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.

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Students honor McAuliffe legacy with science fair

Sarah Thomas
The Boston Globe

FRAMINGHAM – A quarter century after high school teacher Christa McAuliffe died on the space shuttle Challenger, a new generation of students honored the teacher’s legacy Thursday evening with a science fair held at her alma mater, Framingham State University.

“More than anything else, Christa was about teaching,” said Mary Liscombe, executive director of the Christa McAuliffe Center for Education and Teaching Excellence, which is based on the campus. “Her story reinforces the message that anyone can live their dreams, and that message endures through teachers who inspire their students to learn.”

Training for the Challenger flight included some lighter moments for Framingham State grad Christa McAuliffe (left), chosen as the first teacher in space, and her backup, Barbara Morgan. (Nasa via Associated Press/File 1986)

The fair, which showcased the work of McAuliffe Regional Charter Public Middle School’s eighth-grade students, was the capstone of the center’s memorial for McAuliffe and the six other crew members who died on Jan. 28, 1986.

Hundreds of people crowded into the McCarthy Center Forum at Framingham State for the evening’s events, which included short speeches by Liscombe and state Senator Karen Spilka.

“This is a bittersweet celebration,” Spilka said. “Christa is an inspiration to us all, and it’s great to see such a packed room. My thanks to all the students that participated. You are our future.”

Grace Corrigan, McAuliffe’s mother, was scheduled to appear, but was unable to attend.

The fair was conceived by Dan Anderson, McAuliffe Regional’s eighth-grade science teacher. Despite his school being named after such a famous crew member of the Challenger, Anderson said that until last year, he didn’t know much about space.

“It wasn’t on our curriculum. We focused on cells and genetics, and that’s where my passion really was,” Anderson said. “I didn’t have as much genuine excitement for space science, and I think my students could tell that.”

Luckily, Anderson had a solution: space camp. With the help of McAuliffe Regional’s director, Kristin Harrison, Anderson applied for a grant from the Fund for Teachers to spend a week at the Space Academy for Educators in Huntsville, Ala.

“Part of the grant was bringing some part of my experience back, and this fair was the way we decided to do it,” Anderson said. “We have learned so much. The students at our school learn experientially, and they have interviewed space scientists from all over the world. I love space now!”

One student, Matthew Yaeger, wore a regulation NASA space suit to present his research on propulsion in space, and said he has wanted to be an astronaut since the second grade.

“It was a great project,” said Yaeger, who collaborated with his friend Jacob Komissar. “We went to Worcester Polytechnic and talked to a lot of scientists. It was kind of cool, because I had all these ideas of how propelling space ships could work, and then I found out NASA had been thinking of the same things.”

Another student, Caroline Boldt, said she didn’t have much of an interest in space before she started her project on Pluto with her friend Shannon Pruyn.

“My favorite subject is biology, but when I grow up I want to do something in the arts,” Boldt said. “Now I think I’ll have to do pictures of space in my art.”

The evening’s events also included archival displays from the Christa McAuliffe collections, and performances at the Challenger Learning Center planetarium.

The students who participated in the fair put themselves in contention for a grand prize trip to space camp in the summer by writing short essays about what the project taught them.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

NHS teacher serves dual role as documentary filmmaker

Aaron Wright Gray
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN – Judith Blake haphazardly discovered her passion for film. It started with a membership in a food co-op. She wanted to publicize the benefits of being a member and thought that video might be a good medium.

To gain the skills needed to produce the video, she took classes at Norman Cable, where she learned movie-making basics and discovered her knack for producing films. She continued her education by taking classes at Rose State College.

“So, then, I started producing all over the place,” Blake said.

She began with the community access channel, but soon extended her passion into Norman, filming “The River Crossing 1889-1989,” her first documentary, narrated by James Garner, in honor of the Norman Centennial.

Following this documentary, Blake made several more before deciding she wanted to share her love of film with others through teaching. She got her certificate and began teaching speech, drama and yearbook at Alcott Middle School in 1997.

In 2002, she reached her goal of teaching television production at Norman High School. Blake serves as adviser to the student program “Tiger Den,” as well.

