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.

Travel Grants Open to Teachers

Travel grants open to globetrotting teachers who aim to improve

Gotham Schools, February 14, 2012
by Jessica Campbell

Faye Chiu and Eszter Weiss, veteran math teachers, spent last summer in Italy and Greece — not bathing on the Riviera or hopping the isles, but retracing the steps of the ancient mathematicians in search of inspiration to energize their curriculum at Manhattan’s Millennium High School.

And while they were soaking up information about Archimedes, other city teachers were going to the far corners of the earth for their students, too: to Sweden to learn about individualized learning plans; to Iran and Turkey to collect information for helping non-Muslim students understand their school’s growing Muslim population; to Brazil to gather tips on getting girls interested in physical activity.

If the trips don’t sound like the average professional development sessions, it’s because they’re not. Instead, enabled by the national organization Fund for Teachers and its local partner, New Visions for Public Schools, are fueled entirely by teachers’ own curiosities.

In the past, New Visions offered the grants only to teachers affiliated with the schools it manages and supports. But this year, the nonprofit added supplementary grants of up to $10,000 that are open to teachers in all city high schools — provided that they teach courses that culminate in a Regents exam, have been teaching for at least three years, and plan to return to the classroom in September. Applications for this summer’s YouPD Challenge Grants are due Feb. 29.

Eszter Weiss and Faye Chiu, Millenium High School math teachers, exploring Archimedes Garden in Florence, Italy on a 2011 Fund for Teachers trip.

The concept behind the grant is simple, according to Robert Hughes, New Visions’ president.

“The best professional development is the professional development that teachers create and define for themselves,” he said.

Hughes said the program’s expansion is meant to recognize stellar educators throughout the city.

“With all of the controversy flowing around teachers it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the extensive commitment that the vast majority of teachers make,” he said. “Despite the rhetoric, we have some of the strongest teachers in the country.”

Weiss and Chiu outside a school in X’ian, China. (Courtesy Faye Weiss)
As a Fund for Teachers partner, New Visions has doled out $2.3 million to 600 teachers since 2003, allowing them to design and pursue their own global journeys towards growth.

The application process is slightly more rigorous for this expanded crop, with the added requirement that they submit a unit plan and video that demonstrates their ability to tailor their curriculum to meet the Common Core standards. The expectation is that teachers will invigorate their practice and curriculum through these travels and then pass on what they’ve learned to their colleagues.

Chiu and Weiss’s trip to Italy and Greece was not their first trip enabled by Fund for Teachers. Through their school’s affiliation with New Visions, Chiu and Weiss also received a grant to travel to Hong Kong and China in 2006.

The first trip was born out of a curiosity about why Millennium’s students from Asia and from Asian-American families were generally more proficient in basic mathematical skills than other students. The teachers designed a six-week itinerary chock full of school visits and interviews that could inform their own practice.

While they saw certain cultural practices around education that wouldn’t translate well back in their New York classrooms — students bowing to the teacher, families being required to financially contribute to their child’s education — they also found strategies that they could steal.

“We were very into open questioning and discovery-based learning,” Weiss said of their pedagogy at the time. “We weren’t into drilling and rote memorization.”

But seeing the latter practiced on the other side of the globe planted the idea that in moderation it might help their students.

“If it’s just creative then you don’t have accuracy, but if you just focus on the drilling and the rote memorization then you can’t develop their critical thinking skills,” Chiu said.

Now Weiss, Chiu, and other teachers in their department try to strike a balance; they make games of drilling students on basic mathematical knowledge and they have started using a skills-based math curriculum, Delta Math, some of the time.

If the trip to Asia was about bringing students into modern times, the trip to Italy and Greece was about connecting them back to ancient ones.

Inspired by a weekend outing to an exhibition of the nearly 4,000-year-old clay tablets that document early Babylonian mathematics, the pair decided that retracing the paths of ancient mathematicians would help them help students better appreciate the genesis of and need for the formulas that can seem so stale in a high school algebra class. The stories they picked up about the earliest scholars have now infiltrated their lessons.

Crafting their own professional development adventures did leave them susceptible to some hiccups, like being turned away by the Chinese Ministry of Education and being denied access to antique math manuscripts at an Italian library. But they said the payoff of charting their own course was worth it.

“It’s self-designed and it doesn’t get much better than that,” Chiu said.

FFT & NVPS Offers Grant Challenge

Fund for Teachers – New Visions for Public Schools Offers Grant Challenge to All NYC Public High School Teachers

February 1, 2012 (New York City) – All New York City public high school teachers have some thinking to do: What do they want to learn and where they want to learn it this summer? By crafting their proposal and submitting to Fund for Teachers, they could receive up to $10,000 to make it happen.

The Fund for Teachers – YouPD Challenge Grant is a pilot program extending the traditional Fund for Teachers grant opportunity to all New York City public high school teachers. Since 2003, 600 New Visions for Public Schools teachers received more than $2.6M in Fund for Teachers grants to pursue learning odysseys around the world and engage students in 350 NYC schools.

Read the press release here.

Australia Day in Oklahoma

January 26, 2012 (HOUSTON) – While Australia Day doesn’t mean much to most Americans, it holds special significance for five Union Public School teachers this year.

