Bicentennial Olmsted Awards enrich programming at 3 Northern Berkshire schools


WILLIAMSTOWN -- Each spring, Williams College honors local teachers and schools by giving them grants for school projects through the Bicentennial Olmsted Awards for Faculty Development.

"Thank you for the absolutely extraordinary work that you do for our children. It's the bedrock that makes this a great community," Williams College President Adam Falk said during the award ceremony and breakfast held in May. He also spoke as a parent of children who attend Williamstown Elementary School.

Williamstown Elementary, Mount Greylock Regional School and McCann Technical School each received $4,300 to fund professional and curricular development projects.

During the event, Falk gave a brief overview of the projects to be funded by the new round of awards. He then invited representatives from the schools to describe the projects and outcomes of the projects funded for the 2013-14 school year.

Last June, Williamstown Elementary's Olmsted Award sent three teachers, the principal, and the technology coordinator, Tom Welch, to San Antonio, Texas to participate in the International Society for Technology in Education's annual conference.

Welch said the experience inspired teachers to work harder to embed technology into daily curriculum.

"Technology helps teachers connect to personal learning communities in ways they never could before," Welch said at May's Olmsted Award ceremony.

Fifth-grade teacher Rebecca Leonard shared an example of a student group's history project on 16th-century explorer Sir Francis Drake, created using iMovie.

"Rather than teaching them to use the technology, I gave them guidelines and they taught each other. They were the teachers," Leonard said.

First-grade teacher Corrine Benn shared examples of how her students created an online bookshelf and original narrated nonfiction stories based on their studies of frogs and toads. She said that now, even at that early age, her students will have shareable examples of the work that they do.

"Digital citizenship is key to everything we do now," Welch said.

McCann Tech physics and math teacher Kim Bennett and math teacher Jessica Tatro, who both teach for the school's Project Lead the Way (PLTW) pre-engineering program, were both able to attend summer training programs at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, respectively.

"It was one of the best professional development opportunities I've ever had," Bennett said.

Based on their training, the teachers were able to introduce their students to various concepts and project ideas in robotics and technology.

Bennet's students devised a tilt switch which can be attached to a football helmet. During practice, whenever a player tilts their head down, so they're not looking up for the ball, an LED light blinks and a buzzer sounds. Tatro's students created a navigation system to help wheelchair users independently travel over uneven surfaces.

Mount Greylock was able to support teachers with three initiatives. Digital Media Specialist Richard Scullin was able to launch the new Digital Media and Learning Lab and tandem speaker series. The project is housed online at, allowing others to access archived Google Hangout sessions, find other resources and see projects in action at the school. This spring, the DML Lab hosted speakers Ethan Zuckerman, director of the MIT Center for Civic Media; Chris Lehmann, founder of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, director of national programs and site development for the National Writing Project in Berkeley, Calif.

Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald spoke about the creation of the school's new Data Team, to help inform teachers using student performance and other data, how to best help students and in what specific subject and content areas. She also spoke about how the Olmsted grant helped the English department to develop collaborative a writing project between the high school and the Williams College-supported Williams Center at Mount Greylock.

The writing collaborative involved 28 Williams writing fellows and 200 students. But one component of it, the Studio 1781 project for juniors and seniors "didn't work the way we expected it to," MacDonald said.

She said instead, her staff learned from the pilot that they need to better train and recruit Williams students to better help meet high schoolers' needs.

"It think it did expose the [college] students to real-time educational challenges schools face today," MacDonald said.

Olmsted Award-winning projects to be funded in 2014-15:

Williamstown Elementary: Implementing the Massachusetts Kindergarten Entry Assessment (MKEA) system and preparing for a new Williamstown-Lanesborough tri-district website launch, as proposed by Principal Joelle Brookner.

Mount Greylock: Kate Caton will lead the orchestration of a tri-district choral festival. Ninth-grade English teachers Kellie Houle and Rebecca Tucker-Smith will work to revamp the ninth-grade English curriculum. Webmaster and trainer Peter Niemeyer will work with teacher volunteers to help train other faculty and staff to develop individual course websites compatible with the school’s upcoming website launch.

McCann Tech: Perry Burdick of the Information Technology Program will purchase three robotic kits and offer instructor training in the programming language used for the robots. The kits will be used to usher students into the Berkshire County Robotics League and FIRST Tech Challenge. The school will also organize a robotics summer camp for middleschoolers.


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