Conserving Energy While Traveling Through the Disciplines
Janet Rufful and Phyllis Humphrey
Eldredge Elementary School
Conserving Energy While Traveling Through the Disciplines will enhance the 5th grade curriculum by providing an interdisciplinary, exploratory, and hands-on experience in the bourgeoning field of environmental science. The project consists of three units – robotics, environmental science and oceanography. Using robotic technology, students will build solar cars, wind turbines, and solar hot-air balloons. The environmental science unit will involve worm growing, composting, greenhouse planting, construction of a model energy house, and marketing/selling at the environmental fair. In the oceanography unit, students will study the ecology of Narragansett Bay and environmental factors that may influence the future of the Bay. All units will involve a literature component with writing activities and a hands-on science technology component with math.
This grant, which provides for materials and teacher training, not only enhances the science curriculum but also facilitates innovation in the methodology of teaching itself. By collaborating with resource teachers and service providers the student/teacher ration will be greatly reduced. Students will spend 3 hours a week, rotating each trimester among the 3 units. The children will work in small groups to generate, document, and apply data to create different vehicles, instruments, and environmentally friendly plants. In learning to isolate challenges the children will become better problem solvers. And teachers will act as coaches guiding children through the inquiry process, promoting their individual strengths, and building from their weaknesses.
This grant request was a collaboration between two East Greenwich public school veteran teachers: library media specialist Phyllis Humphrey and Grade 5 teacher Janet Rufful. Mrs. Humphrey has been teaching for 24 years, the last twelve of which have been in East Greenwich. She loves her position in East Greenwich: “the students are great, the parents are supportive and my colleagues are fantastic.” Mrs. Rufful has been a teacher at Eldredge for the past 23 years in a variety of capacities, all of which she has enjoyed.
“As teachers, we are always asking ourselves: How do we cover the gaps in the curriculum that are not addressed in the science kits? How can we make this inquiry-based? Hands-on activities lend themselves to inquiry-based learning across the curriculum.” —Janet Rufful
It was Mrs. Humphrey who suggested an environmental theme. “When I learned about the grant opportunity I had just returned from an educational trip to Costa Rica. The focus of the trip was environmental education and one of the things that I learned about myself was how wasteful I am. I was pretty excited about looking at things I could do to be a better consumer of resources. Naturally I wanted to share this enthusiasm with the students…I also wanted to do something that was interdisciplinary. As a library media specialist I don’t see students for long periods of instruction so I needed to work collaboratively with other teachers.”
According to Mrs. Rufful, this project will allow children to become more engaged in active learning and more confident in analyzing information and making adjustments. “Children will be asking: What did I learn? What could I do differently? What could I do next? Children will key in on how things can be improved rather than is it correct or incorrect.”
East Greenwich High School
East Greenwich is one of the first schools in the state to offer an elective course in genocide studies. According to EGHS history teacher Robert Petrucci, “Genocide Education is a valuable lens through which to teach the importance of becoming an educated and involved citizen. I see my role as empowering students to take the next steps in terms of holding elected officials accountable for their decisions regarding human rights violations around the world.”
Inspired by his Armenian wife and family, Mr. Petrucci has become a leader in the state on the subject of Genocide Education. After availing himself of the opportunity to attend a workshop at Rhode Island College on Facing History and Ourselves, Mr. Petrucci set about the challenging task of writing the course curriculum. According to Mr. Petrucci, when this compelling curriculum was presented to the School Committee for approval, the question was not “Why are we doing this?” but “Why aren’t we doing this already?”
The course uses the Jewish Holocaust as a case study to understand genocide in the 20th century, then delves into the myriad acts of atrocities and genocide that have occurred in the 20th and 21st century. The course incorporates reading, writing, reflection, discussion, field trips, and opportunities to connect with other kids around the world to help deepen the understanding that genocide and human rights abuses are not just a thing of the past, but are, sadly, alive and very much present around the world today. As a culminating project, the class employs a simulation activity created by the Watson Institute for International Relations at Brown University whereby students act as elected and appointed officials to advocate for a foreign policy strategy related to advancement of human rights connected to a modern day issue such as Sudan.
