Mr. Whitney’s grant provided him with the funds to purchase the First Lego League Challenge Class pack. This pack includes all the support materials and curriculum needed to run the current LEGO league challenge, an after-school middle-grades coding and engineering club. During their after school meetings, Mr. Whitney introduced students to basic concepts of robotics, engineering, and coding, and encouraged students to consider engineering disciplines as future career options.
Mr. Whitney reported that many students had never been exposed to coding or mechanics, and they were able to successfully build and code Lego robots to achieve tasks such as moving objects from one place to another, following a path on the floor, and navigating a maze of obstacles.
Mr. Whitney has been building the Middle Grades coding and engineering club for the past six years. It began as a way to learn and teach the Scratch programming language the first year, progressed to working with Tufts over a few years designing biomimetic bots, and blossomed into the Lego robotics focus last year. This will remain the focus of the club going forward.
The integration of Lego robotics has enabled Mr. Whitney to have a more streamlined and cohesive curriculum for teaching robotics concepts, and providing students the opportunity to both compete and cooperate on assigned tasks.
Last May, the SEF awarded the following teachers grants to fund their innovative ideas for the 2022-2023 school year:
Suzanne Douglas, Kindergarten Teacher, Healey School
As part of her science curriculum, Ms. Douglas received funding to have Curious Creatures come to visit her classroom. This project will deepen student learning through hands-on exploration of small animals brought to the classroom accompanied by a live animal educator from Curious Creatures.
Julia Post, English Teacher, Somerville High School
Ms. Post purchased makerspace materials for her inquiry based, student-directed learning project to encourage students to become lifelong learners. In this project, students are engaging with mixed media to create various projects based in mindfulness, community building, and self-expression.
Michael Friedman, Physics teacher and Lead Mentor for SHS Robotics Team, Somerville High School
Mr. Friedman was granted funding to purchase new Lego Spike Prime robotics kits.
The Somerville High School Robotics Team will use these kits to partner with the Somerville High School math course: Intro to Robotics by utilizing and sharing new Lego Spike Prime robotics kits in multiple ways.
Congratulations to these Innovators in Education!
Evan Perry, El Sistema Music Program Director at the East Somerville Community School was awarded a SEF classroom grant to organize performances and workshops by professional musicians for El Sistema Somerville students. El Sistema students were given the opportunity to witness invaluable professional performances at their school. Mr. Perry reported that the experience of working closely during the workshops with these professional musicians produced a noticeable increase in students’ overall self-esteem and confidence.
The two workshops offered to the students were run by Grooversity (Brazilian drumming) and the Arthur Terembula Group (Blues/Jazz duo). The workshops gave each student the opportunity to "improvise" and create their own music. Mr. Perry reported to SEF that Grooversity's workshop was a special one, especially for the younger (beginner musicians). The children were able to dance, sing and play drums along with the professional drumming group. The smiles and conversations about this event for days and weeks after by the students was heartwarming. This has spurred conversations amongst the El Sistema Somerville faculty and staff about how to incorporate more of these expressive elements into daily music classes.
Francesca (Chessie) Shaw, Clinical Coordinator at two Somerville elementary schools received a SEF grant to purchase and try out sand tray and social thinking materials and online training to support social emotional skills for special education students. Chessie found that the sand tray therapeutic sessions were particularly helpful and effective. For many of her students, the sand tray work allowed them to express their feelings in emotions in ways that didn't require them to use as much expressive language as is often required of them in other therapies. For example, one student who is working on building his positive peer relations, was able to work through conflicts with sand tray miniatures.
Chessie reported to SEF that as a result of her experience, “I have become particularly interested in the power of sand tray in working with ASD students--so much so that I have sought out even more specific training on sand tray and ASD students on my own. The therapeutic sand tray work with AIM students was very powerful for many of them, and I plan on recommending that it be continued to be implemented next year with students.” In addition to that, the social thinking materials have been used by many of Chessie’s colleagues, and they have all been incorporating many of the materials in their counseling and speech therapy work.
How does a teacher support early readers to make connections between phonics instruction and opportunities to practice and apply new reading and language skills? By providing connected texts! ESCS Kindergarten teacher, Helen Schroeder, with SEF’s support, provided her students with engaging decodable books to, as Ms. Schroeder reports, “practice and build their decoding skills in the classroom.” Students loved the high-quality, fun-to-read books that they called “tapping books” and they allowed Ms. Schroeder to better differentiate her reading instruction. The result of using the grant-funded books in her class is that for students, the “connection is now so clear” between what students are learning in the Fundations curriculum and applying that knowledge to reading. One day at the end of Reading Workshop, one student looked at Ms Schroeder and declared, "I just LOVE tapping books!" It was a proud moment for the student, for the teacher, and a joy for the SEF Board to hear about. Ms. Schroeder has been able to share the new books with colleagues at her school, a “great opportunity to collaborate,” and she hopes to continue to grow her collection of decodable books.
