Adventures in Ethics and Science

The school year just started again for my kids, and it’s pretty hard to escape the conclusion that as public school teachers are being asked to do more, their resources are dwindling. During the summer, the school mailed out the (extensive) lists of basic school supplies needed by kids at each grade level — the basic stuff, like crayons and pencils and paper, that during the last millennium when I was in grade school were included in the classroom funding like desks and electricity.

It strikes me that as a society, we need to revisit our funding priorities. But in the meantime, there are legions of cash-strapped teachers trying to spark some excitement around learning. Even if their school districts are tapped out, there are folks who value education who can help.

High on that list is DonorsChoose, an organization that helps teachers with classroom projects and other student learning experiences get the funding they need from ordinary folks in cyberspace who chip in what they can. (You may remember that ScienceBlogs readers raised some serious cash for such projects last spring. It’s also worth noting that DonorsChoose underwent a recent expansion and is now accepting proposals from teachers in all 50 states in the US.)

If you’re a school teacher trying to spin straw into gold — or you know a school teacher with grand plans and scarce resources — I’m posting to encourage you to consider creating and submitting a student project proposal to DonorsChoose. You don’t need to be a professional grant writer to do it — just a teacher with a vision for making your students’ learning experience better (and a list of the resources you’d need to make that happen) who can describe your students and your plan in a one page essay.

That doesn’t sound too hard, does it?

Here are some more specifics:

What kind of things can you request in a student project proposal? The sorts of things you could use to help your students learn — from field trips, to microscopes, to books, to paper and art supplies. Two essential criteria:

  1. All requested resources must be used by students or directly provide a student experience.
  2. The proposal cannot foster discrimination or proselytize a religious or political viewpoint.

(More specifics here.)

How grand can your plans be? The minimum request they’ll handle is $100. There’s no official maximum, but they say projects in the ballpark of $400 or less are the quickest to fund (which means taking your vision and implementing it with your students). Practically, this means it may be a good idea to break up a big plan into smaller chunks under distinct proposals. (More here.)

So, what needs to go into that one page essay? The essay will tell the story of what your students need and how your plan will give it to them if it’s funded. Specifically, DonorsChoose suggests the following components:

  1. Introduce the project by mentioning the type of school, the grade and the subject you teach.
  2. Describe the situation such as the obstacle you are facing in the classroom or a new point of interest for the student(s).
  3. Illustrate the solution with: a) a clear description of the student experience that will take place and b) a description of the materials needed to bring the project to life.
  4. Empower the donor to help bring your project to life by reaffirming why you want your students to have the requested experience.

You’re not just telling the folks at DonorsChoose what you have planned — you’re sharing it with folks on the web who want to make a difference for students by supporting educational efforts of dedicated and imaginative teachers like you! You and your audience have a shared commitment to the kids, so you just need to make the details vivid.

There’s lots of information, in easily digestible bites, on the DonorsChoose Teachers FAQ. And, a teacher whose proposals have been funded via DonorsChoose gives her advice on crafting a proposal here.

And, if you or a teacher you know gets a project up on DonorsChoose, let us know! Especially seeing as how ScienceBlogs bloggers will be gearing up for another Bloggers Challenge in October, it would be truly excellent to direct the generosity of our readers toward funding proposals submitted by other ScienceBlogs readers.