Keller Citizen

Keller educators use grants to transform learning

Krisanne Stewart wants to provide a learning environment like none other at Trinity Springs Middle School.

The eighth grade English teacher is working hard this summer to establish an outdoor learning center on campus with an $8,000 grant from the M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation. Stewart’s award is one of 12 totaling $55,000 given last month to Keller district teachers, librarians and principals as part of the Keller ISD-Hudson Foundation’s Transformation Projects. Each grant is designed to take learning to a whole different level.

Stewart said she got the idea after seeing the courtyard at Timberview Middle School during teacher training last summer.

“I want to help kids learn who don’t learn as well in a traditional environment,” she said. “I want to meet kids where they will learn best.”

As an inclusion teacher, Stewart works with students with different challenges such as autism spectrum disorders, in addition to students who excel in the typical classroom. “This year more than any other year, many of my students struggled to learn in a traditional desk and chair,” she said.

Allowing kids to move around, sit outside and observe nature would benefit many students. Stewart wants to have an accessible shaded area that would include comfortable seating and tables, a place to create and display student art, white boards or chalk boards for classwork and maybe even a hammock or two.

She polled seventh and eighth graders for their suggestions and set up teams of Trinity Springs staff members, one to research and propose options and another to critique the plans. Stewart hopes to have the foundation of the outdoor learning center in place this fall, with room to grow in future years.

Creating new learning spaces is also central to several other Hudson grant recipients.

Caroline Carr, librarian at Parkwood Hill Intermediate School, received $5,000 for a “makerspace” in the school library.

The “L-Triple C” makerspace is learning by cutting-edge creativity and collaboration, Carr said.

The lab space will include all kinds of supplies to design and share new information. Students will get to come to the makerspace as a reward for good behavior and good grades. A guest will be invited in for “Mentor Mondays” to show kids how to make a project. Students will complete their creations on “Finish it Fridays.”

Carr wants kids to enjoy applying what they learn in the classroom by making things like simple robots or sail cars.

“When you’re building a rocket, you’re not thinking about math or proportions,” she said. “You’re thinking, ‘Wow! I’m building a rocket and we’re going to go launch it.”

Another goal is to transform libraries as a place to create since their role has diminished with the availability of information online.

“I want to show a new way of looking at libraries, to reinvent how we’re going to fit in the school system and in the culture,” Carr said.

Park Glen Elementary Principal Leslee Shepherd got a $4,025 grant to make a technology lab that will be an interactive learning space for students. The funds will provide Apple TV digital media players, tabletops with interactive surfaces and a place for kids to Skype or teleconference with other schools or guest instructors.

“We really want to bring learning to life and have things they don’t have in the regular classroom,” Shepherd said.