The grant-funded magnetic puzzles in Matthew Yiu’s Pre-Kindergarten Capuano classroom helped to provide students with equitable and differentiated access points to the curriculum. Mr. Yiu reports, “All students were interested and able to learn letters, numbers, shapes, and write their names [with the puzzles].” The new classroom resource also helped students to work together, share, take turns and interact with the curriculum in a hands-on way. Mr. Yiu also reports that use of the puzzles in his classroom served as a powerful learning opportunity for both students and Mr. Yiu himself when in one instance, he witnessed two students in his classroom playing together for “a full 30 minutes,” engaging with the puzzles together. Mr. Yiu has shared with his colleagues the success of these puzzles in his classroom and will continue to advocate for more resources like these for his school.
World Languages Department Chair Dr. Lisa Machnik was awarded funds to support a multidisciplinary project as students explored the Arabic influences on Moroccan blue tiles and their history and place in the culture in France, Portugal, Spain and Italy during their world language classes. Both students and teachers benefited from the funding of this project. As a department, teachers and students got a deeper understanding of the Arabic influence on the cultures of the languages being taught in Somerville PS. Dr. Machnik reported that watching students engaged in the project was really special. In addition to that, World Language teachers were happy to relay that students were very engaged in creating the tiles and were proud of their beautiful work.
This fall the Somerville Education Foundation received numerous worthy requests during the first grant cycle for the Innovation In Education Grant Program. We were so impressed with the initiative and creativity of all the teachers who applied. After reviewing all of the proposals, we are pleased to announce the recipients of this fall’s Innovation in Education Grant Awards, and that grant dollars will benefit students across the district, from early education to high school.
Matthew Yiu, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Capuano School - Funding was given to Mr. Yiu to purchase magnetic puzzles for use in the classroom to be incorporated into math and early literacy curricula. Puzzles were identified as a way to access children where they are after extended isolation at home, thus enhancing equity in the classroom.
Helen Schoeder, Integrated SEI Kindergarten Teacher. East Somerville Community School - Ms. Schoeder was given funds to purchase decodable books for early readers. These decodable texts will benefit student literacy skills, including decoding, segmenting, and blending CVC words.
J. Stuart Whitney, 6th Grade Teacher, West Somerville Neighborhood School - Mr. Whitney’s grant will provide him with the funds to purchase the First Lego League Challenge Class pack. This pack includes all the support materials and curriculum needed to run the current LEGO league challenge, an after-school middle-grades coding and engineering club. What is learned and experienced in the club will translate into curriculum changes/enhancements in the classroom.
Francesca Shaw, Clinical Coordinator/School Adjustment Counselor, Winter Hill/AIM Program and WSNS/Promise Program- Ms. Shaw was awarded a grant to purchase therapeutic supplies as well as attend a series of online training in the Social Thinking curriculum to help support social-emotional skills for students in two specialized SPS programs--The Promise Program at WSNS and The AIM Program at WHIS.
Tania Connor, English Teacher, Somerville High School- Ms. Connor was awarded a grant to put on a Coffeehouse Night at the high school, during which students may sign up to sing, dance, read poetry or other creative work, perform stand-up comedy, etc.
Erika Reddington, Teacher Counselor, Next Wave Full Circle - Funds provided to Ms. Reddington will cover the technical software program license and technical training for a new class in which students will ultimately explore Somerville, learning to observe, map, and analyze their urban setting, utilizing Geographic Information System (GIS).
Lisa Machnik, K-12 World Language Supervisor, Somerville Public Schools- Dr. Machnik was awarded funds to support a multidisciplinary project as students explore the Arabic influences on blue tiles in Morocco as they study French, in Portugal for Portuguese, in Spain for Spanish, and in Italy for Italian. Their vocabulary will expand as their cultural understanding deepens. There will be a culminating event that showcases the students’ finished tile work during World Languages Week.
Evan Perry, Director, El Sistema Somerville - Funds will allow for performances/workshops by professional musicians. Musicians will expose El Sistema students to a wide range of music styles from diverse cultures.
Board Member Marian Berkowitz recently organized a coat drive and received many coats from Lesley Ellis in East Arlington. She did her first drop-off to Mary Lou Sturniolo, family liaison at the Winter Hill School!