Shortly after launching this new elective, demand for the course quickly outpaced the number of seats available in each class. Encouraged by department head Tim McPartlin, Mr. Petrucci decided to apply for an EGEF grant. By funding this grant, the EGEF is ensuring that this innovative curriculum touches the lives of as many students as possible. The $2,700 allocated to Genocide Education will be used to purchase class sets of first-hand accounts of genocide as well as compelling, age-appropriate films that communicate both the tragedy of genocide and the opportunity we all have to help prevent future occurrences. Now, rather than only being able to offer a single class in the Fall and Spring, Mr. Petrucci will have the capacity to add at least one if not two more sections in future years, enabling many more students to benefit from the course offering. During the 2009-2010 school year, there will be 3 sections with approximately 50 students enrolled.
The idea of teaching the subject using first hand narratives, in addition to a course textbook, has been discussed for several years. The impetus to do it next year was the timely donation of 30 books on the Armenian Genocide from the Armenian National Committee of RI and the Armenian Martyr’s Memorial Committee of RI. As students read first hand accounts, they will study the difference between primary and secondary sources. They will study the strengths and weaknesses of primary accounts as a source of evidence in which to form historical hypotheses and make conclusions. After exposing students to historical acts of genocide, it is the long term goal of the class to inspire students to continue their reading of current events to make them informed citizens, capable of exercising their rights and responsibilities as citizens. While no answers are provided, the hope is that students develop an understanding of America’s role in the global community and how the advancement of human rights affects its foreign policy.
Quickly after implementing this innovative curriculum, Mr. Petrucci has become a requested guest lecturer on Genocide Education, offering presentations and workshops at local universities and community-based events. In recognition of his efforts, Mr. Petrucci was awarded with the 2007 Genocide Educator of the Year Award, sponsored by the Armenian National Committee of RI and the Armenian Martyr’s Memorial Committee of RI. Mr. Petrucci’s efforts are in line with the Genocide Education Curriculum Law, passed by the RI General Assembly in 2000, which called for the Rhode Island Department of Education to create genocide curriculum materials for use in RI schools.
How does Mr. Petrucci know that his class is having an impact? When he sees his students become more active in their community, when he sees them pursue further courses of study in international relations, or when his students go on to volunteer with groups that promote global awareness.
“It amazes me how many of my students come back and say what an impact my course has had on their thinking about their role in society.”
Mr. Petrucci has been teaching history and social studies for most of his 10 years at East Greenwich High School. In addition, he is the middle school flag football coordinator, co-advisor of the drama department at EGHS, and serves as the varsity softball coach.
“The thing about teaching for me,” says Mr. Petrucci, “is that I know this is what I’m supposed to do. I know this because I enjoy waking up every day and going into my classroom. I can see doing it forever.”
Health/PE Performance-Based Tasks
East Greenwich High School
With a grant from the EGEF, Health and Physical Education at EGHS will be taking on a new twist. By enabling the high school to purchase two dedicated DVD cameras and recordable DVDs, students will now have the opportunity to create, share and discuss DVD-based productions that reflect and reinforce classroom learning, and allow for unique, and archival assessments of performance-based tasks.
While the utilization of recording technologies have already been piloted at the High School, the tapings have taken place outside of the school day utilizing a variety of formats, thus resulting in the inability for material to be viewed by other students. With this single technology, students will be able to review each other’s creations, reflect on their content, and interact with each other, thus enhancing the educational impact of the projects. All projects have accompanying rubrics, and their content may include such subjects as problem-solving, first aid techniques, public service announcements, community improvement, physical skill analysis and physical training.
“I believe EGHS is unique and progressive in requiring academic performance-based tasks that include a written, an oral and an audio-visual component for major and/or final exam grades in health and physical education.” —Teddy Davis
Up to this point, budget cuts have made it impossible to add new technology to the Health/PE curriculum at the high school. With the help of EGEF, the high school will be able to simplify and make more accessible the technology used as part of the curriculum. Special education students and their teachers will have in-house access to the cameras, and no student will be at a disadvantage due to lack of equipment.
