Posts Tagged ‘science education grants’

About a year ago I wrote a post about the grant game. Since returning from the NSTA conference in Indianapolis I have been writing as many grants as I can, both medium and large. Altogether, I have written seven different grant or program opportunity applications since September 2011. I have been quite successful this year, winning three of the seven.

The first success was to be selected, along with Carolyn Bushman of Wendover Jr./Sr. High School, as an Airborne Astronomy Ambassador for NASA’s SOFIA project. Much of the details are on my other blogsite, www.spacedoutclass.wordpress.com, since it is about astronomy instead of the chemical elements. I found this out in January, and was even interviewed by the local Fox news station (but the story never aired). From February through May I prepared for this opportunity by taking an online astronomy course through Montana State University. We will be flying aboard SOFIA (the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) sometime this school year. We are still waiting to hear which group of astronomers we will be teamed with and when we’ll spend a week at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center preparing for our night flights.

what if prize winner

Website describing my lesson plan for the What If Prize competition

The second success I had was the What If Prize competition. It involved writing and submitting a lesson plan related to astronomy that also involved engineering, math, and technology. I figured my chances were small, given it was an international competition, but it gave me an excuse to update my lesson plan on using trigonometric parallax to measure the distance to nearby stars. I was very busy all last fall editing a video for the Utah School Boards Association and finally got the video done and sent to the DVD duplicators three days before the What If deadline. I had two days to re-write the lesson plan, create new graphics, etc. and submit the whole thing right at the deadline (Dec. 31 at 12:00 midnight). I heard people shouting “Happy New Year!” as I hit the submit button. Then four months passed with no word and I had almost forgotten about the whole thing. I had finished the new version of the lesson plan, which was my real goal. But then, in April, I received an e-mail that I won first place! Here’s the website:  What if Prize announcement.

The award includes a $2000 stipend toward professional development costs. They gave a list of possibilities to apply to, and one certainly caught my eye: a week-long workshop on astrobiology in Hawaii.! But the deadline for that had already passed (Drats). I decided to create my own professional development opportunity and do something to advance the Elements Unearthed project and this blog. I have been neglecting it lately as my teaching career has moved more towards astronomy and astrobiology, but now I have the funds to come back to the story of the elements.

This is what I have decided to do: take about $1750 of the award and use it to travel through Colorado, visiting mining towns and taking as many mine tours and visiting as many museums as possible over a two-week period, documenting the whole thing on video. I have wanted to do this for several years, and did accomplish part of it two years ago when we visited Cripple Creek Mining District in 2010. The remaining $250 will be used to learn how to program apps for the iPad and how to write iTexts.

One of the sponsors of the What If competition is MIT BLOSSOMS, a program to create a series of STEM lesson plans on video that can be distributed freely online and in physical form to worldwide audiences, especially to schools in other countries that may not have Internet connections. I’ve spoken with Dr. Dick Larson at MIT about my parallax lesson plan, have written up an outline and complete script, and began filming it in June (the outside shots). I’ll continue to film it this August and September as my astronomy class begins. It was interesting figuring out how to use Walden School’s building as part the setting for the video, but the final results should be fun.

ACS Hach website

Website for the ACS Hach grant award. This year’s winners have not yet been posted.

My third success I found out in late June. I had applied to the American Chemical Society for the ACS Hach grant for $1500. We have been selected! (The website URL is ridiculously long. You can Google “ACS Hach grant.”  They should announce this year’s winners soon). It will allow me to move forward finally on the project to document the Tintic Mining District and to test the effectiveness of the EPA Superfund clean-up there. We will collaborate with Greg Thornock of Tintic High School, and our students will work together to do two things: to collect and analyze soil samples inside and outside the remediated zone to see if contamination still remains; and to interview local residents, collect photos and stories, and use it all to complete the video my students at MATC began in 2009. My ultimate goal is to edit and produce an hour video in three segments, on the early years (1869 to 1893), the middle years (to 1955), and the later years. Hopefully it will be good enough to air on KUED, Salt Lake City’s PBS station.

These last two successes will provide a great deal of material for this blog and for my chemistry class. Over the next several months, I should be adding at least three posts per week, as well as guest posts from my students. This has already been an incredible year, but my astronomy and chemistry students will have a rich selection of projects to work on and a chance to do some real science. I’ll report our efforts here.

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Students preparing for an acid-base titration

My last post told about our school’s trip to Moab in March and about the discovery of uranium in that area by Charlie Steen. Since then I have not been as active on this blog because I have been spending much of my spare time finding and applying for grants and now preparing for my fall classes. The last term in chemistry was also fairly hectic as we went through several units, including acids/bases, electrochemistry, and thermochemistry.

