Friday, June 29, 2007

How to Fund a Democracy Club

The following is the first section of a first draft of a Request for Proposal idea that I am working on. The idea is to describe a program that key people in high schools in my county will find interesting and will want to implement -- and then, to find the money to fund the program. This RFP uses the term, "Learning Club," rather than the term, "Democracy Club." The next section of this RFP will ask that potential teacher teams (2 teachers), interested in implementing this program in their high school, respond to this RFP by describing how this idea could be incorporated into classes that they teach, by making a brief outline of how a teacher / student research team might operate, by listing resources they would use, etc. (I still need to think this next section through.)

Students Will Be Motivated

To Study Big Questions

Our non profit foundation seeks to support the implementation of a program of project based civic education within area high schools. We are seeking a high school that is interested in working to:
  • encourage teacher and student leadership,
  • create good examples of curriculum based project learning,
  • create good examples of curriculum based independent study,
  • bring expert speakers to the school / create live events,
  • generate authentic dialogue and increase understanding about civic matters within your school community, and,
  • provide opportunities for your community to participate in civic education.
To be successful, this program will require a big commitment of significant time, energy and creativity by a core group of teachers and students. This RFP is based on a belief that one source of motivation is found via the opportunity for personal control, personal creativity. It is based on the belief that one source of motivation is found within the encouragement of a meaningful community, one that shares a common vision of accomplishment. It is based on the belief that we are all intensely interested in better understanding big questions that impact our future.

Our goal and hope is that your high school can integrate this program into many aspects of your school. In this program, a core group of interested students and teachers in your school will work on a year long project. This project’s theme will deal with the challenges of the future and will have a title like, “The Challenges of Our Future,” or “Our World in the Year 2040.” (When most of today’s high school students will be about 50 years old). Your Learning Club -- created as part of this RFP -- will chose the title of the theme. From this general theme will come more specific questions about the challenges of the future. Such questions would be big questions such as:
  • Why is there poverty, how can poverty be diminished and what is the plan by which more and more people can become prosperous?
  • Why is there war and how can the prospect for war be diminished?
  • What is injustice and how can injustice in our country be diminished?
  • How is our environment endangered and what can we do to help improve our environment?
These big questions are civic questions, because, as a democracy, it is essential that we, as citizens, have understanding about the problems that face us. These big questions can and should be studied from many points of view, with the goal of gaining in-depth understanding. We all want to know the answers to questions of deep meaning. The prospect of becoming engaged in a process, working as a team, tackling a big question, should be the basis for motivating some teachers and some students to new levels of academic and personal achievement.

Program Structure

Learning Teams: Will consist of two teachers, each teacher a mentor to four students, and will welcome other interested students and teachers.

Purpose and Activities of Learning Teams
Learning teams will focus on investigating one big question by looking at many aspects of the question from many perspectives. Each member of the team will embark on an independent study of the topic and eventually will explore in-depth some aspect and some perspective of the question. Each member of the team will become an expert in some aspect of the question. Learning teams will meet about 20 times during the year and will also communicate via the internet.

Mentees / Selection and Activity
Mentees will be selected by the two teachers of the Learning Team from an RFP process. Mentees will define, with their mentor, a program of Independent Study using criteria established by the Local Board of Education. This Independent Study should be planned to result in either a credit or half-credit and will be accepted as a partial fulfillment of the total high school credit graduation requirement established by the Local Board.

After School Learning Club
The After School Learning Club will meet once each week. This Club is an after school activity for Learning Team members as well as other interested students and teachers. The purpose of this club is to give a forum for members to share their research and as a forum for general brainstorming about how the entire project can improve, etc. The Club will operate by democratic rules and will elect officers, who will establish an agenda for each meeting. The After School Club will meet about 25 times in a year, and members will also communicate on a regular basis via the internet.

A Public Series of Events
The study of big questions should culminate in a program of public events. Such events will give opportunity for both teachers and students to share in the knowledge they have created. These events may include participation of guest speakers in a seminar setting, where a learning team of students may dialogue with the speaker and where the public will also have a chance to participate. Such events may also be a structured debate between two guests. Such events may also include video presentations created by students.