The origin of this grant request evolved from a re-write of the physical education curriculum in 2003. EGHS educators created four different academic performance-based tasks as the final exam component for each grade level. Adding a recorded group component has enhanced learning and simplified the student evaluation process. Every year, EGHS teachers analyze their methods and identify opportunities for improvement. This process worked so well in PE that the idea was implemented in health as well.
The 2009/10 school year will mark Mrs. Davis’s 40th year of teaching. She became a physical education teacher because “I learned the most about myself and my own character through physical education.” After all these years, she still loves it. “Every student is like an individual coaching challenge—how can I get the best out of this ‘kid?’ The eight hundred students are all unique and they never cease to amaze me.”
But Mrs. Davis is no one-woman show. “I enjoy and admire my staff at the high school,” says Mrs. Davis. “Bob Downey, Mike Florio and Krista Harvey are excellent teachers who are multi-talented and extremely creative. EGHS students are very lucky to have such a dedicated department. This grant is the fruition of all of their ideas, their hard work and their extensive time and effort.”
Meadowbrook Farms Learning Garden
Meadowbrook Farms Elementary School
With a grant from the East Greenwich Education Foundation, Meadowbrook Farms School will construct and maintain a learning garden on the school grounds that will serve as a direct and applied extension of classroom learning.
The grant request was submitted by Grade 3 teacher Pat Page who formally “re-careered” into the education field three years ago when she completed her second graduate-level degree, a masters in education. In addition to academic credentials, she brings extensive public and private sector experience in human resource management and organizational development and training.
The idea for a Learning Garden actually “germinated” from a Time for Kids magazine article that her 2008-09 third-grade class was reading. This article highlighted the correlation between improvements in math and science scores and student involvement in school-based garden projects. Her class then completed a modified “force-field analysis” and identified potential supporting and oppositional forces/rationale to implementing a similar concept at Meadowbrook. After addressing some practical concerns expressed by Principal Tara McAuliffe (such as the question of garden maintenance when school is not in session) the idea “blossomed” into a formal grant request.
The goal of the Learning Garden is to promote the practical application of academic knowledge in support of Grade Level Expectations and Standardized Testing (eg NECAPs). Through a school garden, a student’s functional knowledge and skills in mathematics, life science, writing, nutrition, physical fitness, and fine arts can be developed, enhanced, and assessed. For example, students can calculate bed sizes; manage budgets associated with the planting and maintenance phases; observe and record plant growth and insect populations; harvest crops; and integrate student-grown healthy foods into school meals.
Students will be actively involved in all phases of this initiative. It is expected that a cadre of Grade 3 students will research and recommend the types of seasonal crops to be planted and plan the layout of the crops. The task of planting, caring for, and harvesting the crops may be shared across grade levels and with other school and community partners, and their gardening practices will respect and respond to the natural environment. This collaborative and shared-responsibility model supports the goal of enhancing student awareness of environmental and social stewardship. In addition, students will have the opportunity to develop a sense of their role within a larger society by interacting with community volunteers, faculty, and students from partnering entities, including the high school.
2010 Updates: Meadowbrook Farms Learning Garden
Past, Present, Future
Renee Hadfield and Kara Ratigan
Eldredge Elementary School
The Past, Present, and Future project (Learning from the Past, Living in the Present, Preparing for the Future) is an innovative, comprehensive look at the impact of humans on our environment. Specifically, the proposal looks at both the positive and negative effects that past and present generations have had on planet Earth. The project goal is to create a better understanding of the opportunities that the current generation has to significantly alter the evolving status of our fragile environment. This year long project integrates numerous academic disciplines through empowering students to both create and effect changes in their daily routines that currently impact our planet. Students will become powerful spokespersons and model citizens for change that will provide a better future.
The grant request was a collaboration by Grade 4 teachers Renee Hadfield and Kara Ratigan. Ms. Hadfield has been teaching for over 21 years, while Mrs. Ratigan has been teaching for 16. According to both teachers, it has always been their goal to strive towards a rich and integrated academic program.
