Thursday, November 10, 2005

Blog Interaction with Chris Somers – Thurs. Nov. 10 to Sat. Nov. 12, 2005

Chris Somers, a former language arts teacher, is the media specialist at Indian Creek Middle School in Trafalgar, Indiana.

You can learn more about Chris by reading her background information at http://eduscapes.com/sms/somers.html

Her professional interests and expertise includes the integration of technology into the curriculum, assistive technology, and grantwriting and funding opportunities. Use this opportunity to e-discuss with Chris these or other related topics.

22 comments:

  1. Julie5:20 PM

    Chris,
    I find grant-writing such a daunting task. I wrote a grant proposal last year with my media specialist that we did not receive. After all of the work that we put into it, this was very disappointing. How do you select grants that you think your school can get? Where do you find sources of funding to write the grants for? Do you collaborate with teachers to write grants or teach them to write grants through professional development? How do you find time in the day to work on them? Is a lot of the process completed at home? Thanks for participating in our class discussion. I look forward to reading your comments.

    Julie Mansfield North

    ReplyDelete
  2. Chris,
    I read that in your bio that you work to implement technology across the curriculum. As the media specialist I am sure you hear teachers in your building who are just turned off from technology. How do you help these teachers so they become more comfortable and their students are not missing the technology boat?

    Thanks,
    Sawyer Beier

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Chris,

    Like Julie, I'm also interested in learning more about your experiences with obtaining grants. I'm doing my field experience at a high school that obtainined a grant of $500 last year from the Public School Foundation for a collaborative project with the art teacher dealing with the artwork in Caldecott books. What is a realistic amount for a grant? Not having a background in education, I often find myself thinking that $500 is such a small amount but I guess in education, where you are constantly fighting for your budget, every little bit helps. Another thing I noticed is that the majority of grant opportunities that I've come across are directed at schools in low-income areas or deal with technology integration (or both). Any suggestions for places to look for grants for things that don't fit these categories. For example, I'm trying to locate a grant that might assist my media center in replacing it's old, worn copies of the classics but we're located in a relatively wealthy area. Looking forward to learning from your experiences.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous11:45 AM

    Julie,
    I am lucky enough to work with a tremendous technology coordinator who has established many connections with the DOE over the years. Contacts help, especially if you go back to the same well (like the DOE) over and over again.
    Ten years ago when I first started in this school system, I watched as the technology coordinator brought over $200,000 dollars of technology money into the school district via grants. I wanted this talent. I took a course with Carol Tilley when I was completing my MLS at IU and she helped me to begin to understand the process. The technology coordinator became my mentor and we wrote several grants together before I went solo. The last two grants that we received here in the middle school, I wrote and let him have a final edit. So, I guess it is a process of learning.
    Grants can come to you in many ways. The Department of Education will send out notices and sometimes these will come through the Superintendent’s mail. They often stop there if your superintendent does not send them on to the appropriate people. At least once a month I will check this area at the D.O.E. I also know now that local communities have foundations that regularly give money to local schools if they have a good idea. These grants may only be for $2,000 but this can go a long way depending on what you want to do. I started an after-school program with $2,000 three years ago by writing a grant to the Johnson County Community Foundation and it is still going. This year it is funded by an LSTA grant through the state of Indiana.
    Kathy Schrock has a good section on grants on her website. If you go to Discovery.com and search using the keyword grants, you will find great info. I also watch journals for various grants that may be advertised.
    In terms of collaboration, generally I will get an idea after listening to staff talk about what they need. Then I keep my antenna out for opportunities that may fit the need.
    After I locate the grant, I will usually ask the teachers if they want to participate if we apply for the grant. After we go over the perimeters, and they say yes, I do most of the writing. This saves them time, and makes me an important partner. I usually make sure there is a role for me to play in terms of information literacy or technology in the grant. I have a full time assistant in the media center and so I can occasionally sit down at my desk during the day and work on some aspects of a grant but generally, I get interrupted too often and so a lot of what I do gets done after school at my desk or at home.
    One thing that I have found is that writing a grant is lots of hard work. Make sure the amount of effort you have to expend is worth the amount of money. I once looked at a grant for $2,000 that someone was offering and they wanted an incredible amount of documentation, resumes of all participating staff, and more . It simply was not worth it in time vs. money terms.
    The last thing I will say about grants is it pays to collaborate with someone outside your immediate staff and building. Add a component of collaboration with community members, or the public library, or even students from another grade level, and you will make your grant much more appealing. We love collaborations in education. And we like collaborations that may have a future, which means you intend the project to be sustainable. What you are asking is to simply help you get a terrific project underway.
    I hope this helps.
    Chris Somers

