driven by the enthusiasm and down to earth approach of physics teacher Alexander Graham. It seems his love of learning and physics is contagious.

“Mr. Graham told me the program wasn’t too heavy on the science side of things and I wasn’t much of a science person,” Dawson High School student Jason Ko said. “But, the project turned out to be a real world application in physics. It was really fun. I had a good time.”

Last year Graham applied to Fund for Teachers and won a $5,000 grant. He used the funds to travel to the Philippines to study the Las Pinas bamboo pipe organ. It was an experience that inspired him to tackle new classroom projects such as an alternative energy-driven digital pipe organ and a student driven robotics project.

The robotics assignment offered his students a lesson in physics and computer software engineering, as well as a lesson in creative ingenuity.

Last week, his students held a demonstration of their new robot (ALFRED). The life size machine was mounted on wheels; its motion was controlled by a computer engineered and installed by the students. During the demonstration, the robot roamed the classroom. It then rolled out into the halls of the school, only occasionally crashing into the lockers.

Students also demonstrated the robot’s ability to speak. Future modifications are in the works to program the robot to speak more than one language, students said.

About Funds for Teachers:

Each year, Fund for Teachers awards grants to individual educators across the county to fund a unique, once in a lifetime professional development experience.

Fund for Teachers gives fellowships for self-designed professional growth to PreK-12 teachers who understand the value of learning and their ability as educators to make a difference.

“We recognize that the teacher is the decisive factor in students’ learning,” said Karen Kovach Webb, Fund for Teachers’ Executive Director. “We are deeply committed to the growth of teachers through strategic investments in their own areas of personal and professional interest. We’ve seen firsthand the impact Fund for Teachers fellowships have as a transformative resource for teaching and learning.”

Since 2001, 4,000 teachers have been awarded $14.2 million in Fund for Teachers grants-up to $5,000 for individuals, or $10,000 for teams. Fund for Teachers fellowships have taken place in 113 countries on every continent, empowering teachers to explore countless ideas, terrains, and cultures.

For more information about Fund for Teachers, visit www.fundforteachers.org

Web Cam Brings India To Beggs Elementary School

Rick Wells
The News On 6

BEGGS, OK – A group of Beggs third graders talked to people on the other side of the world Wednesday morning. The teachers used something the kids love – computers – to teach them about and take them to a place they’ve never been.

“Why do the women wear red dots on their forehead, and what does that mean?” asked Payden Bradshaw.

Payden Bradshaw is a Beggs third grader. She’s participating in a video conference with some new friends in India. The kids have been studying the continents and had some questions they wanted answered.

They want to learn by doing and seeing, they don’t want to just read about it,” said Sherrie Guthrie, third-grade teacher.

Sherrie Guthrie is one of the third-grade teachers, and her brother is working in India right now. So they used the Internet and a webcam to hold a video conference to ask and get answers to their questions.

Emma asked about the weather.

“How is the weather today and can you tell us about monsoon season?” she asked.

Seventy-six degrees, they said, and monsoon season runs through the summer months. They could have read that, but how much more fun this way.

But in this time of shrinking budgets where’d they get a web cam?

Cindy Swearingen, the Beggs Public Schools Superintendent, told us the teachers are very active grant writers finding money outside the budget to support programs they think they need.

“How can I take these kids out to a place they’ve never been to expand their horizons,” said first-grade teacher Darla Six of her goals.

She helped write the grant that got the webcam and some training on how to use it – to go places like India to get questions answered like about those red dots on some Hindu women’s foreheads.

Payden Bradshaw now knows the answer.

“They wear it when they are married,” she said.

In Beggs you will find creative teachers using technology to help educate their students despite tight budgets.

Sherrie Guthrie’s brother Roy Kulp will be in Japan in a few weeks, so they plan another web cam hookup with him and some of his colleagues there, to learn more about that country.

Bringing European Art to the Classroom

Samira Rizvi
Ultimate Katy

Trekking through Western Europe nearly three years ago, Nancy Hess was busy thinking how she could bring the experience back to her students at Katy Independent School District’s Griffin Elementary School.

By all accounts, Hess went over and beyond the call to duty and has recently been presented with one of only eight Plank Fellowship Awards in the nation. The award was in recognition of the programs she developed after her European visit as part of her Fund for Teachers fellowship and was awarded by Carrie Pillsbury from the Fund for Teachers program on National Teacher’s Day this month.

“The program uses your own creativity to set up your experience,” Hess explained. “I called mine ‘Walking in the Footsteps of the Masters’.”

