How One Teacher Funded Cutting-Edge Global STEAM at Her School

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Are you interested in bringing Level Up Village courses to your school but need funding in order to do so? Here’s how one teacher in Windsor, Connecticut, was able to provide Global Inventors to her students during the school day – without any cost to parents or the school.

Oletha Walker, a teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School wears many hats. Not only is she the Challenge Resource teacher, working with the school’s gifted and talented students, but she has also been the school’s STEM teacher and now the Project Based Learning teacher.

When Oletha learned about LUV’s Global Inventors (3D printing) course, which connects students with global partners to learn computer aided design and 3D printing and applies this technology to the issue of energy scarcity – she was determined to bring it to her school.

“Our curriculum already provided a focus on STEM, but my students needed to know it was relatable to the real world,” said Oletha. “It’s important to prepare them for the jobs of the future, to be creative and think outside of the box.”

She was also set on offering the course during the school day as opposed to after school to make it available to more students whose parents could not arrange for late pick-ups.

To bring this idea to fruition, Oletha set out to find funding for the program. She started by reaching out to Windsor Educational Foundation, a non-profit that gives funding to innovative educational programs within the town, and applied for a grant in the fall of 2015.

“Windsor Educational Foundation is looking for innovative, new approaches to teaching, things that can be sustained, things that have a real-life experience feel,” said Oletha.

To her delight the organization fully funded her grant, which included the Global Inventors course, a 3D printer and all necessary supplies to operate it.

But Oletha didn’t stop there.

One day she noticed a sign on the counter in the Enfield-based Tobacco Valley Teachers Federal Credit Union saying it was providing grants to teachers, so she applied for funds to buy an additional 3D printer. And it worked! As a result, the school now has two 3D printers so students can print out more projects in less time.

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Students 3D print their designs in Oletha’s Global Inventors course.

After completing Level Up Village’s online teacher training, Oletha launched Global Inventors in February of 2016 with small groups of students in 3rd-5th grade. Level Up Village paired her students with global partners at Al Hassad School in Amman, Jordan.

“I implemented the program because of our focus on STEM but it dovetailed into our belief for technology and reaching out to the global community,” said Oletha.

Students in Jordan were taught by Somaya Tarawaheh, who brought the course to her school through LUV’s partnership with iEARN Jordan. Her students and Oletha’s followed the same curriculum with lessons on famous inventors, electricity and the engineering design cycle. They then worked together to design and 3D print a variety of projects, culminating in a 3D printed solar powered light source.

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These students in Jordan and their classmates collaborated with Oletha’s students in Connecticut in Global Inventors. They followed the same curriculum and communicated via video letter exchange and by collaborating on project files.

The students communicated in English in their video letter exchanges, but since one of Oletha’s students spoke Arabic, she helped the class out with the greetings.

“They loved that exchange back and forth with kids from another country. They loved finding out what the other kids do after school, what activities they did,” said Oletha.

Oletha blazed a trail in her district by implementing a global STEAM project at her school. Her district announced the project to the local community and it was also publicized by Windsor Educational Foundation. Oletha’s innovative programs and the grant she received for the second 3D printer also received press in the Hartford Courant.

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Following this experience, Oletha has this advice for other teachers seeking funding for Level Up Village’s global STEAM courses:

I would look around your community and see what organizations to approach. Try your Chamber of Commerce and ask for a  list of businesses that might help you out,” advised Oletha. “I would also say go to your bank and your teacher credit unions and ask if they give grants to teachers. They have funds. Also, you could try a Go-Fund me page.”

For additional information about finding available funding for innovative education programs, see Edutopia’s continually updated Big List of Educational Grants and Resources and this recent article in Edsurge about funding sources. Another helpful resource is  DonorsChoose.org.