Longfellow teacher’s lessons inspired by European museum exhibits

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Linda “Lynn” Gerbode has employed Dr. Seuss and a few innovative ideas borrowed from Europe to help her teach such concepts as shadows and light to pupils at Longfellow Elementary School, 3614 Murworth.

Gerbode is creating lessons from interactive children’s exhibits she saw during a trip last summer to science museums in Europe, and adapting them for 720 pupils in kindergarten through the fifth grade who visit her science lab each day.

It was a journey paid for by Fund For Teachers, a national nonprofit organization that provides grant-funded summer trips to teachers who want to research ideas that will augment and stimulate their classroom curriculum.

“I saw how sound travels at four different museums – from kids talking into a straw to the French museum’s bank of PVC pipes in different colors. A child could lean in to an opening at one end of a pipe and talk to a friend who found the other end of (that color) pipe,” said Gerbode, 56. “It gets kids thinking. It’s not the same old boring workshop.”

Gerbode said she’s so grateful to Fund for Teachers for the trip — and the excitement the ideas are already generating in her classroom — that she is readily encouraging people to support the nonprofit’s local fundraising event, the third annual Fund Run for Teachers on Feb. 9.

The run/walk will begin with registration 7-8 a.m., then a Kids K Race from 8-8:30 a.m., with the main 5K race beginning at 8:30 a.m. All events will be held near the Galleria on South Post Oak Road, between Ambassador Way and Lynn Lane. Top male and female finishers in the 5K run/walk each will receive a $100 gift certificate to Fleet Feet.

The 2007 trip is the second Gerbode has taken under Fund for Teachers. Five years ago, the mandatory period the organization requires between trip proposals, she visited Equador’s rainforest to create grade-appropriate ecology lessons.

Gerbode, who has degrees in architecture as well as education, also teaches the Explorations! summer camp sponsored by the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Education Department, 1 Hermann Circle Drive. For 11 years she has helped to develop – then head — the hands-on student activities at Longfellow and the school’s annual Family Science Night and science fair in the spring.

Longfellow’s science lab has evolved into one of of the most complete facilities in the Houston school district, Gerbode said, and “I wanted to see what major science museums in other countries offered through education departments to their young patrons,” from hands-on children’s galleries to philosophies behind educational programs.

During her trip, she visited London’s Science Museum and Natural History Museum; the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie outside Paris at Parc de La Villette, France; and the History of Science Museum in Florence, which houses Galileo’s instruments. Gerbode also took in smaller museums in Italy and Switzerland.

Gerbode gave her highest marks to the French.

“From presentation to execution to comprehensive youth-age inclusion, the Cité’s dual age-appropriate children’s galleries were engaging, informative and often cleverly simple but very visually effective,” said Gerbode, a resident of the Linkwood subdivision.

She plans to use a Cité-inspired exhibit for treasure-hunt lessons in directions, including map and compass readings, and an exhibit on shadows that lets children fit their shadows cast by lights inside wire sculptures on turntables into chalk outlines.

“The things I saw I can reproduce in my classroom,” she said.

This trip and the one to Equador five years ago, the first year Fund for Teachers opened its grant program to teachers in the Houston school district, are having a direct impact on the excitement levels among her pupils, Gerbode said.

“I can foresee virtually everything I encountered in these museums turning up in my classroom, adapted for all grade levels in an appropriate setting, shared with whichever of my colleagues wish to use them, for a very long time,” she said.

Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has awarded grants totalling nearly $8.6 million to 2,609 teachers, including more than 500 Houston teachers who have received $1.8 million.