Over $100,000 Awarded to Transylvania County Schools

During a recent Board of Directors meeting for the Transylvania County Schools Educational Foundation, Peter Johnson, TCSEF Board Treasurer, reported that TCSEF has surpassed $100,000 in awards since the Foundation was reactivated in 2009.  Further, the Board of Directors approved $22,900 in awards for the current fiscal year, which will bring the gift total over $148,000.

TCSEF supports activities related to public education in Transylvania County.  Over $22,000 was paid out during the past fiscal year alone and included teacher grants, the Jim Bob and Dottie Tinsley Journalism Scholarship, the Cornelius Hunt Memorial Endowment and the Voso Leadership Award.  In January, the Foundation supported 32 individual grants for Transylvania County Schools’ teachers and staff, which included Health Models for Teaching at Rosman High, Mapping America in 3-D at Davidson River School, Calculus in Motion at Brevard High and the return of the National Geographic Giant Map to explore outer space at Rosman Middle and High Schools.  This past June, Emily Whiteside and Julia Smith attended the Close Up Experience in Washington, DC with awards from the Voso Leadership Award and the Cornelius Hunt Memorial Endowment and the Tinsley Journalism Scholarship was presented to Brevard High graduate, Emily Shea.

TCSEF is best known for their annual grants that are awarded to Transylvania County Schools’ teachers and staff each January.  Since 2016, the Foundation has been able to award $18,000 in grants each year.  Most of the funds for the grant program are raised through Taste of Transylvania, a fundraising event held annually on the first Tuesday of May.  However, TCSEF would like to secure, as well as to expand these gifts.  In 2016, the Board of Directors approved a capital campaign with a goal to raise funds to bring the endowment to $300,000 by 2020.

To help reach this endowment goal, the TCSEF membership program was introduced and features six levels from the Young Alumni to a Dean’s List Membership.  The Young Alumni Membership allows recent graduates (those that have graduated from high school within the past 5 years) to be able to economically begin their own legacy of giving.  Each level of membership provides a discount on tickets to Taste of Transylvania, a TCSEF decal and digital recognition as a TCS Educational Foundation supporter.

Emily Shea Awarded the 2017 Jim Bob and Dottie Tinsley Journalism Scholarship

The Transylvania County Schools Educational Foundation (TCSEF) is proud to announce and to congratulate Emily Shea, a 2014 Brevard High School graduate, as the 2017 recipient for the Jim Bob and Dottie Tinsley Journalism Scholarship, an award of $1500.

Emily is a senior at UNC-Asheville majoring in mass communication with a focus in journalism.  After beginning her studies at UNCA as a pre-medicine major, Emily discovered her passion for writing during a Basic Journalism course last fall and she has not looked back.  Over the past year, she has diligently worked to develop her journalism skills.  Emily is a regular contributor to several area online publications and she was especially excited to have one of her articles selected to be featured with the Huffington Post in March 2017.  Emily’s dedication to her craft has led her to be selected as the editor-in-chief for the UNC-Asheville chapter of the Odyssey Online.

Emily regularly volunteers with the Black Mountain based non-profit, Bounty & Soul.  This summer, she is working as a Health Communications Intern with the organization, which allows her to practice journalism by writing for social media and marketing campaigns that focus on tackling food insecurity in Western NC.

The Tinsley Journalism Scholarship was established by the Jim Bob Tinsley Museum and its board of directors in recognition of Jim Bob and Dottie Tinsley. Since 2012, TCSEF has awarded $7000 for this scholarship.

Jim Bob Tinsley was born in Brevard in 1921 and was educated in Transylvania County Schools. His long career entailed many areas of journalism and communications. Mr. Tinsley was an author of books on wildlife, a photographer of Transylvania County waterfalls, and a professional country and western musician. He received many awards and honors for his lifetime work. Mr. Tinsley passed away in 2004.  For questions regarding how to support the Jim Bob and Dottie Tinsley Journalism Scholarship, please contact TCSEF Executive Director, Cressa Megown, and 828.513.0389 with any questions.

