Grants In Action

High Rock Creation Lab

Last spring the NEF approved a small grant written by Erin Mack, High Rock’s Technology Integration Specialist (see above), to transform the technology lab into a Creation Lab.  We had a chance to sit in on a class in the Creation Lab in March, where everything that Ms. Mack envisioned in her grant application has come to life in her classroom. Where there were once rows of computers facing a whiteboard, there are now lively work spaces defined with colorful rugs, furniture and dividers.  During our visit, some students were recording in front of a green screen with plans of dropping in backgrounds suitable to their project.  At one grouping of computers, two students were creating a poster together, while another group lay on the floor filming a stop motion film using their iPads, an iPad stand, and a whiteboard. Erin never sat down while we were there – she moved from group to group and answered questions, gave instructions and ideas, and challenged students to think of new ways to accomplish their tasks. In her grant application, Erin wrote, “Imagine a room where teachers can be the facilitator and students have the autonomy to create, collaborate, and learn at different paces, showcasing their learning in various ways. The possibilities for differentiation and creativity are extensive.”   Kudos to Erin on a well-conceived grant and accomplishing her vision with the High Rock Creation Lab.  

Reaction from staff and students has been very positive, too!

“(I liked) the options available for students to have a choice in their final project for my course. There were designated spaces for kids to work in small groups or individually. All materials were available to help them be successful.” – HR Teacher

“I liked that you could be super creative with the stop motion.”- HR Student

Kindergarten Math Backpacks

A student and his sibling using materials found within the math backpacks

In Spring 2016, NEF funded a $12,000 multi-school grant for math backpacks in every kindergarten classroom across all five elementary schools. With three backpacks per classroom, students take home math-related activities they can do with their families. 

Elaine McKenna, grant writer and Hillside/Eliot math coach explains the program, “The kindergarten math backpacks are a great home school connection where the students are completing math activities, playing math games, and are introduced to math literature. The math concepts are aligned with Massachusetts State Frameworks but are introduced and practiced in a fun and engaging way.”

Backpacks contain a journal for students to record their experience with the backpack, which includes books, interactive games and manipulatives. Teachersreport that their students are enthusiastic about the program, “The kids really enjoy using the math backpacks. They come to school excited to tell me that they played the games with their families.” And in the words of several students, 

  • “I love all the games!” 
  • “I learned how to count by tens.”
  • “The books are my favorite!”

A Study of Courage for Mitchell 5th Grade Students

Two Mitchell 5th graders proudly show their work to William Muorwel, a former Lost Boy of Sudan.

Eighty students in Mitchell School’s fifth grade classrooms are undertaking a year-long “study in courage” thanks to a $3,500 grant from the NEF.  The goal of the grant, written by Mitchell Assistant Vice Principal Barbara Hayden and the 5th grade teachers, is to introduce 5th graders to inspirational people who have demonstrated courage and resiliency in overcoming obstacles–with a special focus on individuals from diverse cultures and races.  “Thanks to the NEF Grant, our students are learning to face the inevitable difficulties of life. Our hope is that our students will work hard — giving up less often because they will realize what is making them want to give up and address it.” said Hayden.
 
This fall, students participated in a read aloud of the book Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate and then completed a partner project based on the book.  This piece of historical fiction tells the story of a young Sudanese civil war survivor adapting to life in Minnesota. In October, fifth graders were visited by two inspirational speakers, William Muorel and Moses Ajou, both Lost Boys of the Sudan and survivors of the Sudanese civil war. The men shared their struggles, strategies for coping, and their ways of finding joy in life after losing their homes and families.  Said Colleen Soldato, a fifth grade teacher, “The grant has provided a cross-curricular opportunity for students to explore topics such as immigration and what it means to be an American.  This learning was brought to life by the visit from the former Lost Boys, William and Moses.”
 
In the spring, students will read about other courageous people who have faced adversity and overcome obstacles as they conduct partner research and prepare a presentation for their classmates.  The NEF grant funded a library of biographies and autobiographies for this project. Finally, fifth graders will participate in service-learning projects to support the South Sudanese Enrichment Center for Families in Medford and a school for children in South Sudan later this year.
 
So far, the grant has seemed to make a lasting impression, particularly the visit from the two former Lost Boys of Sudan.  As one fifth grader said, “You sent across a message to never give up and be optimistic and follow what you want to do, and work hard for what you want to do!  I will never forget that and never forget this presentation.”

 

Blues Guitar Player Visits Needham High

Toby Walker, Master Blues Artist, teaching NHS students how to play blues style music

 

NEF was proud to award the “Blues in the Schools”  grant to Needham High School to fund a visit from Toby Walker (pictured), a Master Blues Artist and member of the NY Blues Hall of Fame.  He provided an engaging presentation to the African American Studies classes that follows the history of blues from slavery, emancipation, and beyond.  He also shared his personal narrative of how he came to acquire his knowledge journeying through the south.  He also worked with guitar classes to teach them how to play blues style music, including rhythms and picking techniques.

See the article that appeared in the Hometown Weekly.

Film Screening of “Beyond Measure”

First in Education Film Series Funded by 2016 Spring Grant
 
On October 20, over 200 parents and community members gathered for a screening and panel discussion of Beyond Measure, an award-winning documentary, which outlines problems with our current education system and paints a picture of what’s possible in our schools.  The film follows five public schools across the country “breaking away from an outmoded test-drive education [and] shaping a new vision for our classrooms”. 
 
While many other education-themed films focus on shortcomings, including disparities in student achievement, low graduation rates and poor attendance, Beyond Measure looks at the innovations at work in school districts across the nation. Rather than asking why students are failing when tested and compared with peers, the film asks us to reconsider the greater purpose of education: What if our education system valued personal growth over test scores? What if it focused on project-based learning versus memorization or encouraged passion over rankings? What if we decided that the higher aim of school was not the transmission of facts, but the transformation of students?
 
The panelists for the evening included Dr. Elizabeth Coleman, former President of Bennington College, who led the university through an educational reformation; Dr. Beth Hennessey, Professor of Psychology at Wellesley College, who focuses her research on creativity and intrinsic motivation; and Dr. Jay Moody, Entrepreneur and Innovation Coach at Wayland High School.
 
The panelists concurred with the film’s theories and ideas, and they shared their thoughts on what our society needs to consider in order to improve the status of our educational infrastructure. Dr. Coleman stressed the importance of great teachers in education, noting that any approach to educational reform is only as good as the teachers who teach it. Dr. Hennessey added that it’s important that educators engage students in their own education, so that it will be individually relevant. Dr. Moody noted that while it is possible to have courses like the ones shown in Beyond Measure in our public schools, it would be very difficult to change completely to project-based coursework. The rest of the evening continued with lively discussion, with topics ranging from homework in elementary school to gap years for high school graduates.
 
With this grant, the five elementary school PTC’s have organized screenings of three additional films for the remainder of this school year. This will include a re-screening of Most Likely to Succeed, small group screenings and discussions of the PBS film series Raising of America, and screening and panel discussion of Race to Nowhere. Dates and information about the future film screenings will be available soon.

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