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Sparking innovation in urban classrooms
By Toby Shepherd / December 18, 2014 /   Loading Disqus...

Nearly 160 teachers in five urban school districts are getting more resources for classroom innovation thanks to $148,000 in grants through our Spark Grants program. Conceived of and funded by philanthropists Letitia and John Carter, the initiative is based on a simple premise: students learn best when given real-life opportunities to engage in academic content in meaningful, non-traditional ways.  And classroom teachers know best how to provide those opportunities.

Full-time third grade teachers in Central Falls, Newport, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket were invited to apply. Teachers of special subjects like art, music and physical education were also eligible.  The Carters believe that third grade is a crucial period in the academic development of children and the program will put more youngsters on the road to a lifetime of academic achievement. We agree. Their vision is giving teachers a remarkable opportunity to be innovative.

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We asked for big ideas, and we got them: teachers pitched ideas that ranged from mural painting and ukulele concerts to classroom technology and field trips.  The proposals were reviewed by a panel of outside experts. They looked for evidence that the idea could have a meaningful and lasting impact on student learning and how the applicants planned to evaluate the success of their project.

In all, 157 teachers received grants of up to $1,000 to fund ideas that will engage students through unique experiences and creative learning methods and stimulate their interest in academics. Eligible expenses include software licenses, field trips, equipment and other resources that otherwise would not be available in the classroom. The proposals are exceptional.

At Providence’s Carl G. Lauro Elementary School, art teacher Linda Coulombe  will launch an “Arts of the Middle Ages” project to reinforce key concepts related to history, writing and reading primary source texts and research materials.

Jennifer Hole’s students at Newport’s Clairborne Pell Elementary School will participate in dune restoration with Save the Bay’s Newport-based exploration center. The goal is to demonstrate their mastery of topics in marine science in the context of a local service learning project.

At Francis Varieur Elementary School in Pawtucket, third-grade teachers Mary Bergeron and Donna Sawyer will pool their grants to buy 25 digital cameras to support learning activities related to a social studies unit on urban, suburban and rural communities. The cameras will enable teachers to weave art into their lesson plans and foster the development of 21st-century skills through the use of the digital technology.

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While the topics and the methods that teachers will use to implement them vary widely, they are united by several shared beliefs: namely, that experiential learning holds great potential to extend learning that takes place in the classroom and that student engagement requires creative, inspiring and relevant school experiences.

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