After applying for Fund for Teachers grants this time last year, five Tulsa-area elementary teachers received $20,000 to pursue new knowledge in the Land Down Under and make learning more engaging for their students. These teachers and their Fund for Teachers fellowship descriptions include:

Team Koala (Keeping Our Attention on Literacy Acceleration)
Traci Gardner, Debora Burry and Lisa Gildea – Clark Elementary
Who observed Australia’s National Accelerated Literacy Program, which garners a 99% literacy rate, to develop and solidify language skills for struggling readers (pictured below with Jane McQueen, facility administrator for Accelerated Literacy in Darwin, Australia); and,

Wonders Down Under TeamKathy Harding and Jennie Morris – Peters Elementary
Who explored the plants, animals and geology of Australia’s rainforest, researching the concept of an ecological niche, to enhance third grade science curriculum (pictured below delivering a check from Peters Elementary school community to representatives of Rainforest Rescue to help preserve Australia’s ancient rainforests.)

“Each location and group of people we visited offered us an insight into the underpinnings of Australian culture and education,” said Gardner, reading specialist at Clark Elementary. “These experiences prompted reflection on our current classroom practices and encouraged us to develop strategies for improving literacy learning and cultural awareness at our school.” Team KOALA is currently working to implement literacy strategies observed on their Fund for Teachers fellowship through student book clubs, writing workshops, and cultural awareness lessons.

Team KOALA with Jane McQueen, Facility Administrator for Accelerated Literacy.

“Teaching in today’s test driven culture, we don’t have a lot of time to deviate from the established curriculum. Therefore, it was important that this fellowship complement our curriculum, rather than add to it,’ explained Harding, teacher at Peters Elementary. “The wonderful thing about Fund for Teachers is that we had the flexibility to expand our knowledge in all of the necessary areas. Though our intent in the rainforest was to study the animals, the primitive plants were equally remarkable. We went to Mount Isa to see fossils of the rainforest, but also in the complex was a mining museum. The strange landforms we saw are made of rock and will fit nicely into our new third grade curriculum. The native didgeridoo we brought back makes some very strange sounds, especially when we play it!” Students of Harding and Morris are conducting research on Australia, using primary sources gathered by their teachers last summer, to create board games about the continent.

“Learning about the interrelationships in the natural world made us realize that we can’t isolate ourselves from the rest of the school, or the country, or the world. We all depend on each other and what we do often has ripple effects that might not be obvious at first,” said Harding.

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.

Newsletter – Volume 7, Holiday 2011

In this issue we hope for authentic connections with others, celebrate our differences, appreciate community, and reflect on happy endings. Fund for Teachers wishes you a new year full of these same aspirations.

Read our recent newsletter, Odyssey.


“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.

Permian Basin K-12 Educators Eligible for Fund for Teachers Grants

Teachers: Design Your Ideal Summer Odyssey & Bring Learning Back to Students

(September 30, 2011) HOUSTON – Venture capitalists for teachers – that describes Fund for Teachers. But instead of investing in innovative ideas, Fund for Teachers invests in innovative teachers. This national nonprofit invites eligible educators to propose their ideal learning experience through an online application beginning October 1. If selected, teachers receive up to $10,000 to put their plans into action during summer 2012.

“The starting point for a Fund for Teachers fellowship is a curious teacher seeking opportunities to grow personally and professionally,” explained Karen Kovach-Webb, Fund for Teachers’ executive director. “With Fund for Teachers grants, these teachers then pursue experiences that inspire classrooms and motivate the students shaping our world.”

Unlike other teacher grant opportunities, Fund for Teachers puts virtually no limitations on teachers’ requests. Any destination or discipline is fair game, as evidenced by the 433 teachers from across America who traveled in 116 countries on 7 continents last summer. Since 2001, 4,500 teachers leveraged $15.9 million in FFT grants into global odysseys that perpetually impact students, classrooms and communities back home.

“Embarking on an educational adventure that I designed brought my teaching full circle and made me the student again,” said Kylee Shipp, teacher at Silverton School of Expeditionary Learning in Silverton, CO. “By exploring the relationship between art and history in Mexico, I was able to take the time to think about my own learning processes and subsequently construct culturally relevant content for my students. Fund for Teachers provided me with the amazing gift of inspiration that I now share with my diverse population of students.”

Fund for Teachers’ founding sponsor, Apache Corporation, invited the nonprofit to make this opportunity available to Permian Basin teachers.

“Teachers are charged with preparing students with the requisite tools and skills to become our civic and corporate leaders of tomorrow,” said John Christmann, Apache Corporation’s regional vice president for the Permian Basin. “That’s why Apache believes in supporting teachers’ life-long learning. We know that teachers are preparing our next generation of global citizens.”

Application guidelines and helpful tips accompany the online application at fundforteachers.org. The deadline for submitting proposals is January 27, 2012; candidates are notified by April.

Fund for Teachers enriches the personal and professional growth of teachers by recognizing and supporting them as they identify and pursue opportunities around the world that impact their practice, their students and their schools. For more information, visit www.fundforteachers.org.