The Slice – Winter 2017

PiE Teacher Grants – Seeding Innovation in the Classroom

Many Silicon Valley success stories were started with a small investment, but did you know that several PAUSD innovations have also originated through seed funding?  The source is not Sand Hill Road, but a program within Palo Alto Partners in Education (PiE).

The PiE Teacher Grants program has funded dozens of PAUSD initiatives that are innovative, collaborative and sustainable. For many teachers and staff looking to kick-start their ideas in the classroom, a grant is just what they need.  Check out some recent grant profiles:


Little Bits Circuit Library in the Barron Park Maker Studio – Smita Kolhatkar

Barron Park students are Makers, thanks to the initiative of Smita Kolhatkar, who is the school’s Technology Integration TOSA, and her wise use of PiE Teacher Grants. From the outside, the Barron Park Maker Studio looks like another classroom. Enter and you hear the hum of 3D Printers, stumble upon a “city” constructed of Keva planks, and see the impressive Little Bits electronic circuit library. That’s when you realize that something different and special happens here.

Beginning with a 2012 PiE grant for Lego Robotics Kits, Ms. Kolhatkar envisioned a place where students could gather, tinker and bring their ideas to life. Another PiE Grant in 2013 purchased a MakerBot 3D Printer, Digitizer and supplies. A third grant, in 2016, was used to purchase a Little Bits Pro Library. Little Bits is an electronic building block platform that empowers students to create anything from a remote controlled car to an MP3 player or a smart home device.

With additional donations from families and local companies, the room is now brimming with a wide array of tools for budding artists, designers, and engineers. Artwork hangs on most walls and a row of sewing machines line a table where students create Halloween costumes, small pillows, or their outfits for their American Revolution re-enactment.

Teachers book space every week for projects and the Maker Space is open at lunch time so that every student can have access.



Playaways Audio Library – Ohlone – Grace Bunya

Picture a school where books are cool at recess. Grace Bunya, Teacher Librarian at Ohlone, estimates one-quarter of Ohlone students use the Playaways All-in-One audio books, dozens of which were funded through a PiE Teacher Grant.

Playaways, which are “worn” with a lanyard are a popular recess accessory for some kids. They have proven effective for boosting comprehension among auditory learners, English Language Learners, and students with reading challenges. It’s fun to pair Playaways with a paper book or simply listen to a good story while getting some fresh air.

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iPads in Middle School Music Rooms

“I forgot my music” is no longer a viable excuse for middle school music students at JLS and Jordan — thanks to iPads and music software, largely funded by PiE Teacher Grants. JLS Choir Teacher Angelina Fitzhugh wrote the initial grant to fund iPads and music software for managing practice records, playing “quizzes” and hosting music and worksheets in the classroom.

Now used by choir, band and orchestra programs, these tools assist with administration and give teachers more time to spend with students on practice and instruction.

From home, students can video themselves while playing or singing. When they upload their “assignment” to Schoology they will receive feedback on posture, embouchure, hand position and facial expressions. Some students get really creative and make their own music videos.

Fitzhugh notes that, in addition to allowing more time for playing and practicing music together, this technology gives students who are reluctant to sing or play in front of their peers a private way to perform and receive feedback from their teachers.

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Gunn-Scroll-Paintings-2016-CenterIN OUR HIGH SCHOOLS

Column Scroll Paintings at Gunn – Deanna Messinger

When students at Henry M. Gunn High School expressed that seeing more art around campus inspires and improves their mood and emotional well-being, Deanna Messinger’s art students responded. Funded with a PiE Teacher Grant, they painted beautiful cloth scrolls which were then used to brighten columns around the campus. This “Hanging Scroll” method of temporary public art appreciation is used in many Chinese, Japanese, and Indian cultures. As is also done in these cultures, the art pieces will be displayed regularly throughout campus, observing seasonal and annual school events and occasions.


Underwater Robots in Marine Biology – Navneet (Neeti) Schworetzky

In Navneet (Neeti) Schworetzky’s Marine Biology elective, students don their oceanographer or ecologist hat and study our marine ecosystem from the perspective of being a scientist. In the spring, they embark on a month-long team project where they construct underwater robots (ROVs) using PVC, motors, propellers, and controllers. Then – using the Gunn swimming pool – they test these ROVs by conducting “missions” to solve simulated real-world problems, such as an underwater pipeline leak. Ms. Schworetzky, who funds the ROV kits with a PiE Teacher Grant, says that her class attracts “kids who are really dedicated” to marine biology. The underwater robots are certainly a highlight.

More PAUSD Programs Helped by PiE Teacher Grants

• Middle School Chamber Music Program
• Gunn’s TEDx Program
• Ohlone Beekeeping Program

The 2017 PiE Grant Cycle Closes February 27

Since it was started in 1987 by the Palo Alto Foundation for Education (predecessor to PiE), the Teacher Grants program has granted more than $1 million toward a wide range of projects and programs. A lot of the technology – SMART Boards, document cameras, and iPads – that is now widely used in classrooms and funded by the district, began as pilot projects and were heavily bootstrapped by PiE Teacher Grants.

The PiE Teacher Grants program fund a range of areas:

  • Pilot programs in engineering, social and emotional learning, environmental science, marine biology, graphic design, drama.
  • Equipment for electives such as Underwater robots, HD Broadcast Studio cameras, instruments for music programs, kilns and potting tables.
  • Early intervention such as specialized curriculum, leveled readers, assistive technology.
  • Materials that can broaden existing art and literacy programs to be more accessible, inclusive and relevant for Asian and Latino cultures.

Applications, which may be submitted by teachers or administrators as well as parents, students and advocacy groups with a PAUSD staff sponsor, will be due Feb 27.

Proposals are encouraged for projects that are innovative, collaborative and, ideally, sustainable and replicable.

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Thank You

Thank you to our volunteer contributor Rebecca Thompson.