    ReplyDelete
  5. Margaret Howard11:54 AM

    Chris,

    I, too am another educator who can benefit from your grant writing experience! Currently, like Steph, I have questions about funding sources for well-to-do school districts. I have been advised to seek out my local PTA first, but I already missed their deadline! I have also located some funding options on-line, but they seem to promote community projects as opposed to small scale school or classroom projects. I'll check out Kathy Schrock's site. Thanks. I also see that you have attended grant writing workshops. I'll try to track down this opportunity through my school district or local community college. What would you say is the time committment with a single grant? Time seems to be everybody's biggest issue.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous12:20 PM

    Sawyer,
    When I first started at ICMS we had little technology to manage. But the new technology coordinator changed all that and soon we required staff to use computers to take attendance and to keep grades, etc. Many of the older staff members were very uncomfortable regarding technology use. What we did, was offer lots of training. I trained staff after school in groups, I trained individuals during prep times or at their convenience, and I ran to their classrooms to help whenever they were frustrated or confused.
    I made it a priority to support them daily with a smile. Eventually, most people will become comfortable and they will call you for help less often. I still have one staff member that will use his computer for grades and attendence but has yet to try to check out the computer lab or try a powerpoint or show a streaming video to students. Some people just aren't comfortable with change and I may never be able to entice him to come over to the tech side. Fortunately, most of our staff are now comfortable enough with technology that they complain bitterly when it isn't working. My technology coordinator says there are two kinds of users..
    there are immigrants (those of us over say around 30)and natives (those who are younger than that)Natives have grown up with technology and so new staff members coming into school systems not only expect to have a new computer on their desk with Internet access, they also want a LCD presenter in their room, VCR's and DVD players, etc.
    Students may not get any technology contact in one classroom, but they will get it in others and as they move through the grade levels, they are bound to find teachers who will help them embrace it.
    Chris Somers

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous12:45 PM

    Steph,
    There are a lot of low income grants these days and even though we are a rural school district with a small tax base, we generally don't qualify for these grants either.
    I think you might want to add another component to your grant that makes it more than just purchasing books. What can you do with the books once you get them? Will you be promoting them by teaching students who partner with you to videotape booktalks on these titles so that they can be shown to many classrooms? Might you be able to interview older community members on their recollections of reading these books and the impact the stories had on them. Maybe Videotape these rememberences of seniors in the commuinty. These videos could then be shown in nursing homes to stimulate older minds or to your students to show the impact a book can have years later. These are classics you said so many of our older community members would have read them. Find some creative way to draw others into your need so that it isn't simply about needing new books.
    My other suggestion is that you ask your media specialist about title V money. I share title V money every year with the other media specialists (four libraries) in the district. Generally this is spent on books. For our small district, we may split 7,000 dollars. Check with your Superintendent if you don't know how the district allocates this money.
    One more stab at this, if you are located in a wealthy area, check with local organizations, even local church groups. The Classics should appeal to someone out there.
    Good Luck, hope I have helped a little bit.
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous12:45 PM

    Chris,

    Obviously grant writing is a passion of yours. Besides grants, what are some other ways that you have been able to raise funds for your school? Do you do fundraisers? Our budgets keep shrinking so we have to be creative and find money in other places. I'd appreciate any ideas you might have.

    Kelly Bordner

    ReplyDelete
  9. Chris,
    Thanks for your comments. We have similar situations in my school. I try to look at those teachers as a walking bullseye for collaboration. If they never want to plan a project with me I offer to help them in the lab. Even if I don't really know what to do...I can figure that out after they agree to work with me! I worry about some of my kids who year after year get placed in a classroom with a teacher who never uses technology. I wish it was another special in my school. I know my staff would love to have a teacher to work with the kids on these skills. My staff tends to get sassy when you talk about training at a meeting. How do you keep the attitude for training positive?

