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Groton teachers awarded grants to travel abroad

Groton — Three teachers from West Side STEM Magnet Middle School were awarded grants to travel abroad this summer, with the goal of gaining an international perspective on programs the Groton school district is working to implement.

Laura Irace, seventh-grade math teacher, and Lisa Lambert, math interventionist, will go on a multi-part fellowship, leaving June 18 and returning July 4. They will first go to New Zealand to learn about and help build an outdoor classroom at a K-8 school. They will then fly to Sydney, Australia, to visit an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme school and also attend an international STEM conference, Irace said.

Seventh-grade math teacher Rachel Lorinser will head to London and Stockholm in August to spend a week visiting cultural and historic sites with the goal of returning with knowledge and primary sources to develop cross-curricular projects at the middle school, she said. She will then attend a weeklong international conference in Sweden on outdoor classrooms and how to implement them.

The teachers are receiving the grants through Fund for Teachers, a program that grants individuals up to $5,000 for a trip, or $10,000 for group trips, for experiences that will enhance their teaching, said Irace.

Outdoor classrooms

All seventh-grade students at West Side completed a project this year to design a blueprint of an outdoor learning space for Groton's new consolidated middle school, with ideas that include an outdoor performance stage for the arts and humanities and gardens for STEM. The teachers plan to continue the activity with next year's seventh-grade students.

Superintendent Michael Graner said the building committee and architects would welcome the suggestions and that space is available at the site of the new consolidated middle school — which is slated to be built by June 2020 — to incorporate their plans. He said an outdoor classroom would provide an excellent opportunity for students to get outside and do hands-on projects in keeping with the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme, which incorporates hands-on, inquiry-based and project-based learning.

The teachers said the two trips would provide them with knowledge, from how to plan and build an outdoor classroom, to how to create lesson plans, across all subject areas, that incorporate the space.

Irace said that when students get involved in hands-on activities, the experience becomes more meaningful to them.

"I think it allows them to see themselves in the curriculum as well," Lorinser added. "It's not just pages in a workbook. It’s actually collecting data and samples and following through and measuring growth and tracking different things. I think that it’s just more authentic and they can see the purpose of it and how it could apply to their lives in the future."

IB Middle Years

With the district working toward fully implementing the International Baccalaurate Middle Years Programme, Irace said she's excited to visit the Australian school that has fully implemented IBMYP and see on a day-to-day basis what that looks like in the classroom — and from an international perspective.

Lorinser said international mindedness is a pillar of IBMYP. In her proposal, she wrote that visiting the landmarks "will widen my world view, allowing me to incorporate a more global perspective into my math and advisory curriculums, as well as collaborate with my co-workers to develop cross-curricular projects. A big push in 21st-century math classes is to create authentic tasks that incorporate real-world applications of mathematics."

After submitting applications, Irace and Lambert received about $9,800 in total for their fellowship, and Lorinser received $4,810 for hers, from Fund for Teachers, they said. Part of Fund for Teachers' mission is to encourage teachers to pursue what they’re interested in and passionate about because that will enhance their students’ lives, Lorinser said.

"It's just really cool to think about how what a teacher is interested in can inspire passions in students and what that can lead them to and drive them to," Lorinser said. "I think if teachers are excited about things and passionate about things the students can feel that as well and then hopefully spark interest in them."

When the teachers return to the school district next year, they plan to share their experiences with their colleagues and students, as well as families and parents, for example during open house and math night, Irace said.

"It’s a really unique opportunity," Irace said. "I just think we’re in a really neat position to share some of this."


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