Taste of Transylvania 2017 Exceeds Expectations

This event is made possible through the support of the fabulous restaurants in Transylvania County.

First Citizens Bank in cooperation with the Transylvania County Schools Education Foundation (TCSEF) presented the 6th annual Taste of Transylvania on May 2 at the Brevard Lumberyard.  Fourteen Transylvania County restaurants provided over 20 delicious samples of h’ors d’ouevres, entrees, and desserts, while guests were entertained by the Jason DeCristofaro Trio.

A new feature to the event this year was the judged awards.  The TCSEF committee invited three judges to taste and to grade each dish based on presentation, originality, preparation, taste, texture and overall execution.  The judges included Jessica Whitmire, the Food Sciences teacher at Brevard High School who also has a background in Hospitality and Tourism Management, Caroline Kerchner who is the pastry chef at the Admiral in Asheville and a Brevard High School graduate, and Lynne Foster, the market assistant at the Transylvania County Farmer’s Market and a volunteer with the Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center.

Guest Judges worked hard throughout the evening.

This year, the best h’ors d’ouevre was awarded to the Schenck Job Corps Culinary Arts program for their Thai Beef Wonton.  Blue Smoke BBQ, a local food truck returned this year to again win the best entrée with their Smoked Roast Beef.  Finally, for the fifth year, Blue Ridge Bakery won best dessert with a Banana Foster Bread Pudding.  Guests were still given an opportunity to vote for their favorite and the Taster’s Choice award went to Dugan’s Pub, who prepared a Thai Shrimp entrée.

Experiencing one of the TCSEF 2017 Grants – Traveling with Google Cardboard

With over 15 grant awarded teachers in attendance, guests were given a glimpse of how funds are being given back to Transylvania County Schools.  The TCSEF Mini-Grant program awarded $18,000 across 32 grants to TCS teachers in January 2017 to support innovative programs that included Health Models, a 3D Printer, a Portable PA System, Raised Geographic Maps as well as many others.

Funds raised at the 2017 Taste of Transylvania will be used to support grants issued in 2018.  The support for Taste of Transylvania has grown each year and TCSEF would like to thank the sponsors, participating restaurants, attendees and those businesses and individuals who donated auction items.


The 2018 Taste of Transylvania is tentatively scheduled for the first Tuesday in May.  For more information or to become an annual member with the Transylvania County Schools Education Foundation, please visit

Taste Committee Hard at Work

On May 2, the Transylvania County Schools Educational Foundation (TCSEF), in partnership with First Citizens Bank will host the 2017 Taste of Transylvania.  As the main fundraising event for TCSEF, which is a nonprofit that exists to promote, develop, and encourage public and private support of the Transylvania County Schools and its goals for education, the Taste of Transylvania has allowed TCSEF to steadily grow fundraising that has resulted with $18,000 in grants awarded to Transylvania County Schools’ teachers and staff in both 2016 and 2017.  By providing financial support for programs and projects that are not funded through government revenues, TCSEF is a leading resource for helping to preserve, maintain, advance and enrich public education in Transylvania County.

As one of the most anticipated local events of the spring, the Taste of Transylvania involves months of planning and preparation from a dedicated group of volunteers.  Beginning in December, members of the TCSEF Board of Directors form the Taste Subcommittee to organize and to plan the 2017 event.  As a nonprofit, TCSEF is supported by a group of volunteers who are all active residents of Transylvania County committed to supporting public education.

Volunteer committee members spend months contacting restaurants to participate and businesses to sponsor, solicit auction items as well as organize all of the logistics to create an amazing and fun evening.  Beyond our dedicated board members, we have the support of residents that also volunteer in organizing the event and help during the evening from welcoming ticket holders to cleaning up at the end of the night.  If you would like to support Taste of Transylvania as a member, as a volunteer or with an auction donation, please contact us at

With the dedication of volunteers such as Emily Mehta Farlow, Marty Griffin, Frances Bryant Bradburn, Susan Breedlove, Courtney Mason, Beth Hampton and Kevin Smith, the Taste of Transylvania is an example each year of how community members come together to support Transylvania County Schools through an evening of fun. Tickets for the sixth annual Taste of Transylvania are on sale now at  The evening will feature at least 15 Transylvania County restaurants/caterers, Broad Street Wines, Oskar Blues, live music and an auction and has proven to be one of the best local events each spring.