    Sawyer

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous1:06 PM

    Margaret,
    Time commitments on grants vary widely. A $100,000 High Tech Literacy Grant from the state of Indiana may take hours and hours of work. A PRISM grant from Rose-Hulman for $7,000 may be fairly easy and you might be able to write it in a day with lots of talk and discussion before hand with the participants.
    IF you aren't familiar with the PRISM website you should visit. We currently have a grant from them and all they wanted you to do was basically to use the PRISM web portal for communication during the grant. We partnered with the U of Indianapolis Math department and bought a classroom set of graphing calculators for our math and science staff. U of I preservice teachers are working with our teachers to explore ways to use graphing calculators in the middle school environment. We have a forum on the PRISM site called Calculating Opportunity. You can explore the site by going to rose-prism.org They offer grants for math and science projects. It's also a fantastic resource for media specialists. It's free!
    Some grants offer very little money and ask you to do too much work. Choose carefully and make sure it is worth the effort.
    Also, grant writing is like everything else, the more you do it the better you get at it. I'm still learning, but I have a better idea about how much time is involved now when I read an application.
    Best of luck
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous1:23 PM

    Kelly,
    Besides grants, about the only thing I do that raises money for books in the library is to sponsor two book fairs each year. I take all profits in books and this helps me keep my paperback collection current and up-to-date.
    We have a newly formed PTO and I have talked to them about helping us with a few things as they raise money.
    As you know, periodicals are becoming more and more expensive and I have had to cut this part of my budget. What I had to cut was the periodicals that the students use for recreational reading: Magazines like Dirt Rider, Guitar Player, Horse and Rider and Seventeen.
    What I discovered was that our student council had a fairly large amount of money that they had accumulated over the years. I went to them several years ago and explained our budget situation and suggested that they might want to choose magazines for the middle school media center and pay for them. So now, the students choose the magazines they want, with guidance, and they pay the invoice to the tune of about $700.00 a year. It helps. My budget hasn't increased in the 10 years that I've been here. So we need to make adjustments and find ways to keep the collection vibrant. And we need to select our materials very carefully.
    It's getting tighter and tighter out there. If you find some creative ideas, I'll listen.
    Thanks for asking.
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous1:36 PM

    Sawyer,
    Give them food. Ask your administrators if there is any professional development money and lure them in by promising them food of some sort. Also, I have a technolgoy director that I have a wonder working relationship with.
    I know I have mentioned him before. When I want to do something, he listens: especially when it comes to technology training. Often, we will pay stipends. He believes that teachers should be treated like professionals and should be paid for their time. This attitude goes a long way with all of us. When you treat people like professionals, they tend to act like professionals and they will take advantage of the training situation. I know, many people don't have the best technology coordinator in the world and when he retires in a year or so, I will be tearing my hair out. He actually has an educational philosophy and comes from a teaching background. It's bliss.
    So, I get side tracked. The trick... combine food with a small stipend (say $50 for two hours training) and there you have it.
    Teachers with happy feet will be dancing to your training.
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous1:40 PM

    Sawyer,
    Forgot to mention that this stipend money comes from his technology budget, not from my budget. He has a budget as well and it's far bigger than mine. Cultivate a strong relationship with your tech coordinator if you have one.
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  14. Margaret Howard5:05 PM

    Chris,

    Thanks for pointing me in the direction of PRISM. I think the more I research, the less intimidating grant writing will become. I was thinking about setting up some time after school for interested teachers to collaborate and share needs and grant ideas. We could explore websites and I could provide SNACKS! Maybe if I could recruit at least one other teacher to work with me on a grant idea, it would actually be a fun and rewarding experience. You're right, the $$ is out there, and you'll never receive any if you don't apply.

    Regarding the use of technology, do you think it's a good use of your time to actually teach students how to "make" webquests, or just use already created ones available on the web? How do you evaluate what's out there? Do you have a list of criteria? Is there a way to separate quality from junk?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous8:04 AM

