Grants In Action

Ukuleles at Eliot

Earlier this year, George Vallatini, music teacher at Eliot Elementary School, started implementing the use of ukuleles into his music classrooms. This all-grade-level program was created to provide a richer musical experience for every student at Eliot.

The grant request was for 30 soprano ukuleles and a coordinating music stand for storing them when not in use. The soprano ukuleles are the ideal size for children in grades K through 5.

“There are no string instruments like ukuleles and guitars for the elementary students to use. While the guitar is a difficult instrument for young children to play, the easier ukulele brings an entirely new way for our students to experience the music curriculum. Additionally, the current rise in the popularity of the ukulele brings a fresh and exciting dimension to the musical experience of our Eliot school students,” says Vallatini.

The students are using the ukuleles to accompany their singing, like the folk singers Joni Mitchell and Pete Seeger. They are using the instruments to learn about songs and melody and harmony, as well as rhythm and song structure. The students will also use the ukuleles to help them compose their own original music.

“The ukuleles allow me to teach music in a new and inspiring way,” says Vallatini. Traditionally, when the students are asked to sing, they sing either acapella or accompanied by the piano. By incorporating the ukulele into the existing curriculum, students accompany themselves. According to Vallatini, “This allows them to learn about harmony and accompaniment in a practical, hands-on way.”

The program was funded by a grant from the NEF’s Fall 2017 Small Grants cycle.

Click here to see an Eliot Kindergarten class using a few of the ukuleles.

NEF Awards Three Large Grants Totaling $33,135

The NEF announced the recipients of three large grants totaling $33,135 at the Needham School Committee on March 6, 2018.

Two Needham parents, Carolyn Guttilla and Martha Cohen Barrett, were awarded a grant for the development and execution of a program which aims to: increase students’ awareness of how social media posts can be misinterpreted, encourage students to develop empathy regarding the impact of digital communication on those around them, aid students in creating personal strategies for dealing with digital communication, and help students decrease stress surrounding digital communication. The program will be developed and led by a Boston University sociologist and will include professional development for Pollard teachers, parent meetings to discuss and provide practical tips, and workshops for Pollard students.

Jean Tower, Director of Media and Digital Learning at Needham Public Schools, was awarded a grant to purchase a Padcaster Studio for each school, as well as five iPads with enhanced cameras and storage space. This new mobile technology will allow K-12 students to create video projects that demonstrate their learning.

The third grant awarded was for a summer reading program for at-risk readers in fourth and fifth grades. Available to all five elementary schools through Needham Community Education, the Skills & Thrills: World Tour program will build upon the successful structures already in place in the Skills & Thrills program for grades 1-3. Through engaging, interdisciplinary projects, students will apply critical reading and note-taking skills as they explore countries of the world through informational text, biographies, hybrid fiction and traditional literature. Upper grade students will have the opportunity to mentor younger readers, develop global awareness, and avoid the “summer slide,” a significant regression in reading that often occurs during the summer months. The grant was written by Andrea Vargas, a Needham Public Schools Literacy Coach.

Virtual Reality at Needham High School

Samantha Bookston, Technology Integration Specialist at Needham High School, was awarded a grant of $4,700 in the Fall of 2016 for virtual reality teaching equipment.  Here she tells us how this new technology has been used in classrooms to enhance learning across disciplines.

Many of us are new to VR. How exactly does it work?

Virtual reality is a computer-created scenario that mimics a real experience. Last year, the NEF awarded the high school a grant for a virtual reality cart, which includes 30 plastic (cleanable!) viewers, 13 cell phone devices, 1 teacher tablet, 1 router, 1 360 degree camera, and a cart. This allows teachers to easily use the cart for a classroom of students. 

Can you tell us about projects this equipment has been used for?

The cart has been widely used across multiple departments, with most teachers using the cart for Google Expeditions. During this type of lesson, a teacher will use the tablet to lead students on an experience related to what they are currently studying. For example, a psychology class is able to go on an expedition that explores different parts of the brain–where they are located within relation to one another, and what they look like up close as the brain is working. A social studies class went on an expedition to the trenches of World War I and were able to put themselves in the trench and look around, making observations on what it would have been like in this small area for a length of time. In this particular expedition, they were able to hear warfare sounds as well. Expeditions is a free app that comes with about 8 panoramic slides per expedition; on each of these slides is a 360 image (some include pictures and audio), text to give context to the image, and key things to point out.  

How is VR equipment better than, say, a tablet or Chromebook?

While students can use tablets, Chromebooks, or other online resources for making connections, the VR cart allows the students to experience and make their own observations because they are placed within the picture or video. The first time a classroom puts on the goggles, there are typically a lot of wows, oohs and aahs!

How have the students and teachers reacted to VR?

Teachers are really excited about the VR cart. It has been set up to be easily integrated in the classroom as an enhancement. Some teachers have gone a little farther and have done projects where the students create the virtual reality experience themselves. The students used the 360 camera to shoot a scenario for wellness class, and then they edited it to use as a teaching video for their classmates. A world language class studied different French-speaking countries and edited 360 images together with their voices to create cultural videos. They then used these videos to learn about different cities.  

As virtual reality is becoming more popular, we are excited to expose our students to it. They are making connections using multiple senses and are learning how this new technology and kind of experience can make an impact. 

NHS Experiences ‘One Day’ Author Panel

By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Reprinted from the Hometown Weekly, February 8, 2018

Have you ever finished a book that just left you so astounded and inspired to write your own novel?

It has certainly happened to some of the students at Needham High School.

For their half-day schedule on January 31, Needham High students participated in the “One Day” experience, with this year’s theme revolving around developing authentic characters. Who would have been better to ask about authentic characters than three accomplished authors from eastern Massachusetts? The students selected workshops that would be most beneficial to their growth as writers for the school-wide event. To advise the students by sharing their personal writing experiences, local authors Diana Renn, Marjan Kamali, and Tara Sullivan served on a panel in the library’s media center.

(Click here to continue reading …)

Spheros Bring Excitement to Learning

Last Spring, the Technology Integration Specialists at each elementary school collaborated on a grant to bring Spheros to the elementary schools and were awarded $10,000 from the NEF. What exactly are Spheros? They are robotic balls, about four inches in diameter, that can be programmed to do cool things using an iPad or Chromebook.  The visual, block-based program makes learning the basic principles of programming approachable and fun for kids.  Among other tricks, Spheros can change colors, run a circuit, and keep beat with a song. 

The Tech Specialists have collaborated on introductory lessons that have allowed kids and teachers to become acquainted with these little robots.  Using the Draw tool, Drive tool, and some simple programming of shapes, kids have: drawn shapes by hand on screen for the Sphero to repeat; used markers, large easel paper, and a see-through plastic cup to drive Spheros and create scribble art; grades 3-5 programmed Spheros to make spirals, figure 8s and other shapes; students in 4th grade “drove” their Spheros along a story map during Media. 

As the children get more adept at using the Spheros, the tricks and programming can become more advanced. For example, they’ll be able to show their knowledge of geometry by programming angles to draw specific 2-D shapes. They will also be able to program the Spheros to solve more complicated mathematical questions, for example, measuring how speed and time will affect distance.   

Kara Shea, a 3rd grade teacher at Hillside, says her class absolutely loves learning with the Spheros, and that they are an excellent tool for hands-on, project-based learning.  Maria DeCicco, Tech Specialist at Hillside, said the Spheros have created a lot of excitement in classes across all grade levels.  They have been such a success, says DeCicco, that she knows of three students who put Spheros on their holiday wish list. As one 3rd grader said, “They are really fun. They are the coolest thing in my life!”

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