Learning Innovation Grant Program gives K-M students more options
When discussing the Learning Innovation Grant Program, Kasson-Mantorville Director of Teaching and Learning Kelly Braun has one picture in mind. When former Project Lead the Way teacher Lisa Bronk used the program to acquire a grant to purchase a programmable robot for her classroom, the kids were astounded by the robot’s ability to walk, talk and do other things thanks to certain codes. As the robot walked across the room, one student’s face lit up with amazement as they had unexpectedly brought a stationary object to life.
That picture was worth more than a 1,000 words to Braun as it was one that showed what the Learning Innovation Grant Program was all about.
“It’s about getting kids excited about learning,” Braun said. “It’s about engaging them in different ways and empowering teachers to take that instructional risk for the purpose of engaging the students in the learning.”
The Learning Innovation Grant Program is one that has been in the K-M district for several years and has offered teachers to make a tweak to their curriculum using a $50,000 grant for something that will align to the district mission, the cycle and initiative of the district and provides a valid and reliable way in which to measure the impact of student learning.
Over the years, the grant has helped provide several new features to the district including new iPads at the high school level to encourage students to learn via video, a Jam Hub to engage students to compose and create music and a brand-new CNC lathe in the technology education department at the high school. All of these things not only help give students a variety of options, but enhance their learning.
“When we were in school, it was sit in a chair, learn the material, take your test and get your grade,” Braun laughed when asked about the program’s impact. When speaking about high school science teacher, Amory Olson’s grant, Braun said, “With something like the iPads, you just don’t see a lot of what we’re doing at the high school level. You see it a lot at the younger levels, but students can choose any way they want to learn now and they just have to show that they know the content. If you’re interested in a paper and pencil test, you’re more than welcome to take that, but they do have a menu of options.”
To apply for the grant, teachers must go through an application process that involves an extensive rubric and going through their building’s principal as well as a group of three teachers from each building (high school, middle school, elementary school) in the district. Once approved, the district moves forward with getting those approved ideas to the classrooms. When said grant is approved, the fun begins for teachers and students alike.
“They get so excited about it,” Braun said. “When the teachers get excited about getting a grant, it’s so fun because they’re like little kids. In my heart, one of the ultimate goals is to bring teachers back to the reason we all got into the education world, which is to engage kids and have fun with it. If people are learning and they are engaged, they’re going to have fun. It’s also motivating and inspires students to learn outside of the box themselves.”
For the program’s impact, the district has won the Minnesota Rural Education Association Profile of Excellence Award for something that is unique, pushing engagement forward and also can be easily replicated in other districts. While other districts have something similar to the program, the commitment that K-M has shown sets itself apart.
“I’ve heard of something like this in other districts where they might have a $1,000 grant or something,” Braun said. “But, we are pretty blessed that we have a school board and superintendent that believes in student engagement and personalizing learning for kids. To get $50,000 a year to do these things is pretty exciting.”