Schools foundation grants put to good use

In Debbie McDowell's Algebra II class at Jamestown High School, graphing quadratic equations by paper and pencil was the only way to learn — until the class got five iPads.

Now students explore graphs and equations using online programs. With the swipe of a finger a graph is mirrored across the x-axis, something that would have taken much more time to do by hand.

McDowell, the Jamestown Math curriculum leader, knew from past experience the effect technology in the classroom could have on students' attention spans. That's why she applied for a $2,000 grant last fall from the newly established Williamsburg-James City County Schools Foundation.

McDowell's vision to buy iPads for her class to interactively learn math was realized in January when the foundation granted her request.

The Foundation

The foundation, established in early 2015, distributed its first round of teacher grants in January of this year. McDowell was one of 21 recipients who received funds up to $2,000 for an innovative and creative plan to help their classroom.

The foundation's president, Clarence Wilson, said the foundation raises money within the community to fund specific projects put forward by any staff member in WJCC, not only teachers.

"We're pretty excited about this past year because one of the energizing things that we've seen is the real excitement from the grant recipients about how the grants will fit into their school programs," Wilson said. "The creativity the grant encourages is great."

In their second year of fund raising, Wilson said he's happy with how things are going. They haven't yet met their goal of $65,000 for 2016, but they're optimistic.

The 20-or-so 2017 winners have already been chosen by a committee, but won't be announced until next month, Wilson said. Last January the foundation awarded $27,000 total. For 2017, that figure will eclipse $30,000.

"We raise the money and then we fund whatever number of grants that come in that will meet the criteria," Wilson said. "Our goal of course is to put as much out as we possibly can."

The foundation chooses to fund projects that teachers couldn't get money for through the regular school division budget.

"We really encourage innovative opportunities in the classroom," Foundation secretary Patty O'Neil said. "Our hope is that we encourage creativity and opportunities that directly impact classroom learning."

Grants in action

McDowell bought iPads with her grant. Rose Burwell, a teacher at Matoaka Elementary School, used her $820 grant on a math puzzle game and activity book called Versa Tiles for the fourth and fifth grades.

"Number one it's just good practice for the kids," Burwell said. "The other benefit is that teachers can direct their attention on the small group they're working with, and the groups rotate through to the teacher."

The fourth and fifth grades each received their own set of the game from Burwell's grant. She said that the second-and third-grade teachers who tried it out with their classes loved it, so they rallied the Matoaka's Parent-Teach Association to buy those grade levels each a copy.

McDowell's iPads came into use this fall and for many lessons, they take the place of paper, pencil, projector and even lecturer in some cases. Lee Williams also teaches Algebra II at Jamestown and uses the tablets for similar activities in his classes.

On Tuesday, the students worked in pairs to transform graphs on the screen, changing an x or y value and watching the graph grow or shrink across the grid. For the most part, Williams left the students to their own devices, unless a hand shot up signaling a question or problem.

A technology age

Sophomore Treshon Capehart said he pays more attention when the iPads are out.

"It's better than just normal teaching because it's the technology age," Capehart said. "It's the screens. Even if it's a phone, I'm paying attention, but with (Williams) standing up there — I don't know."

Williams said he likes incorporating the technology into his lessons. One reason is the rapid feedback he can get from an online assessment.

"When you do something like this, it kind of tricks them into working harder," Williams said. "Because it's technology, it's 'cool.' It enables a whole different world of learning."

Ny'Ajah Tabb is a sophomore at Jamestown. She's not new to iPads in class, she said she's used them in science and English — even orchestra.

"I like the hands-on experience, to actually see it other than on paper," Tabb said. "We can go at our own pace and figure it out for ourselves."

McDowell said because she only has five iPads, she supplements them with computers she has access to, and some students do the activities on their own devices. Eventually she'd like have more but she said for now, she's still learning them herself.

"It just kind of lends itself, it lends itself to neat activities," McDowell said. "That's why I love them, it really does engage them in what they're doing."

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Want to donate?

Contributions can be made online through PayPal or credit card. Gifts by check should be made payable to WJCC Schools Foundation and sent to:

WJCC Schools Foundation

P.O. Box 6318

Williamsburg, VA 23188

The WJCC Schools Foundation is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit, charitable organization as determined by the Internal Revenue Service.

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