    Margaret,
    Good questions and the first one is the most difficult. Following a webquest and creating one really require two different sets of skills. In the first, it seems to me you are looking for information or answers by stepping along an already defined path. This may not be very far along in terms of critical thinking skills although it has its place. In the second instance, you are actually creating new material as you step along an information search process. Creating a new webquest, I believe, is usually higher order thinking and more valuable for lots of reasons but it depends (in educational situations) on what standards you are trying to meet and on what you are trying to achieve. It also depends to a huge extent on your time limitations. Most of the time when we assign students creative projects we really don't give them the amount of time necessary to wander through a process that can have lots of loops and changes in direction. We tell them "you have a week to be creative." We impose barriers to the actual outcomes that we are looking for from students. I did a webquest for a class I took from Linda Mills years ago. I actually used it as the basis for a collaboration with my seventh grade science teacher my first year as a media specialist. This science-based project ended up running for 7 years at the middle school and was recognized by the DOE. We even trained other schools to start their own projects along the same line. All this from creating a webquest. Creating also gives students the opportunity to exercise more choice..another thing I am passionate about.
    Your next question was about evaluating what is out there. I assume you mean on the Internet. There are established criteria like scope, age appropriateness, validity, etc. but I think after the normal ways we evaluate, what you need after that is simply experience with kids and especially the age group you will be serving. By forging relationships with kids you begin to know what will motivate or excite them... What will appeal and what you can expect from them. Middle school is another planet compared to high school. Also, find things that excite you. If you are excited about what you want to share with students, some of them will catch this enthusiasm and give you the benefit of the doubt.
    In terms of separating quality from junk on the WWW, I try to train my students to search in the .org area if they need quick authoritative info or to go to places I have already identified. It takes students forever to do their own searching in the middle school... Another matter of time. Read journals that evaluate web resources like SLJ and Teacher/Librarian. I also try to purchase good online resources for students. We subcribe to Electric Library: a great resource for periodicals, newspaper articles,radio interviews, photos and maps. We also subscribe to Unitedstreaming, an online video service that helps staff support teaching with film and video clips. We also purchase Culturegrams for social studies, cxonline for career exploration, and worldbookonline for a general online encyclopedia. I also try to direct themto Inspire, the states virtual library. All great resources. The problem is often teachers forget to point students in this direction and instead let them do general Internet searches without asking me in to reinforce searching techniques, boolean logic, and evaluation skills. It's a constant struggle to keep these issues in front of your staff and students. You can have the best resources in the world but unless you constantly remind your staff, they may become forgotten friends.I do a survey at the end of every year to see how often staff have used various resources.
    This helps me decide what to drop or what to push.
    I hope some of this addressed your concerns.
    Thanks for making my brain work this morning.
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  16. Anonymous9:00 AM

    To all,
    Just a quick comment about assistive technology. Don't forget your special education population. I have used capital project money and grant money to purchase assistive technology for our special education students. If part of our mission is to make sure students have equal access to information, don't forget what you can do to help make this a reality for students that have special needs. We use a program called Kurzweil for our students. This allows us to scan material into a computer and the program will read aloud the material to the student with a reading disability. It will also allow students to take info off the Internet so the computer can read it.There are other features as well, but this is a quick illustration.
    We also purchased from media funds special CD players with ear phones that students can take with them to class to listen to the CD of the text book they are using.This way they don't have to leave the class to have the text read to them by an aide and it fosters independence. I just wrote a purchase order for a pen that reads text. I will buy two of them now. The special ed reading teacher has agreed to run a small pilot program. If she finds the pens are useful, we will try to find a grant to purchase more. Small steps. It doesn't pay to purchase great amounts of something until you know people will use it and it has a valid place in the classroom. I also suggest subscribing to a periodical in the area of assistive technology and special education.
    Marilyn Irwin teaches a class on assistive technology for SLIS. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this course if you haven't already. It will definitely help you in the school arena.
    Thanks for listening.
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  17. Margaret12:39 PM

    Chris,

    Funny you should mention UnitedStreaming--Just Thursday I received a solicitation phone call from them offering my school a one year site license and a X2 DLP Projector for $1495. Do you think that it is worth pursuing? Maybe I can write a grant for it!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Anonymous3:11 PM

    Margaret,
    See if you can get a 30 day free trial for this. I have more teachers using this resource than anything else I have ever purchased.
    It depends a bit on the network you have and how big the pipe is that comes into your school. (T-1 maybe.)Talk to your tech coordinator. It is absolutely wonderful in terms of a resource. Everyone can benefit including special ed. I'm sure you can get a 30 day trial if you ask for it and give all your teachers the info and insist that they try it out. We have LCD presenters in many rooms and each of three labs so that teachers can reserve a lab and show a streaming video in the lab. It is expensive so it depends a bit on your ability to keep this going year after year. We have found it to be very worthwhile. Your visual learners will benefit. Since all videos are segmented you can show just the bit of the video you want or you can show the entire thing. You can also burn the videos to CD to use later if you wish in case the Internet is down. This is allowed.
    Once again, It may be the best resource I have purchased.This is our third year. I give it my highest recommendation.
    Ask for a trial. Most companies are willing to do this.
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  19. Chris,