TCSEF Sticker Contest, Winner Announced

Congratulations Sophia M. at Brevard Elementary School.  Ms. Frady, BES Art Teacher worked with her classes to create designs that reflect why “Learning is Fun” and 3rd grade student, Sophia’s design was selected as the winner.

We worked with the TCArts staff to select the winning design from artwork submitted by Brevard and Rosman Elementary Students.  The winner, as well as some of our honorable mentions from both BES and RES will be highlighted during the TCArts Student Art Show on display at the TCArts Community Center throughout the month of April.

Stickers will be on sale soon.  TCSEF will be at the student reception on April 13 as well as during the Gallery Walk reception on April 28.  Tickets to the 2017 Taste of Transylvania will be available as well as TCSEF memberships and stickers.  Proceeds benefit the TCSEF and our efforts to support Transylvania County public schools.

Where in the World is Rosman, North Carolina?

This grant was awarded to Rosman Middle/High School media coordinator Sarah Justice for her grant “Where in the World Is Rosman, North Carolina.”  The $610 TCSEF grant enabled Justice to rent a 25’ x 25’ National Geographic floor map of Europe for two weeks.  Included with the map is a trunk of supplies and activities that allow educators to create curriculum-aligned activities and lesson plans to support geographical literacy.

The moment you walk into the Rosman Middle/High School media center, you know something is different.  Instead of tables, chairs, and shelves of books, you see a huge map of Europe spread out across the floor.  Yes, it’s 25’ x 25’ and students have an open invitation to walk throughout the continent–sock feet only!  It’s an effort to get students up close and personal with geography and how geography has created opportunities and problems for the world’s peoples now and since the beginning of civilization.

The morning I visited, teacher Sara Cathey’s 9th grade Earth Science class was scheduled to visit.  Although they had studied latitude and longitude previously, the map gave students an opportunity to practice those skills and apply them in identifying landmarks and topographical features by calculating coordinates.

Map keys began to make sense once students could stand in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains and look northeast toward the Ukraine.

Map keys began to make sense once students could stand in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains and look northeast toward the Ukraine.

First, however, Sarah Justice, the schools’ library media coordinator, asked students to sit down on a European country of their choice.  She then proceeded to guide them through a discussion of map reading on a very large scale.  Countries are labeled in black capital letters; oceans, in blue caps.  Each country’s capital is identified by a star surrounded by a circle.  Red lines are major roadways; polka dots, deserts.  They talked about where most capital cities are located (near water) and why; why some border lines are dashes instead of solid (they are referred to as disrupted borders because wars change borders constantly); and how to find latitude and longitude when a round world is laid out on a flat surface.

Rosman High School 9th grader Chesney Hightower works with her team to find the latitude and longitude of the Aegean Sea.

Rosman High School 9th grader Chesney Hightower works with her team to find the latitude and longitude of the Aegean Sea.

And then the fun began.  Justice and Cathey allowed the students to self-select into four teams.  Each team had four cards, each with a coordinate identified.  Students were to find the coordinate using two plastic chains that identified the exact latitude and longitude, and then answer one or more questions about that coordinate.  What is the name of the peninsula located near 60°N, 15°W? Scandinavia.  What is the inland ocean near 40°N, 50°E? Caspian Sea.

The team that finished first was able to use a special View Master that uses the Google Street View and Google Cardboard apps with a smartphone to have a virtual reality tour of such places as the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chapel, or Looking Glass Falls. Even the most jaded teen was intrigued when, after finding the Eiffel Tower’s coordinates on the floor map, he was handed a View Master that allowed him to “stand” on a Paris street and look up at the Eiffel Tower, then back down, and turn around to see the buildings on the other side–just as if he were on that Paris sidewalk in person!

Earth Science student Chellbie Messer (left) awaits her turn as Tabitha Nelson (right) scans the Eiffel Tower from top to street level through the View Master using Smartphone apps Google Street View and Google Cardboard.

