The Rural Schools Collaborative, a national organization, has funded small grants for rural schools in Alabama for several years.  (I am pleased to serve on their board.)  Eight state projects were funded in the most recent grant cycle.

Two of the efforts were a physics project at Haleyville city schools and a “makers” project at Cherokee elementary in Guntersville.  Michael McCandless is the teacher involved in the Haleyville grant, while Teresa Zimmer is in Guntersville.

Michael McCandless’  project involves physics students studying optics, light reflection and refraction and making use of their recently learned principles of light to construct a parabolic reflector solar heater and cooker. The goal of the project is to demonstrate how alternative sources of energy can be used to cook food, heat water, and heat indoor living areas.

Michael provided the following update: “The progress has been slow, but we have a working model built. We ran into a few problems that will require us to remove our reflective surface from the parabolic reflector and try again with a better, more suitable material. Our inexperience with applying this kind of adhesive left us with a less than perfect reflector, and we are not generating the type of energy we’d hoped for. I remain undaunted, however, and this year’s students are up for any challenge I present. After relining the parabola, we will do the math necessary to locate the focal point of the reflected sunlight and construct some sort of device to collect the energy. We’re still in the design phase on this. We have a ways to go, but it is going and the students are taking great interest.”

Teresa Zimmer’s Making Makers, Growing Givers project is providing opportunities for 3rd-5th grade gifted students to become “makers,” allowing them to learn by doing and become designers, innovators and entrepreneurs of the future.

Teresa shared this report: “We have just begun the basics of our project ,and my students are learning the details of hand sewing and machine sewing for their goal of making stuffed animals to give to local children support groups. Once they have mastered those skills, they will combine their previous knowledge of circuitry to add eyes to their animals that light up. This has already been a wonderful learning experience for my students, as they are learning life skills of cooperation, acceptance, and giving back to their community”

Other Alabama grants went to Livingston junior high in Sumter County for a Makerspace/STEM lab, to Madison Cross Road in Madison County for Gardens to Grown, to  Pisgah high school in Jackson County for Eagles Working for Wood Ducks, to Wedowee elementary in Randolph County for Wildlife Tracks Station, to Westside elementary in Demopolis for Lights, Camera, Teach and to Westside for The Sprouting Minds Project.

While I have seen only one of these projects, I have seen a number in past years.  They have all been impressive and in systems where resources are often scare, teachers have been delighted to receive these grants.

Grants were  made possible with support from the Parker Griffith Family Foundation, Jefferson County Federation of Teachers, the University of West  Alabama Black Belt Teacher Crops and Susan McKim, Sandra Thomaston and Randall  Williams.

Rural Schools Collaborative has been instrumental in helping the University of West Alabama get the Black Belt Teacher Corps up and running.