A Video Record
The work of the Learning Teams and Learning Club, and a record of the presentations at the public series of events, will be summarized in edited videos and short video documentaries will be produced as one tangible product coming from this program. These videos will be posted on the internet so that interested members of the community may have access to watching them. Some videos may also be shown on cable access TV.

Each Learning Team will be budgeted for $12,000 as follows:

$ 7,500 2 teachers @ $3750 stipend each
$ 1,000 2 teachers project budget @ $500 each
$ 500 Project Coordinator stipend
$ 750 Videographer
$ 750 Art teacher stipend
$ 750 Awards / Incentives / Refreshments
$ 750 Expert help / guest speakers

The expected time commitment for teachers is 130 hours, spread throughout the school year.

The project coordinator stipend will to allocated to one teacher on the Learning Team. If a school is funded for four Learning Teams, then one of the eight teachers on these four teams will be allocated an additional $2000 to serve as program coordinator ($500 per team).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

EIC Reunion Conference: How to Teach in the Great Outdoors

Each summer environmental education teachers in Georgia gather for a Reunion Conference under the auspices of the EIC program. EIC is a strange letter combination taken from the awkward phrase "using the Environment as an Integrating Context for learning". An awful name for a great idea and a wonderful program. Carefully gearing activities to current school standards and best practices, EIC schools seek to use the real world around us to make learning of all kinds meaningful, exciting, memorable, and effective for students. We believe it works.

Our school is a poster child for environmental education. Our third through fifth grade elementary school has implemented EIC in all three grades through a bunch of programs and activities over several years. Here are a few examples:
  • a group of students proposed that the green tree frog become the official Georgia amphibian. They studied the process of a bill becoming a law. They wrote legislators to make the proposal and get their help in drafting legislation. They lobbied for its approval. It took three years and a good deal of controversy over state symbols, but they accomplished their goal. I know of no other instance of a bill proposed by elementary students becoming law. Here is a PDF booklet about the project for use with students.
  • our students planned and built a garden at a local oncology center and maintain it for the patients there.
  • our students planted a grove of American Chesnuts as part of the effort to reintroduce these magnificent trees.
  • our students participated in the program to reintroduce sturgeon to the waters of the Coosa River basin.
  • our students, teachers, and parents built a model watershed on our campus we call the Three Rivers Project.
  • our students built and distributed rain barrels to the community as a means of conserving water.
  • our students participated in the last three annual Coosa River Basin Initiative Environmental Quiz Bowls (winning twice.)
I could name at least that many more projects: the bog garden, many classroom gardens, the butterfly garden, the nature trail, the outdoor classroom, the Adopt-a-Stream program, Metatarsel Mayhem, the Roadkill project. our end of year camp experience, Monarchs in the Classroom, etc. These in addition to the every day use of the environment by regular classes. All of these activities have been keyed to Georgia Performance Standards (or the standards that these replaced) and use a multidisciplinary approach.

Now, like the folks of Lake Wobegon, we believe our mothers are beautiful, our daddies are good looking, and out students are all above average. Still I'd point out that our average scores on the Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Tests have been anything but average. We consistently lead the county on most subtests. I think at least part of the credit for those good scores can be laid to our use of the environment as an integrating context.

So I found myself at the wonderful Gwinnett County Environmental and Heritage Center last week participating in a variety of workshops to enhance my skill at environmental teaching. The Center itself was a wonderful lesson. Check out its website.

It is a "green" building. Every nail, stone, commode, landscape plant, etc. came from within a fifty mile radius of the site. The roof is covered in dirt and planted with sunloving plants such as sedums. The building is partially heated and cooled by the effluence from the nearby sewage treatment facility. The building stones are salvaged granite tombstones from the many monument companies in this area of Georgia -- when the engraver misspells, the stone is useless to the company. The parking lot and driveway are paved with pervious asphalt and stone.

Our first workshop dealt with a topic of which I was basically ignorant: the geology of Georgia. It was led by Peter Gordon of the Elachee Nature Science Center near Gainesville, Georgia.