Earth Science student Chellbie Messer (left) awaits her turn as Tabitha Nelson (right) scans the Eiffel Tower from top to street level through the View Master using Smartphone apps Google Street View and Google Cardboard.

Since the map is at the school for ten days, almost all the middle and high school classes have had a chance to visit it based on their specific curricula.  For instance, the American History class is using the map to enhance their study of World War II.  They can calculate latitude and longitude to locate the places where the world leaders were, plot troop movements across borders, and locate important battles.

The 8th grade finance classes found European capitals, noted the waterways near each, and discussed the relationship between geography, transportation, trade, and economic development.  They even talked about how various countries share the same waterways or highways, and how this might lead to cooperation or tension.

Seventh grade Math has learned how to use the map’s scale to measure distance, planning a vacation that takes them across Europe using airplanes, trains, boats, and cars.  Starting from Prague, teams received a destination–Tromsø, Norway; Murcia, Spain; Kaliningrad, Russia; or Reykjavik, Iceland. Each team had to find the shortest route for their journey while using all four modes of transportation, taking into consideration both time, distance.

Art used latitude and longitude to find sixteen European museums on the map, then used Google Street View and Google Cardboard to tour some of the museums’ collections virtually.

A high school multimedia, web design class talked about map design, with Justice pulling various types of maps–from an intricate, artful Shakespeare’s England map, to state road maps, to Google or Apple maps on a smartphone–to illustrate how map design follows and determines map function.

A health occupations class divided into groups of students to use the map to identify a country needing assistance and design a brochure to convince Doctors without Borders to provide aid for their targeted population.

Third graders Colton Hudson (left) and Jack Patterson (right) traveled from T.C. Henderson to Sweden via National Geographic map activities in the Rosman High School media center.

Third graders Colton Hudson (left) and Jack Patterson (right) traveled from T.C. Henderson to Sweden via National Geographic map activities in the Rosman High School media center.

But Justice has found ways to share this unique resource with the community.  TC Henderson’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes spent the afternoon learning about map symbols and how to use the map keys.  And the school hosted a community night so that parents and interested individuals across the county could shed their shoes, don their imaginations, and walk across Europe.  

Photo Credits: Kevin Smith, Transylvania County Schools
Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.


Planting a Seed Is Just the Beginning

This grant was awarded to Pisgah Forest Elementary 5th grade Math and Science teacher Joshua Thaxton for 3 hydroponic vertical gardens.  The $2380 TCSEF grant enabled Thaxton to introduce PFE 4th and 5th graders to a STEM-based agricultural project that supports many of the subjects taught in these grade levels.

5th grade science teacher Joshua Thaxton watches as Lucy Murray harvests a few leaves of bok choy for the class tasting.

5th grade science teacher Joshua Thaxton watches as Lucy Murray harvests a few leaves of bok choy for the class tasting.

While the rest of us are planning our early spring and summer gardens, the students in Joshua Thaxton’s Pisgah Forest Elementary (PFE) School’s fifth grade classroom are harvesting their first lettuces and bok choy.  Right after Transylvania County’s last significant snow, Thaxton unpacked the three hydroponic gardens funded through a Transylvania County Schools Education Foundation grant.

What is a hydroponic garden?  Technically hydroponics is a method of growing plants in water without soil.  A nutrient solution is added to the water to feed plants, usually grown from seed.  In these gardens, both water and lights are on timers, so that the seeds sprout under optimum conditions.

Thaxton’s class has a fully functioning garden–tower, cage, grow lights.  Another fifth grade classroom and a fourth grade classroom have a tower and cage.  Since the TCSEF grant covered all the towers but only one set of lights, Thaxton rigged up full-spectrum lights in the other two classrooms.  The additional lights were funded by the PFE parent organization ROPE (Ranger Organization of Parents and Educators).  A science and math teacher, Thaxton joked that this was the first experiment: which tower(s) would grow the healthiest plants?  Which plants would grow most quickly?

