Two Midway Elementary teachers in the Mead School District are celebrating receiving grants from the Safeway/Albertsons Foundation to fund hands-on learning experiences that they hope will excite and engage their students.
Second-grade teacher Debbie Comstock received $2,000, and fifth-grade teacher Kristen Labrie was granted $4,000. Though they are both at the same school, they submitted separate grant applications.
“To be honest, I don’t think a lot of people applied,” Labrie said.
Comstock said the grant application process is usually so long and complicated that it deters some teachers from trying. She said she learned of the Safeway/Albertsons Foundation grant at just the right time when she had some time to devote to it.
“It was exciting,” she said. “I would definitely do it again.”
The amount of the grant surprised Labrie as grants available to teachers are usually less than $1,000.
“To be honest I wasn’t really expecting to get it,” she said. “To be able to get something that big is a dream.”
Labrie said she plans to use her grant for technology – a set of eight augmented reality and virtual reality goggles.
The AR/VR goggles are specially designed for classrooms and don’t require a phone or any extra equipment to operate, she said. Students also don’t have to walk around to use them. “They can sit in their desks,” she said. “This is new technology coming out.”
She plans to use the goggles to enhance her science units. “It’s an immersive way for kids to learn,” she said. “The kids can walk on the moon, walk on Mars. When we do a water unit, they can become a water molecule. There are all sorts of science things we can explore.”
She also is excited about the opportunity to have her students see places around the world during their social studies units.
“They can go on virtual field trips to historical sites, take a tour of the White House and wander around,” she said. “Literally the sky is the limit of the experiences kids can have. They can live it.”
Labrie said she was inspired to write a grant to get the goggles after her daughter had a virtual reality Mars experience that stoked her love of space. “That had a big impact on her,” she said.
She was hoping to have the headsets arrive before school begins so she could learn the system, but said that’s not looking likely.
Comstock said she was looking for a way to integrate her reading and science curriculum. She is spending her grant money on kits that will allow her students to make things they are learning about. They will have a chance to make their own telephone system or a windmill. When they learn about covered wagons they can build their own.
“With 7- and 8-year-olds you need that hands-on experience,” she said.
Working together to build things also helps teach students about collaborating, problem solving and persevering when things don’t go quite right, Comstock said.
Making things is a way to make history come alive rather than just reading about it in a textbook, Comstock said.
“I think you get more excitement, a higher level of interest,” she said. “We need to provide real-world experience in the classroom.”
Both teachers plan to let other teachers at Midway Elementary borrow what they buy with the grant money. Labrie said she expects her VR goggles to be in demand.
“I think the kids are going to be really engaged with it,” Labrie said. “It’s a way to turn them on to get them more involved in something.”
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