Teachers' projects win Department of Education learning grants



When it was time in the curriculum to teach Greek and Latin root words to a group of 90 fourth-graders, Deer Chase Elementary School teachers Romona Nora and Anna Edry knew they needed something fresh.

“It’s something that’s really difficult to get students excited about,” Edry said about stems such as ante-, tele-, and omni-. “You say Latin and Greek roots and it’s like … silence.”

They brainstormed and researched. They collaborated. And the pair came up with interactive lessons using flashcards and PowerPoint presentations.

The teachers credit their project, Roots Across the Curriculum, with boosting some students’ word-per-minute rates by up to 50 points since September. And the project was so innovative it won them $2,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to integrate technology into the mix and bring the lessons to the next level.

About 20 teachers in the Richmond County School System won $2,000 Teaching Causes Learning Action Research Project awards that support the district’s Race to the Top grant initiatives. The awards will help purchase technology for projects teachers were already implementing with paper and pencil or help kick-start initiatives that were stalled because of funding.

The money will help purchase iPads to help with reading comprehension for second graders at A. Brian Merry Elementary and fish ponds and weather stations for science experiments at Pine Hill Middle schools.

At Deer Chase, Nora and Edry have bought five iPads to help enhance their efforts to teach root words. Nora said the classes will share the devices to use in conjunction with Promethean Boards and applications that will help with word comprehension.

The pupils will also be able to record movies in which they demonstrate what they’ve learned from the flashcards and PowerPoint presentations. This semester, pupils learned how to design PowerPoint presentations and made slides where they defined their root words, used them in sentences and added a photo that relates to the meaning.

“This gets them ready for the 21st century,” Nora said. “We’re always doing things for the kids, so we’re trying to teach the kids how to do things for themselves.”

Principal Tujuana Wiggins said adding technology to the lessons helps stimulate pupils and get them interested in topics that are difficult to grasp. As comprehension goes up, so does the well-being of the pupil.

“It’s a great confidence builder,” Wiggins said. “Because their confidence in the classroom is better, their discipline issues have gone down. They’re participating more in class, and they’re more engaged.”

Ella Rucker Baker, a teacher at Sand Hills, a school that serves students with emotional and behavioral disorders, received the $2,000 grant to purchase four iPads.

Baker will use applications on the devices to help with language and auditory development and speech and language reception.

“A lot of kids with disabilities, when they use iPads, it helps give them a voice and helps them communicate more,” Baker said. “A lot of the iPads, not having a keypad, that takes away one of the distractions to students and it helps them feel like they’re on point. Like they have their own voice.”

At John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, teacher Adrienne Turner will use iPads and Kindles to help with her seventh-grade language arts classes.

The students will be able to use the electronic dictionary applications and interact with online magazines to submit work for publication. They will also use applications to help with vocabulary and play word games to help with comprehension.

“At first it was going to be me and them in a classroom-type setting and we were going to do it the old-fashioned way,” Turner said of her ideas. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It gets the job done. But now we’re taking it to the next level. Everything is now at their fingertips.”

See a list of teachers receiving the award and details on the projects the money will finance (.pdf)