But teaching didn’t hold Blake back from producing her own work. As part of a Hitachi teacher exchange program, Blake created the film “A Mosaic of Japan,” which won a Marshall Gregory Award from the Oklahoma Education Association.

In the summer of 2009, she received a $5,000 grant from Fund for Teachers to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, to film a documentary focusing on four different schools in the city.

Blake said the question she wanted the film to answer was, “What do our high school kids look like compared to Cape Town, South Africa?”

The work is titled “Ubuntu, Sharing Voices from Cape Town, South Africa.” It is currently in the final stages of completion.

Parts of this documentary will be shown at the Cinematic Artists of Norman meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday at Norman High School Fine Arts Building.

During, “An Evening with Judith Blake,” Blake will address the group of local filmmakers and film affiliates about her film career. The first CAN meeting for the public is free.

When it comes to maintaining a balance between teaching and producing her own work, Blake said they go hand-in-hand.

“I think it makes me a better teacher,” Blake said, noting that producing her own work puts her in the shoes of the students. She faces trials, such as learning new equipment, experimenting with various styles and having film plans suddenly change.

Experience, Blake said, translates into the classroom.

“You have to stay a step ahead. And the best way to learn anything is to do it,” she said.

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Fund for Teachers Helps Teachers Travel the World

Grantwrangler.com

What will you do this summer? A learning odyssey may be just the journey you need to rejuvenate and energize your teaching. Funds for Teachers, a national, donor-supported grant giver, honors the professionalism of dedicated teachers with a unique fellowship program to help teachers travel the world. They fund life-long learning opportunities for teachers to transform learning for their students.

Design Your Own Journey
Our Fellows use $5,000 individual grants or $10,000 team grants to explore ideas, terrains and cultures on all 7 continents,” said Stephanie Ascherl, Supervisor, External Relations. “Each Fund for Teachers fellowship application is as unique as the teacher who designed it.

Beth Mowry, a 2010 Fellow, pursued her interest in paleontology by joining a dinosaur dig in Wyoming. The staff paleontologist offered to send her home with 150+ million year old dinosaur bones for her students to study. Not only did the fellowship transform Mowry’s classroom, she presented her work at a poster session at the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology.

“My Fund for Teachers grant changed my life,” Mowry writes. “I’m a do-er and a teacher…I’m networking and currently have a list of at least 20 paleontologists from around the WORLD who are willing to support our kids.”

10 Years of Supporting Teachers
Over the past decade, Funds for Teachers has invested more than $14 million in 4,000 preK-12 educations, creating a rich pool of project ideas. The teacher project online search tool allows you to search by keyword, subject area, year or location to get ideas and connect with local Fellows.

Not only do teachers pursue an individual odyssey, they become part of a larger network. An online forum at Fund for Teachers encourages Fellows to share experiences, curriculum ideas, travel tips and thoughts about fellowships.

Winning Applications
Eligible teachers in 18 program locations around the country apply online to be a fellow for the upcoming summer. (Check for eligibility.) Applicants are asked to describe the object of their odyssey and reflect on how the proposed experience will make a difference for them as teachers, for their students, and for their community.

Applications are judged by a regional selection committee made up of past grant winners, community members, local district or school administrators, and donors. Using a scoring rubric, judges evaluate applications to find the programs that will have the greatest impact on participating teachers, their students, and their communities. (View the scoring rubric.) Fund for Teachers receives about 1,500 applications each year and awards an average of 20% of those applicants.

“Turning away teachers who are actively seeking ways to improve their practice is the most challenging aspect of our work,” said Ascherl. “While we can’t accept applications from every teacher, the projects we are able to fund make an enormous difference in our Fellow’s teaching and in their students learning.”

Resources
Fund for Teachers grant application are due at the end of January for the following summer. Applications for summer 2011 are due Friday, January 28th.

Start your application today: www.fundforteachers.org

o find more summer grants, go to Grant Wrangler Search and select Professional Development in the category drop-down.

An Interview with Karen Kovach Webb: Fund for Teachers

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

Fund for Teachers has an important contribution to make toward an expanded notion of what constitutes teacher’s professional development.