So what’s going on here?  Is this just some fancy science experiment?  Actually, yes, but it’s so much more.  This is what educators call project-based learning.  Through this one TCSEF-funded grant, students are learning math, science, reading, writing, vocabulary, food science, and agriculture.  They’re also learning “soft skills” like collaboration, responsibility, sharing, observation, cooperation, respect for others’ opinions–the list goes on and on.

Shelby Moore (front) and Elizabeth Chapman (rear) cut a few bok choy leaves for the class to taste.

Shelby Moore (front) and Elizabeth Chapman (rear) cut a few bok choy leaves for the class to taste.

To illustrate, let’s visit Thaxton’s Tuesday morning class.  It’s a chilly March morning but inside, the bok choy , lettuce, basil, and tomatoes are thriving.  A month ago the students had planted the seeds in specially formulated pods and placed them in the grow tower.  Twice a week, one student is given the responsibility of checking the pH of the water, notifying the teacher if an adjustment is necessary.

Today is harvest time and the children are excited.  First Thaxton gifts me with a beautiful head of lettuce; this is the beginning of another experiment.  One table is given a new pod and instructed to plant new lettuce seeds.  Another table is given scissors to thin out the larger lettuce leaves, leaving the smaller ones to continue to grow.  After the class defines the term “thinning,” they begin to speculate which of the pods will grow better, which will be healthier, which will be ready to pick more quickly–the new pod or the thinned ones?  Thaxton asks them if some heads were thinned more heavily than others, would this make a difference?

Then it’s time to harvest.  As each table group comes up to the tower to “scalp” a head, they put their lettuce leaves into a tub.  The next experience will be a tasting one. But before that,  it’s time to harvest a few bok choy leaves, too.  Few of the students have ever tried bok choy, so now is the time.  Which will they prefer, the bok choy or the lettuces?  What is different about the taste of the bok choy and the lettuces?

The school cafeteria has generously donated packets of salad dressing for the taste test.  Is the lettuce (or the bok choy) better with or without the dressing? “The lettuce is pretty bland without it,” one student admits.  Another student has never tasted French dressing before–and likes it!  Is the bok choy spicy or bitter? They talk about the surface, body, and after-taste. (Very refined thoughts about the palate!) Once the tomatoes are grown, can they have a salad-making contest?  Questions, answers, ideas, predictions, process, observation–all in the matter of minutes as students harvest and enjoy eating the fruits of their labors.

Aylah Salter and Eric Goolsby are sampling the fruits of their labor during the lettuce and bok choy tasting.

Aylah Salter and Eric Goolsby are sampling the fruits of their labor during the lettuce and bok choy tasting.

At this point, Thaxton has the students clean up their places and open their science journals.  He has six questions for them to ponder and answer about their garden, including one that asks, “What variable (light, weather, seasons, water, other) has the most impact on the growth of the plants? Why?”  Their answers are intriguing.

One student speculates that it is the light because “the water isn’t running all the time–you can hear it cycle on and off–but the lights stay on all day.”

Another counters that it is the water because “the cells [pods], seeds, lights, and tower are there, but nothing happens until you add the water.”

Still another says it is both light and water.  “If you look down at the bottom, the plants aren’t getting as much light and all the fresh water goes to the top first.  The lights are on the top, so the bottom isn’t getting as much of either.”

“Perhaps we should have said other or all of the above,” weighed in another student.  The group nodded in agreement, seemingly satisfied at least temporarily.

Predictions, the scientific method, data gathering and management, measurement, critical thinking, justifying your opinions with evidence, nature, growing things, life cycles, full circle experiments–all factor into these fifth graders’ single hour with Mr. Thaxton and the hydroponic garden.  And after spring break, they will add their LearnPads to the project-based environment, with graphs and photos incorporated into a digital portfolio called Seesaw, so that parents can be a part of this TCSEF grant-supported scientific experience called hydroponic gardening.

Thaxton readily admits that none of this would have been possible without a grant from the Transylvania County Educational Foundation.  Each year the Foundation uses the profits from its annual fundraising event Taste of Transylvania to award grants to worthy teachers.  The grants themselves are competitive, with teachers from across schools and grade levels applying for projects that go above and beyond the school system’s annual budget.  Last year, the Transylvania Educational Foundation awarded 25 grants worth more than $18,000.  