When discussing this great opportunity to apply for the EGEF grant we wanted to incorporate relevant academic areas in an authentic and meaningful program. The grant was created to learn from past generations while living resourcefully in the present in order to prepare for a promising future.
The project will teach students to write using the “Painted Essay” concept created by Karen Kurzman, while following the East Greenwich Fourth Grade English Language Arts Curriculum. Through examples and practice using this format, students will be provided with authentic opportunities to publish their work through school newsletters and the local newspapers. Fourth grade teachers will identify the steps in conducting an interview and creating a newspaper article for each student. In the long term, their hope is to provide various interdisciplinary opportunities within our community which educate our student population on current environmental issues.
As part of this grant, students will:
- Attend a field trip to Parker Woodland Audobon Society in Coventry, Rhode Island, designed to showcase what Native American life was like hundreds of years ago in our area, including how natives interacted and became one with their environment in order to survive;
- Visit local residents of the Greenwich Bay Manor to interview the senior population about their lives as children and the changes they have seen both in the environment and in society within their lifetime;
- Research current environmental issues in science class;
- Study the geographic areas of the United State in social studies, with attention towards land use and specific regional environmental issues;
- Learn about civic responsibility and begin to appreciate the connection between identifying a problem and becoming a voice to solve problems (this unit includes a field trip to the State House);
- Create and share stories with second graders at Frenchtown Elementary School to educate them on how they can make their community and their world a better place.
While students and the PTG have funded State House tours in the past, the faculty has never attempted to pull all academic disciplines together to focus on one specific goal: our past, present, and future environmental issues. This grant funds the first attempt to create a year-long project that could make a significant impact on fourth and second graders for many years to come.
Polymerase Chain Reaction Biotechnology Equipment
East Greenwich High School
Nicholas Rath is on a mission at East Greenwich High School: to insure that the science curriculum is truly training students for 21st century opportunities. According to Mr. Rath, one of the most important aspects of any cutting edge science curriculum is the extent to which teachers can provide experientially-based learning opportunities. In other words, finding ways for teachers to talk less and students to learn more by doing. By requesting funds for the purchase of a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Thermal Cycler, he hopes to do just that.
Throughout its history, the State of Rhode Island has undergone many industrial transformations. In the past decade alone, the Biotechnology sector has seen enormous growth and continues to be one of the fastest growing industries in New England. The opening of a $59 million Biotechnology Center at URI on January 25th, 2009 and the simultaneous initiative to attract Biotechnology companies, such as Amgen, to come to Rhode Island, are indicative of what Senator Jack Reed (RI) refers to when speaking about “the industry playing a vital role in Rhode Island’s 21st century economy.”
The way Mr. Rath sees it, teachers have an obligation to be attuned to what’s coming next and tracking fast-growing industries. By turning kids on to a growing industry in our home state, we help give our kids a reason and an ability to stay in Rhode Island. But, in order to do that, says Mr. Rath, we need to do a better job identifying kids who could truly excel in a given field, and provide them with the experiences they need to enable continued pursuit.
The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Thermal Cycler will allow students to conduct real-life, hands-on experiments, and give them the necessary skills necessary to be adept in a laboratory setting. It is hoped that the Biotechnology program will grow to become an important part of the elective options available to students, and will motivate and inspire students to pursue further education and training in the biotechnology field. The PCR Thermal Cycler will allow students to conduct three major biotechnology experiments:
- GMO (genetically modified foods) investigations where students gather sample food items from the grocery store, extract DNA from the samples, amplify the DNA using PCR (polymerase chain reactions), and use gel electrophoresis to identify the presence or absence of amplified GMO sequences.
- Crime Scene Investigation – allows students to simulate DNA profiling as commonly used in forensic labs. The experiment requires students to extract the genotype of DNA samples and compare them with samples taken from a fictitious crime scene.
- PV92 PCR Informatics experiments allow students to extract DNA from hair follicles or cheek cells, and then use PCR amplification and electrophoresis to fingerprint their own DNA at a specific genetic locus. Using their own results, students test Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium theory within their classroom population, and then go online to compare classroom results to genetic data of populations worldwide.