Karen, what exactly is this FUND FOR TEACHERS and where does this money come from?

Fund for Teachers has an important contribution to make toward an expanded notion of what constitutes teacher’s professional development. Quality, depth and authentic work with purposeful processes, skills and craftsmanship that will directly impart student learning as proposed by an individual or a team of teachers is what we aspire to fund with each of our grants. We are a donor supported public not-for-profit set up to fund the continuing, self-designed professional development and scholarly exploration of teachers. Research shows that teacher effectiveness is one of the most important factors for student achievement.

Founded ten years ago by Raymond Plank in an effort to change the learning experiences of American students; Fund for Teachers received seminal funding, along with early introductions to energy sector peers, from Apache Corporation. We continue to grow and diversify our outreach in alignment with an ever expanding donor base of individuals and corporations and an increasing number of strategic partnerships forged with a geographically diverse group of local education foundations.

Tell us about the application procedures- how many sheets of paper have to be filled out and can this be done on line?

Applications and the scoring rubric are available online, October 1st, through the January 28th deadline. Applicants fill out two online forms, and the proposal, which is comprised of seven sections. Proposals cannot exceed 18,000 characters (around 4 typed pages). The Fund for Teachers application is incredibly user friendly, and we take pride in our simple, but effective proposal requirements. Many grants seem overwhelming, strictly because of the application process. In addition to FAQ’s and very specific instructional information; the applicants may also participate in frequent webinars or attend local information sessions in person. Fund for Teachers has removed the “hoops” that so often prohibit teachers from applying.

Is this only for teachers or can guidance counselors, and computer support people also apply?

Our grants are available to PreK-12th grade “teachers” who have three years teaching experience and spend at least 50% of their fulltime position in a classroom or classroom like setting. Librarians, counselors and technology specialists who engage in classroom instruction with students for half of their work week are eligible.

Do you encourage national investigation or international?

We encourage teachers to make that decision for themselves. Some of the best work can take place in a teachers own “back yard”—if that is where they determine their questions can be answered. What makes Fund for Teachers so special, is the belief in a teacher’s knowledge and choice of what learning experience will be the best for their personal and professional growth AND what will translate into the most beneficial experience for their students and communities.

Could you just give us a few sample projects to whet the interest of teachers out there?

Fund for Teachers Fellowships are as unique as the teachers who design them. Here are a few:

  • Travel to England to explore the world of Harry Potter to bring literature to life in the classroom.
  • Study and chronicle early Roman architecture in order to enhance and enliven the teaching of mathematics through visual imagery.
  • Paddle a sea kayak the entire length of the Lower Mississippi River to conduct scientific research and develop a river ecology unit.
  • Follow the path of Georgia O’Keeffe across TX and NM looking at art, petro glyphs and pictographs, and attending a workshop at Ghost Ranch and International Folk Art Market.

Let’s face it- we would all like a vacation in Iceland, I mean Hawaii- but what are you looking for in terms of these grants?

Successful Fund for Teachers’ Fellowship proposals show evidence for the possibilities of both personal and professional growth for the teacher scholar, as well as project the potential impacts on their students’ learning. The rigor of the application is complimented by the rigor of the scoring rubric. The step by step on-line process allows the teacher to review both sets of criteria prior to making application.

How many people read and review these grants?

Applications are reviewed by committee assembled in each program locale of diverse group of community members. Each application is independently read and scored by a cluster of at least three individuals. Final scoring is determined by “cluster” group discussion. Last year, there were nearly 200 readers nationally. The same scoring rubric and selection process is used across the country. Funding is a collaborative decision based solely on the merit of the proposal as evaluated by the local cluster and the funds available. Committee members include past grant winners, donors, school or district leaders, and community volunteers.

Do you have a web site where teachers can get more information?

Teachers and all other interested parties are invited to visit www.fundforteachers.org.. Information may also be obtained by calling 800 681-2667 or by email to info@fundforteachers.org.

And what do you have for college professors to expand their horizons?

Fund for Teachers’ grants are designed specifically for PreK-12th grade teachers.