    Thank you for the amazing suggestions regarding a grant for the classics. I see from the "FrogQuest" project how successful you are at involving the greater learning community in collaborative projects. I read your Big6 online article about the Mars Millennium Project from 2002 and have a bunch of questions about that. I liked your real-life decision-making introduction about getting dressed in the morning. I think that really must make the Big6 hit home for kids. Did you develop that project on your own or did you work with someone else? How familiar are the teachers at your school with the project and do they continue to direct the kids to use their newly-acquired Big6 knowledge in future projects? Was the 6-week Media Skills Class something you advocated or was it an administrative/district decision? Do you like that set-up? Have you continued to do this project? If so, how have you adapted it? Finally, you mentioned in the article that you assigned the groups based on academic strenths and weaknesses of the students but you only have 3 weeks to get to know them at that point. Do you have a list of criteria that you use to assess these strengths/weaknesses or is that just something you've developed through experience?

    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous8:59 AM

    Steph,
    My computer at home is acting up. It doesn't like something about the blog and keeps shutting me down. I will respond to you at work tomorrow if you are willing to check back tomorrow afternoon for your response.
    Thanks for all the interaction. I will reply.
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  21. Anonymous5:04 AM

    Steph,
    Wow, I’ll have to think back in time to answer some of these. The Mars project was not my own. It was a national challenge issued by NASA (I think.) Schools received a kit of materials. The main issue was to think about what the first Mars’ colony would look like. Students were to consider the following: What would you want to have there? What would you take with you considering the weight limitations? What would you name your team? What talents would you want people to have that made the trip? Design a badge that the team would wear and explain the symbols on the badge. Things like that. I incorporated the Big6 as a way to structure the project.
    In terms of assigning students different roles to play in the project, I looked at it as differentiation. Teachers know when students have special needs. We have to know because we have to follow an IEP. This always gives you an indication of where the student is, and I knew many of the students through the media center. Some of the roles involved more reading than others and I assigned my low readers to roles that would not frustrate them but would allow them to make a contribution to the project.
    Following that project, I worked with two teachers to incorporate the Big6 into their research projects. One teacher continues to use the Big6 in her classroom. The other teacher has left the district. I believe an information search process is valuable for middle school students, but it is hard to get all teachers moving in the same direction. And when people come and go, it can be difficult to keep a program going. You have to continually reinvent and reenergize programs or they begin to fall apart. Sometimes you have other things that you need to develop. It’s difficult to wear all the hats we have in our closet at the same time. Sometimes you have to pick and choose which hats you will wear and for how long. It’s simply impossible to be “super media specialist” and be one person. You pick and choose your roles and your focus and try to see that there is some balance from year to year.
    I no longer have the Library Skills class. Originally, I initiated it. However, after two years I found this approach too restrictive. It prohibited me from going into classrooms and teaching with a staff member during all his/her class periods. I would always have a period where I couldn’t show up because of the class. Also, in the Library Skills class some of the skills I tried to teach were skills that students did not need at that point and by the time they needed them, they were forgotten. Teaching at the point of need in a class is much more effective. I talked to my administrators and the school board agreed to let me drop the class for the reasons I stated. I now am able to work with staff and go into their classrooms or a lab and team-teach or teach a lesson by myself before they begin a research project. I can also go into classes and booktalk every period if I need to. I like the freedom of my schedule now. We do have language arts classes that visit the library every two weeks on a fairly fixed schedule but otherwise we are flexible. Students may come any time they have an information need.
    I also take a few days at the beginning of every year to acquaint the new 6th graders with the media center and the use of the online card catalog, library policies and procedures, the layout of materials, etc. This gives them the basics and everything else I do in the classroom when teachers are willing to team with me.
    Well, it’s 7:55 am here and I need to leave my desk and get busy. Thanks for all the great questions and for listening.
    Best of Luck
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  22. Julie7:23 AM

    Chris,
    Thanks for the ideas and suggestions. I am trying to fit that grant writing class into my schedule before I graduate. It sounds like so much of the process is a juggling act - between finding the right grant to fit your needs to writing it in a way that will encourage the organizations to give you money. Hopefully I will find success with it in the future.

    Julie

    ReplyDelete