Ideas that inspire students collected

February 24, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

Bits of advice for teachers, from teachers:

Let the kindergarten children cook their soup and eat it too, in class. Alphabet soup, so they can learn.

Don't just read the classics. Draw them, sing them, make costumes for the heroes and villains, the peasants and noblemen, the kings and queens of centuries past.

Talk about social issues -- poverty, crime, drugs, teen pregnancy, the fate of city neighborhoods -- but don't stop there. Take elementary schoolchildren to a shelter for homeless people so they may see the faces, hear the stories and perhaps avoid the same mistakes.

Yesterday, the Baltimore-based Fund for Educational Excellence celebrated such teaching methods -- and the teachers who dreamed them up -- as catalysts for change in city classrooms.

The 10-year-old foundation, which works exclusively with city schools to encourage innovation, released the "Teachers for Teachers Idea Catalog," a compendium of 22 elementary school programs created by city teachers.

The idea, said Jerry Baum, the fund's executive director, is to share success stories with teachers citywide to inspire more of the same.

Which is to say something other than the teacher standing by a blackboard at the front of a room and youngsters sitting in pint-sized chairs yawning.

All 22 of the teachers' classes have done well academically. And, Mr. Baum pointed out, the innovative methods cost no more than a few hundred dollars and grew out of daily work in the classroom.

"This is change from the grass roots up, rather than imposed from the top down in terms of the impact on the system. This'll speed the process of moving ideas through the system," he said.

The catalog -- in binder form, so other entries can be added easily -- is being distributed to elementary principals citywide. The teachers, who received $200 each from the foundation to help pay for supplies, will demonstrate their methods for their colleagues.

Spreading the word about outstanding teaching is part of the foundation's Teacher Effectiveness Program, Mr. Baum said. It costs $225,000 annually, money that goes to individual teachers as well as to teams of teachers.

And the foundation, which is expanding the program to middle and high schools, has drawn widespread praise -- from individual schools and from the school system's North Avenue headquarters.

One of the chosen teachers, Rhonda S. Friedman, summed up the innovative methods this way: "It's about getting away from dittos and neat rows of desks and bored kids."

Her 20 third-graders at Maree Garnett Farring Elementary in Brooklyn certainly showed no sign of boredom yesterday morning.

They stepped through a door under a sign that said "Boarding Gate" and into a plane with windows, luggage compartment and seats in rows. A flight attendant announced a trip to Mexico, and a captain boomed over the loudspeaker.

Never mind that the plane's interior actually was a frame made from a 25-foot-long painted tunnel of paper. On a cold, slushy day in February, it was enough to transport a classroom of children.

Then the captain said: "Welcome to sunny Mexico" -- and the dancing and clapping began around an oversized sombrero.

Little Holly Kongstead, her blond hair flowing from under a sombrero, took a break from making a Mexican flower out of tissue paper. "If the teacher just talked about Mexico," she said, "nobody would really listen to it. This is much more fun."

But not at the expense of learning. Like all the teachers recognized by the fund, Ms. Friedman said she stresses the staples of reading, math, science and social studies by complementing activities with more traditional methods.

It seems to work. After their "trip," her students could hardly wait to tear into the several dozen books on Mexico and its history.

"I can't tell you how rewarding it is because it's so different than normal teaching," said Ms. Friedman. "And these children, in their minds, went to Mexico. You can't tell them they did not go to Mexico, and they want to know all about it afterward."

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