The Fund for Teachers provides $5,000 grants for individual teachers or $10,000 grants for teams of two or more teachers. Hess’ fine arts grant was for a trip to Western Europe to study and observe the homes and workplaces of such artists and musicians as Mozart, Handel, Monet and Michelangelo. Her 2½-week visit included sites in France, Italy, Germany, Austria and England. Traveling with her on the 2007 trip was her daughter Ashley, 22, and a student at the time, who paid her own way.

Based in Houston, the national foundation takes applications each year from October through January, with awards announced in April, according to national director Karen Kovach Webb. Now in its 10th year, the Fund for Teachers provides the funds for experiences anywhere in the world for “self-designed learning experiences,” Webb said.

The Plank Fellowship Award acknowledges the programs teachers design using the information they have from their travels and was established in honor of Raymond Plank, the founder of Apache Corp. in Houston as well as the Fund for Teachers, Webb said.

“Plank wanted to positively impact the learning experience of students,” Webb explained, “and decided giving the awards to teachers would affect more students than giving an award to one student.”

There is one national winner, who receives a $1,000 stipend and several regional winners, each of whom receives $500. Hess is the fellowship winner for the Houston region, Webb said.

“The fellowships are available for teachers in pre-K to 12th-grade classrooms, who spend at least 50 percent of their time in the classroom,” Webb said. “There were 465 awarded this year, and 4,000 awards in the past 10 years. The total amount awarded this year was $1.9 million, given to 55 teachers in 38 different schools.”

Hess, 52, has been a teacher for 27 years, spending 14 of those years in Katy ISD schools. She has been at Griffin Elementary School since it opened in 2006. A graduate of University of Houston and a native of Houston, Hess has a master’s degree in elementary education. She is married to Rusty and is the mother of Ashley, now 24 and a graduate of University of Houston, and Dusten, 21, a University of Houston student. She is the teacher for Griffin Elementary School’s gifted and talented program.

“The benefit of the Fund for Teachers program was that I wanted to learn more about each of the artists and musicians I teach. For most of the kids, this isn’t their art or their music, but I want to teach them a love and recognition for this style of art and music.

The programs she devised at the end of her journey are taught through Power Point slide shows and some video, as well as some hands-on materials she brought back from Europe.

“Walking into the back of Claude Monet’s house is like walking into Disneyland,” she smiled. “It gives you the feeling of walking through there when he was there. So many subjects tie together, like architecture and architectural terms. When you like something you’ve done you love to talk about it. Being able to portray that to my students made it much more exciting for them.”

Points of interest on her trip included the Vatican, the Forum and the Colosseum in Rome and the city of Venice.

“I learned that Venice is where all the Renaissance artists went to study,” she said, “and the Dome of Basilica is an example of Michelangelo’s architecture.

Hess, who had applied twice for the Fund for Teachers award, said she received a lot of support from school administrators.

“I have a lot of great teachers on campus,” said Griffin Elementary School principal Jacki Keithan, “and she is definitely one of the greats.

“She went to Europe and brought back a lot of first-hand information. I have other teachers who have applied, who are looking for experiences that they can grow with and present to their students, but she is the first one I have had win.

“She’s done some really good things with kids this year.”

Part of the unit Hess teaches includes a “Living Museum.”

“I have the students pick an artist or musician or dancer who worked sometime before 1920,” Hess explained. “The students must research their person and dress up as that person. They are seated next to a ‘buzzer’ and when it is pressed, they have to stand up and give a presentation about that person. It’s like the Hall of Presidents at Disneyland. We had adults and students lined up in the hallways. Some of these kids were so into their characters you’d almost believe they’re real.”

According to national director Webb, the Fund for Teachers will be bringing Plank Fellowship winners together in June in a small town in Wyoming.

“We want them to help us look at how we ask teachers what they’re going to do with all this information when they get back from their journey.”

“A lot of people think, ‘wow, a European vacation’,” Hess laughed. “But it was a very fast-paced trip. I really appreciated being able to travel like that. Without the Fund for Teachers we wouldn’t be able to do that. But to have it be a learning experience is different from a vacation. If I went back I sure wouldn’t take it at as fast-paced as I did.”

Teachers to Share Travel Experiences with Students

Cathy Spaulding, Phoenix Staff Writer

Six area teachers will be able to open new worlds and cultures to their students next school year after returning from study trips sponsored by the Fund for Teachers.

The teachers were among 66 Oklahoma teachers to receive the fellowship grants awarded by Fund for Teachers, through the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and the Tulsa Community Foundation. Each year, Fund for Teachers awards grants to enable teachers to experience summer learning treks and bring their experiences to their students.

