Educators using grants to expand their classrooms’ horizons

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Once a topic becomes personal, all learning barriers are shattered. Or so Bellaire High School English teacher Matt Olsen and Bradley Quentin of Sinclair Elementary School believe.

This summer, both were awarded fellowships from Funds For Teachers (FFT), an organization that allows teachers to pursue enrichment opportunities of their own design. Olsen traveled to Vietnam to make personal connections with the books he teaches, while Quentin has headed to England to explore archaeology and history with his teammate and teacher at Piney Point Elementary Kimberly Boyce-Quentin.

Olsen chose to explore four cities in Vietnam in order to experience the settings described in his Vietnam literature unit, which includes Tim O’Brien’s war memoir, “The Things They Carried.”He took photographs, made films, gathered anecdotes, interviewed local residents, tasted the food, and danced to the music. By bringing his own stories back to the classroom, Olsen hopes to remove degrees of separation between the students and the places or people being studied.

“Visiting the war-related historical sites, immersing myself in Vietnamese culture, seeing the existing religious shrines and walking the same paths as the authors of our books energized my spirit and will renew my lessons,” said Olsen. “My imagination is fired and my teaching takes on a new meaning.” You can read more about Olsen’s goals at the Fund For Teachers Tumblr.

On the other side of the world, Bradley Quentin is gathering personal experiences to spark his students’ interests. He is currently traveling around England, visiting historical sites and even joining an archaeological dig in order to create a cross-curricular project for his students that will involve research, hands-on activities, and a multimedia presentation.

“Archaeology and history require students to examine information and objects, categorize, draw conclusions, and make inferences,” said Quentin.

So far, Quentin and Boyce-Quentin have visited Oxford, Stonehenge, Canterbury Chapel, London, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Hadrian’s Wall, an ancient structure with excavation sites dating back to the time of the Roman occupation. He is documenting his journey on a blog.

FFT granted three other fellowships this year. Marie Krueger-Miller of Travis Elementary and Morgan Krueger-Miller of Houston Academy for International Studies are exploring the birth of the metric system in France; Angela Apte of the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts is observing storytelling projects in the United Kingdom; and Kathleen Rios of Henry Middle School is learning about Mayan weaving techniques to incorporate visually into her lessons.