Help liven up a school with $1000
August 27, 2011 11:06 AM   Subscribe

How would you pep up an elementary school with $1,000?

My friend and coworker, who helps run the office at the elementary school where I teach, won an award that included a gift of $1,000 to spend on the school however he sees fit. He's eager to use it to bring some new life to a school that can feel drab at times. What could he do with the money?

This is a newish school that has a hospital-type floor plan: long corridors, fluorescent lights, few windows. It has one two-story lobby with hanging sculptures but few other common spaces. It really needs some interactivity, some fun in its spaces. There's art on the walls but that's about it.

He's a musician and likes making videos with the kids. He has thought about a video arts center, but also thinks about displays, motion graphics, projections. I think about the Magiquest installations at Great Wolf Lodge: talking pictures, moving objects, interactivity.

Think projectors, RFID or IR; think of how to share what's going on in the school in an engaging and memorable way. Of course it should be extensible and long-term and come in at or under $1,000. What comes to mind?
posted by argybarg to Education (14 answers total)
When purchasing instructional technology, it's *incredibly* important that the teachers and appropriate staff members get trained on how to use it. And not just once--a series of practical, hands-on professional development over the course of the academic year is key. The frequency of meetings needs to increase if the staff isn't terrible tech-savvy or can't figure out how to use the tech tools assist with instruction. Too often, schools and districts see some new ed tech gadget at a conference and go, "Ooh, shiny!" and buy a crapton with their paltry IT budgets. Maybe, MAYBE the purchase will include the sales rep coming in and running a "training" but in my personal experience, these tend to be shallow, lame, and rarely if ever effectively tied to academic content and/or altering instructional practice.

So whatever your friend buys, make sure there's a professional development/professional learning community plan to support its use!
posted by smirkette at 11:13 AM on August 27, 2011

Response by poster: Absolutely true. And I should say, we do have a well-funded IT staff and good instructional technology for each classroom. But this $1000 wouldn't be for instructional technology and the teachers (mostly likely) wouldn't use it. It would be to enliven common spaces like the lobby or hallways or lunchroom, add some fun and interactivity. My friend and I could keep it fed with visuals or audio if that were part of the setup.
posted by argybarg at 11:16 AM on August 27, 2011

The PTA at the middle school I teach at purchased a flat screen that is mounted in a locked display case right as you enter the school a few years ago. It has a constant slideshow of photos from student activities (music stuff, athletic stuff, cool activities going on in the classroom, 7th grade camp, whatever) and also displays occasional announcements. It's nice to see events I don't get to witness directly because I'm busy teaching, and the kids *love* seeing themselves. It's also a good reminder for parents that we get a lot done and are working hard for their kids.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:24 AM on August 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

A tree, maybe with surrounding benches, and a fund for its care.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:24 AM on August 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Perhaps something that the kids could be involved in? Use the $1,000 for materials and a local artist (who would be donating a lot of their time, I suppose...$1000 isn't much) who can work with the kids to create a mural, or painting the outsides of lockers, or something like that?

Perhaps the $1000 could be seed money for a larger project: start a "beautify our school" fund and use $100 of the $1000 to send out appeals for donations.

I like the idea of getting the kids involved somehow.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:44 AM on August 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Given that most elementary teachers have to purchase a lot of their own materials, It sure would be nice to see some of that $1000 go to offset their out-of-pocket expenditures. It's not a sexy idea, but it's definitely something that would be wildly appreciated.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:52 AM on August 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

What are your outdoor spaces like? The schools where I've worked that have had gardens or potted plants look so much more inviting than the ones that don't. Plus, you have the added bonus of the kids getting to take care of the plants. (Get approval from the custodial staff and make a plan for the summer if you decide to to this.)
posted by corey flood at 12:00 PM on August 27, 2011

This kinda diverts away from the technical direction... but there's a school around here that created an outdoor eco classroom. I think something like that wouldn't break down or become outdated... could be a nice legacy project.
posted by kaudio at 12:07 PM on August 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

When my daughter's school was in the same position, they held a carnival! They already had a fund-raising carnival once a year, which many worried was not so well-attended as it could have been. That school drew from a high-income district (those kids would go) and a low-income district (those kids tended not to go). Since the districts correlated with race, this was pretty uncomfortable for people. But what could they do? It is the reality that public schools must have fundraisers.

Well, they got $1000 -- so they had *another* carnival! Only this one was free -- free rides, free food, free face-painting, free! And all the kids went.

Maybe this sounds like frivolous use of the money, but I thought they could not have done better.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 12:13 PM on August 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd like to suggest that you ask the guy who runs the World Shaker website to ask his audience. I'm not a teacher, but I follow the blog and when people ask questions like this they tend to get really great answers.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:26 PM on August 27, 2011

You can definitely do chickens. Set up a system in which a different classroom gets the task of chicken maintenance each month or week. If you're interested, I can give you way more information on getting started with chickens.
posted by aniola at 3:34 PM on August 27, 2011

I think that the mural idea is the best yet. That will be lasting and inject lots of life into the school.

Kids will be more willing to learn and treat the place with respect if it looks awesome. Broken windows theory and all that.
posted by brynna at 4:37 PM on August 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Books for the library.

But failing that, I gotta say that I've been to Great Wolf Lodge where they have this sort of scavenger hunt thing where kids have to run all through the hotel and find clues and treasures and stuff, with talking displays and such– I think this is the Magiquest thing you referred to, and I, too, thought that something like this in an elementary school would be mind blowingly fun.
posted by carterk at 5:36 PM on August 27, 2011

The coolest elementary school in my district growing up was the one whose blacktop was painted with a map of the 50 states. Better still would have been a globe of the world. Or, similarly, a timeline of world history.

Kids liked it, and invented games on it -- like, a dodgeball variant where "It" would call out a letter and you were only "on base" if you were on a state starting with that letter. And it was hard not to learn the states, since you interacted with them every day.

"4th graders line up at Europe! 5th graders at Africa!" would be a really cool way to start each school day.
posted by foursentences at 6:41 PM on August 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

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