Michelle students

For teachers, finding cash to buy classroom “extras” can be difficult. A school’s parent organization can help, but so can generous strangers. That’s the aim of DonorsChoose.org, a web site where teachers at public schools can submit proposals for things their classrooms need, and then individuals, companies and foundations can pledge funding to support that classroom. Last year, DonorsChoose.org shipped more than $110 million in classroom materials to 98,000 teachers nationwide, helping students have access to everything from graphing calculators to 3-D printers.

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Michelle Scheet teaches second grade in Omaha Public Schools and created a project called “Super Scientist” with help from DonorsChoose.org.

We contacted two teachers who entered a recent DonorsChoose.org contest — the Science Everywhere Innovation Challenge — by requesting materials to help their students do hands-on math and science learning outside of class time. Their projects were funded by the Overdeck Family Foundation and Simons Foundation, and the teachers are now awaiting word if they have won one of five prizes of $5,000 from those foundations to purchase more classroom materials. The teachers are Michelle Scheet and Linwood Starling:

Q: Tell us about yourselves, and your schools and students. 

Michelle Scheet: I have been teaching second grade for 17 years for the Omaha Public Schools. Our school — Saddlebrook Elementary in Omaha — is unique in that we have a school, community center and public library under one roof. Saddlebrook is home to the Green Wave! We pride ourselves on our “green” roof, rain garden, bioswale (drainage course to remove pollutants from runoff water), surrounding prairie and environmental sustainability. My class consists of 25 eager second-graders who enjoy learning. We love science and are always looking for ways to learn more about our world.

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Linwood Starling teaches science at Pine Forest High School and created an “on the go” science experience with donations.

Linwood Starling: I have been teaching high school for four years. I teach science, particularly biology, physical science, and anatomy and physiology, at Pine Forest High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Our school serves a diverse group of students including low income, military families and homeless students.

Q: Describe the projects you posted on DonorsChoose.org and the supplies you were seeking.

MS: My project, called “Super Scientist,” was posted to replace my worn-out science experiment books and materials. The items I received provided my students and their families with up-to-date materials to conduct modern experiments at home. Some of the materials I requested, such as the Magic School Bus Chemistry Lab and the Unofficial Minecraft Lab for Kids, were meant to spark interest in science for students who might not otherwise find it exciting.

LS: I posted a project titled, “Making Science a Real World on the Go Experience!” for which I requested scientific calculators, K’NEX DNA kits, magnetic sets, an Amazon Fire Tablet, Airzooka Air Gun and a GPS system.

Q: How will your students use these materials?

MS: In my classroom each week, one student — the Super Scientist — takes home a bag of science books and materials to conduct experiments with his or her family. The following week, the student shares one of these experiments with the class. Wearing a lab coat and goggles, the Super Scientist walks us through the experiment showing the results. The student then takes questions from the class to further explain his or her learning.

LS: My students use the calculators during physical science. The K’NEX DNA kits give my students the ability to see how DNA is formed and translated in a hands-on approach that they can’t get from a picture. They will use the Airzooka Air Gun to learn about the Bernoulli effect (the relationship between fluid flow speed and pressure), vortices and how air is a state of matter.

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The magnetic sets will give them a hands-on approach to learning about magnetic poles and forces of magnetism. The Amazon Fire tablet and GPS system are student favorites, allowing the students to conduct speed, acceleration and force experiments. These materials have been grouped in take-home packages so the students will conduct these activities outside my classroom, ensuring that learning does not end when the bell rings.

Q: How will the out-of-class activities further students’ in-class education?

MS: This extra exposure to science helps support our Nebraska science standards by allowing students to ask questions and conduct investigations that lead to observation and communication of findings. Their newfound knowledge is then shared with the class. It is my hope that the experience that the children gain from being a Super Scientist will spark an interest in science that will carry on with them for many years.

LS: Having the ability to send kids home with materials that they can learn from is so important. I don’t want my students to go home with a worksheet to fill out. I want them to have a meaningful activity that they will remember, enjoy and bring back to my classroom for us to discuss and compare with other students’ outcomes.

These types of kits also help to make sure that my students’ families stay involved in their education, as they can learn with them. These materials are helping me to break down my classroom walls to make learning endless and everywhere. It is amazing to see how much students grow when you are challenging them with learning goals through activities rather than worksheets and textbook assignments.

Q: Why did you turn to DonorsChoose.org?

MS: I saw that there was a funding match opportunity through the Science Everywhere Innovation Challenge (from the Overdeck Family Foundation and the Simons Foundation), and that motivated me to submit this project. Because I have had success getting other projects funded through DonorsChoose.org, I thought this would be a great opportunity.

LS: DonorsChoose.org has been a blessing, giving me the ability to provide my students with opportunities they normally would not have. We have had amazing support from donors, and their support has provided my students with hands-on learning activities, technology and basic necessities that my students didn’t have access to.

With school budgets getting smaller and classroom size getting larger, without the help from programs such as DonorsChoose.org, my students would be limited on the amount of enrichment activities they could receive.

Q: Will you turn to DonorsChoose.org again?

MS: I have had 29 DonorsChoose.org projects funded over the past four years. I have materials in my classroom that I would not have had otherwise. I have been able to receive books, reading center activities, math manipulatives, a worm compost, butterfly garden, Hokki stools (flexible, ergonomic seating), iPads, STEM materials and many classroom supplies thanks to DonorsChoose.org. I will continue to use DonorsChoose.org to support my students’ needs.

LS: Without a doubt, I will be using DonorsChoose.org again to help make my classroom the best place for my students’ learning.

Q: If you win the $5,000 in materials credits, what will you purchase?

MS: I would be so excited if I won $5,000 in credits! My top idea would be to get more STEM materials for my classroom such as engineering supplies. I would also like my students to get products that will help them learn how to code. I am interested in obtaining some professional development or training on these areas as well. It would also be great to get more materials for the students to use at home such as math games to practice various math objectives. Any credits I have left would be used to make other teachers’ projects come to life. I know how exciting it is to get a project funded, and I want them to have that experience, too.

LS: Wow! First, that would be an amazing opportunity. I would continue to work on getting materials and resources to create more take-home science kits that would expand and cover all the objectives for the classes I teach. Winning these credits would open so many doors for my students’ learning and help to prepare them for college. I want them to leave my class with ideas and questions that keep them searching and learning for years to come.

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