Peter had a neat tectonic plate puzzle, a huge map of Georgia showing the major geologic regions, screen-printed cloth maps of Georgia for student use, a neat Name That Rock exercise where we checked the various attributes (color, streak, luster, hardness) of a small collection of rocks to determine which was which.

Next came the wonderful Jerry Hightower, National Park Service Ranger at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and renowned naturalist.

He walked us through the campus pointing out the common plants and animals that can be found on most campuses, giving lots of examples of ways to use those in our classes and tying science to social studies by pointing out ways common plants and animals were used by American Indians, colonists, Civil War soldiers, etc. Many common plants are edible, though he advises against eating them with students.

The English plantain found in every schoolyard, for instance was sometimes called the white man's footprint because it seemed to follow the Europeans wherever they ventured on the continent.

Acorns, especially those in the white oak group, were a staple of Native American diets.

Susan Meyers who works with the PTA presented two of the workshops I attended. The first demonstrated a wonderful series of activity centers that can be set up for a Science Night program in a school They are all related to migratory birds. The centers can be borrowed from the PTA at no charge by any public, private, or home school group.

Susan then trained a group of us to use the testing kits for the OE parasite on Monarch butterflies. My students now will be able participate in a real science project by Dr. Sonia Altizer at the University of Georgia by capturing and swabbing Monarchs for the program.

In addition to these workshops, my fellow teachers and I worked to plan how we will implement the EIC program at or school this year.

And finally we toured the nature trail at Minor Elementary School and learned to write Windsparks and to make grocery bag portfolios.

This was a very helpful conference. If you ever get the chance to participate in the EIC program, jump at it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

PTSW: Carpe Diem!

Our minister was off on a mission trip this week so we had our lay speaker as preacher this Sunday. His sermon title was "Is the Load Too Heavy to Carry?" and he took as his text Matthew 6, verses 25 to 34 which ends:
"... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
That reminded me of "carpe diem", Horace's famous admonition to harvest the present day rather than worrying about the future. And that set me to thinking of one of the most important epiphanies of my own life that I wrote about Sunday afternoon.

And so Horace's poem from only a few years before the birth of Christ, will be a good one to start this week.

ODES - I.11
Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoƫ, nec Babylonios
tentaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati!
seu plures hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum, sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem quam minimum credula postero.

by Horace (Q. Horatius Flaccus)

There are many translations (Click here to find five more) , this one is by David Lisle Crane:
We cannot know the day and hour appointed
By peering at the tables of the seers;
No anxious calculation of our chances
Will strengthen hope, or set at rest our fears.

Better then be cool and steady-hearted,
Discern no future triumph or despair,
Nor seek to know when winter storms have started
Will any other winter find you here.

For days and hours fly by while we are hoping
That many days and hours are still to come; -
Prune eager hope instead to shorter measure;
No future can compare with this day's sun.
translated by David Lisle Crane
And all that reminds me of a one-day-at-a-time song my mother wrote about her mother's advice:
"...Today is the first day
Of the rest of your life.
Don't borrow trouble
With yesterday’s strife.
Take time. . . smell the flowers
That's worth living for
Then pick up each new day
And fill it with joy!..."
You can read the rest on her weblog, Ruthlace.


The series of posts, A Poem to Start the Week, is my little anthology of poetry, many of which I have used with my students in elementary schools during 27 years of teaching.

Previous Poems to Start the Week:
Poems About PoetryMan's Best Friend
Spelling is Tough Stough!
Blue MarbleTacks, Splinters, Apples and Stars
Oh, Captain, My Captain!MetaphorIntroducion to Poetry
Loveliest of TreesFlax-Golden TalesThe Dinosaurs Are Not All Dead
Owl PelletsMummy Slept LateJust My Size
The Kindest Things I KnowMiles to GoLove that Brother
Oh, Frabjous Day!

Other Posts about Children's Literature:

The Lion's Paw top kid's OOP book!
Aslan is Dead!
A Teacher's Life

You can read some of my own efforts at poetry here.
And then there's Alien Invasion.

A weblog dedicated to Poetry for Children.
Watch Sonja Cole's reviews of children's books at