These area teachers received grants:

• Tony Goetz Elementary School resource specialist Cheri Fite will go to England and explore the world of literary hero Harry Potter in an effort to bring literature to life in her classroom.

• Tahlequah High School career-technology teacher Brenda McClain will visit World War II locations in Germany and collect video, photographs and global positioning coordinates.

• Paula Galbraith, Vanessa Gilley and Delicia White of Eufaula Elementary School will go to Costa Rica and learn how the indigenous Indian culture compares to Oklahoma’s Native American culture.

Fite said she wants her trip to show her students the differences not only between the United States and England, but also between fact and fiction. She said she will visit many of the places mentioned in the books or shown in the movies based on the books.

“I’m going to take pictures all over England,” she said. “I’m going to the train station at King’s Crossing, where Harry Potter left on Platform Nine and Three-Fourths. I’ll show there is a Platform 9 and a Platform 10, but Harry’s platform is fictional. I’ll show that the witchcraft and wizardry in the books are fictional.”

Fite said many of her students have reading disabilities.

“A lot of my kids struggle. So one of the things I’m going to show is how Harry Potter struggled with things such as learning to fly the broom,” she said. “I’ll show that he never gave up on what he wanted to accomplish.”

She said she’ll also use the trip to answer students’ questions such as, how do people in England get around or how do they buy things.

The Eufaula teachers said they will find all sorts of things during their 11-day trip to Costa Rica. For example, they will collect data on sea turtles that lay eggs on the beach and learn about reforestation programs. The three also will spend time with a family belonging to the Bribri tribe in Central America.

“We want to compare their life with the Native American culture we have here,” Galbraith said. “We could bring back artifacts to donate to the library with video records of sounds and games.”

The three also will do some in-service training for other teachers.

“A main purpose of our visit is conservation and the need to care for the environment,” Galbraith said.

The teachers said the grant is worth about $10,000.

“We’re very excited about it,” White said.

At Tahlequah, McClain will use global positioning systems, geographic information systems and podcasting to help her students learn technology and her fellow instructors teach history. McClain said she had lived in Germany for six and a half years.

She said the GPS will use longitude and latitude to find a location while the GIS will plat the location on a map. She said she also will take pictures and video, which students will be able to make into a podcast, which history and English teachers could use.

“I’m really excited, because this allows me the opportunity to use history and incorporate technology into it,” she said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

Oklahoma Fellow Gives Unique History Lesson

Darla Splike
The Oklahoman

PONCA CITY – When she was in the eighth grade, Maurisa Pruett asked a friend to join an invitation-only group at their school.

Other group members rejected the girl because of the color of her skin, Pruett said. It was 1978, and segregation was illegal. Pruett got no support from adults she consulted, so she ended up quitting the club.

But the situation changed her outlook.

Now a science teacher at East Middle School in Ponca City, Pruett uses that experience to teach her students about history and civil rights. “My hope is that they will be brave enough to take a stand if they’re ever in a situation that needs that to happen,” the Ponca City teacher said.

During a three- to four-week enrichment class called “Taking a Stand,” Pruett discusses historical movements and contemporary events where courageous individuals made a difference by standing up for what they believed in.

Pruett received a fellowship last summer to visit some of the places about which she teaches. She spent three weeks driving across part of the southern United States. She visited museums and historic sites along the way.

One of the most moving experiences on her trip was when she visited a slave museum and saw cramped quarters where slaves lived, Pruett said.

She said she was appalled by stories she heard about children whose job was to drink water from the rice paddies to make sure no salt was getting through when the paddies were flooded.

Visiting those sites and talking to people who had lived through the history has helped her to connect those experiences to her students in a more dynamic way, Pruett said.

“When you go there and you hear people’s stories, it starts to come to life,” Pruett said. “You feel how humid it was and how miserably hot in the summertime, and yet the people worked from sunup to sundown in terrible conditions.”

Those travel experiences fuel many of her class discussions.

On Friday, Pruett paused a civil rights documentary her eighth-grade students were watching to interject with a story from her summer travels.

She met a man in Birmingham, Ala., who lived there when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four girls in 1963. More than 45 years later, the man still got misty eyes as he recalled the chaos of that day, Pruett said.

Students said the class has been inspiring. “It’s really opened my eyes,” said eighth-grade student Lexi Smith. Smith said the stories make her want to visit some of those historic sites, too. Her classmate, Megan Alexander, agreed.

Alexander said many students at school forget that certain words or actions can be hurtful to others. Pruett’s class is a good reminder, Alexander said.

“I think more people should learn about this, and more people should be thinking about this,” Alexander said.