These experiments are directly linked to the course syllabus of the new Biotechnology semester elective that will begin in the second semester of the 2009-2010 academic year. In addition, the equipment will be used by the Honors Biology, AP Biology and Forensics I & II classes.
Mr. Rath, a native Australian, has always had a passion for the environment, which led him to focus on environmental science as a field. He has been teaching science in East Greenwich for 15 years. Regarding his love of teaching, Mr. Rath says: “The highlight of my day is when I’m with the kids and I am watching the lights go on. I think I can do this forever.”
Four years ago, Mr. Rath assumed the position of Chair of the Science Department at East Greenwich High School. He recognized early on that one of his greatest challenges as department chair would be to ensure that the curriculum was keeping pace with the ever-changing fields of science. He gradually phased out topics that were woefully outdated, and substituted such areas of study as environmental sciences, including renewable energy technology. Other areas of the curriculum, such as physics, have been updated as well to insure that it reflected recent advances. Mr. Rath recognizes that in order to keep the curriculum topical, he needs to be current with what is happening out in the field. He is continually seeking out teacher training opportunities, such as the Bruce Wallis Program sponsored by Amgen at the University of Rhode Island.
Because of this new piece of equipment, students will be able to complete inquiry-based activities that were once restricted to large, industrial laboratories. Because the equipment is very specialized and often beyond the reach of small school department budgets such as East Greenwich, the East Greenwich Education Foundation is playing a vital role in bringing innovation into the science curriculum. It is expected that the equipment used for these laboratory investigations will help improve academic achievement by enabling students to meet national science standards through experiential problem solving and critical thinking skill building within laboratory investigations.
Says Mr. Rath: “Within the next five years, with improvements to our facilities, innovations in our programming, and our dedicated faculty, I think we’ll see a huge improvement with our students in science.”
Rhode Island Children’s Book Award Promotion
Peggy Chace and Linda Cram
Hanaford Elementary School
With the help of a grant from the East Greenwich Education Foundation, Hanaford Elementary School educators: school librarian Peggy Chace and Grade 5 teacher Linda Cram have set a goal of increasing participation in the annual “Rooster Games” from 75% in 2009 to 100% in 2010.
The “Rooster Games,” a concept borrowed from the Gordon School (Providence, RI) in 2003, have become an important motivational force in encouraging 5th grade students to expand their reading horizons by encompassing multiple genres including non-fiction, poetry and a variety of forms of fiction. The games are a culminating activity for children who read from a list of 20 books nominated annually for the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award (RICBA), an annual award given to the best children’s book by an American author published in the previous two years as voted by children statewide in grades 3 through 6. To qualify for the Rooster Games, a student must read at least 10 of the books and pass a test. The games, which take a half-day to complete, consist of a variety of competitive group activities that test student knowledge regarding the 20 nominated books. Winners (including those that read all 20 books, and those awarded “best effort”) are honored at an award ceremony. The excitement of the games has become a memorable 5th grade event.
Every year, participation has increased; however, the library only has funds to purchase two copies of each book per year, and occasional contributions through the PTG have not resulted in a sufficient supply to meet the demand. At any given time, there could be 100 students vying for only two copies of any given book. By purchasing a complete set for each classroom, more children will be able to read the books and therefore qualify to participate in the games. With the addition of award-winning books to every classroom, teachers will have expanded options with respect to developing classroom-based literature circles and book clubs, and providing children with opportunities to draft written reviews of the books, thus connecting the RICBA process to the English Language Arts curriculum.
While participation in the Rooster Games helps students achieve the requirement of reading 25 books per school year, and makes them eligible to cast their vote in the RICBA award process, the most important benefits are the fact that participants expand their reading horizons, increase their vocabulary, and learn to apply active reading strategies. And, most of all, these students develop a life-long love of reading.
Says Mrs. Chace, “If you have high expectations kids want to fulfill them.” A perfect example of that, says Mrs. Cram, is a child she’ll never forget: “She was not a high level reader, but was really motivated by the games. At the very last possible minute, she pulled off a passing grade on the last required book in order to be able to participate. You really have to think about what motivates kids.”