Titration equivalence point

Finding the equivalence point in an acid-base titration

The grant game isn’t a very fun one to play. There are many losers and only a few winners, and a great deal of effort is required for what is often no reward at all. Unfortunately, as science teachers, we know that to do the engaging, exciting hands-on activities that are the hallmark of good teaching, we often need funds well beyond what our school districts can provide. During difficult financial times, when district budgets and state tax revenues are shrinking, more and more of us are applying for ever scarcer opportunities. So it becomes a numbers game; the more grants you apply to, the more your odds of success for a few of them. Sometimes you luck out.

During the period between March and May, when classes ended for the year, I applied to three grants. Two I haven’t heard back from yet (the Dreyfus grant program and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching [PAEMST]) but one, the McCartney-Dressman Grant, sent me a form e-mail last week saying we had not been selected. There were over 400 applications. In many cases, including this one, grant monies have stipulations such as requiring the schools to have a high number of underrepresented students, which means having a certain percentage of students with minority status, or classified as poor by the percentage applying for free or reduced lunches, or by being in an urban or rural geographical area. Walden School is located in Provo, Utah, which is not rural or urban, and although some of our students are on free or reduced lunches, the percentage isn’t particularly high. In other words, we’re not considered underrepresented. I knew that going in, but decided to try anyway.

For the PAEMST program, this is the first year in 15 that I have qualified. To apply, one has to be a science or math teacher (at least 50% load) in a public or private school and the application process is pretty intimidating. I went to a presentation at the Utah Science Teachers Association conference this last February, and found that in addition to a lengthy essay with supplemental exhibits, one has to also provide a 45 minute video of teaching that has no breaks in it – just one continuous lesson. This is harder than you might think, even for a video professional like myself (maybe especially for me) because I want good quality video as well as good quality teaching. I filmed my chemistry classes on two different days doing activities – one was testing Charles Law that gases expand when heated by having them measure the diameter of balloons as they were dipped in water of different temperatures. That video looked good and had some good comments by the students, but as I moved the camera the video started and stopped on its own, so I couldn’t use it.

Molarity problems

One of the requirements of the PAEMST application: Provide proof of student learning

Then I videotaped my students doing a lab testing the voltages between different metal electrodes. Not as interesting, perhaps, but it went well enough. I got some nice letters of recommendation from a student, a fellow teacher, and my school’s director, wrote up the essay, created a ten-page supplement document, and sent all of this off by the deadline in May. Now the people in Utah have to decide which applications to send on to the national selection committee, and we won’t find out if we’ve won until next May (a whole year). Then in December, 2012, if I’m selected, I get a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet President Obama (maybe – sometimes the president doesn’t show up to present the award named after him) and receive a check for $10,000. Yes, it’s quite a process and if I don’t make it (I don’t know how many actually finished applications – probably ten or so) then I have to wait for two years (2013) before I can apply again as they alternate high school and elementary teachers. Each state gets one math teacher and one science teacher per year (although sometimes the national committee doesn’t select anyone from a state if they feel none qualify).

Charles law lab

Results of the Charles Law lab

As I was looking over the list of previous Utah awardees, I came across the name of a teacher I used to teach with at Juab High School. Janet Sutorius is an excellent math teacher who has also participated in the NASA Educator Workshop program at Dreyden Field Research Center at Edwards Airforce Base. Even after I left Juab HS, I did a workshop presentation with Janet on NASA educational programs at a state conference. Here is a nice article about Janet as an alumnus of Brigham Young University: Janet Sutorius Presidential Award. Other past awardees I know include Duane Merrill (I learned how to teach conceptual physics from him), Ron Cefalo, and others. These are all excellent teachers and role models for me.

The fact that I’ve been out in the wilderness teaching multimedia for ten years means I haven’t been in the spotlight for science teaching (even though I was doing all the NASA stuff). I was actually better known outside of Utah than inside. I did present at the USTA conference frequently, including this year. Many of the people I worked with as a NASA/JPL Solar System Educator had been Presidential Awardees, and when I asked about the program they all said I should apply. But I had to be an official science teacher before that could happen, and this year is the first time since Juab High School. I think I have a strong application – I’ve certainly done more on the national level for teacher professional development that anyone else I know in Utah, but that is just one dimension they look at. I think my content knowledge is excellent, and I’m strong on the other dimensions as well. Anyway, win or lose, I have tried. There have been many times in the past when I have applied for similar programs and thought I could never be selected but was. Maybe this will be one of those times. I just wish I didn’t have to wait so long to find out!

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