Photo Credits:  Kevin Smith, Transylvania County Schools
Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.




It’s a Robot Invasion!

Transylvania County Schools is being invaded by robots–robotics, that is.  Across the county, middle schoolers are learning to build, problem-solve, explore, and collaborate as they compete in robotics competitions both formal and informal.

2016-2-7-48440AYou’ve probably read about Brevard Middle School’s (BMS) success at both the regional and state levels.  In November their robotics team came in second in the regional Lego Challenge Competition and eighteenth in the state.

Competing in a Lego Challenge isn’t just a building block construction contest.  It consists of four projects designed around a theme.  This year’s theme was trash.  Middle school students not only had to design a robot that could complete a series of tasks–think drive up to, load, run, and unload a trash compactor–but, in the research component of the competition, choose an item that is currently not easily recycled in our community and design a system to recycle it more efficiently.  BMS students chose electronics recycling, learning how to scrap all those individual parts to collect a final weight of 425 pounds of recycled electronics for the competition!

IMG_0290BMS AIG Teacher  Heidi Spradlin and science teacher Justin Ausburn originally chose robotics to support the AIG curriculum, but interest soon spread throughout the school.  Now during its second year, they advise an after school club that meets as frequently as two times a week and has up to thirty-seven members, all learning how to program Lego robots and eventually Arduino robots to complete tasks of their own design.

Yes, Brevard Middle School’s success warrants headlines, but much is happening in other schools across the county as well.  Rosman Middle School (RMS) has added robotics to the Career and Technical Education (CTE) curriculum.  Together CTE teacher Chris Owen and media coordinator Sarah Justice introduce eighth grade students to the science of robotics and where they already exist in everyday life. ( A great example is the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner.)  Then they divide students into groups to take a bristlebot through a maze that they design themselves.  Using straws, cardboard, hot glue guns, and a variety of small objects, they maneuver a small nail brush-sized robot around corners, through tunnels, and over objects to win a high-five from their fellow students and Mr. Owen.

Robotics_RosmanRMS students can also get in on the robotic action through their after school Lego Club.  When I visited recently, I watched a group of eight boys unpack two new Lego kits that consist of hundreds of Legos and its robot “brain” and begin to build.  Watching the group was fascinating.

One group methodically unpacked and sorted every piece into its proper compartment in the tray the kit provided. Another group just started building, opening several bags of pieces, piling them together on the media center table and improvising.  An interesting exchange ensued.  

One student, obviously disturbed at the lack of order and process, admonished his friend, “We should follow the instructions.”

“Instructions are boring,” his friend countered.

“No.  Instructions are like laws.  We need them.”

“Lego instructions aren’t laws; they’re suggestions.”

Trial and error will eventually determine whose plan is more productive, but one can only imagine the life lessons that are going on during this exchange!

And there’s a lot of trial and error.  Students build their robots, program them on the media center computers, bring them to the specially designed table to run through their tasks, and then analyze what worked and what didn’t.  With AIG teacher Brandy Glendening and Justice asking questions to prompt students to re-think their designs, students go back to the computer or tinker with their robot’s design to ultimately “get it right.”

Yes, it’s a process and a design that teaches students (and teachers) to fail, problem-solve, test, and perhaps fail again.  They are using Math, science concepts, logic, creativity, and goal-setting, all the while learning to work together to complete a task.

Working together isn’t just for students.  None of this would have happened if not for a collaboration among Transylvania County’s 4-H program, Transylvania County’s Education Foundation, and the school system.  

To get the middle schools’ started with robotics, Transylvania County and 4-H Youth Development Extension Agent Mary Arnaudin loaned both BMS and RMS Lego robotic kits.  A small cadre of teachers were trained by Dr. Misty Blue-Terry, 4-H STEM specialist at NC A&T, during a 2-day professional development session.  Since that time, RMS/RHS media coordinator Sarah Justice has trained Transylvania County Schools’ teachers and administrators in basic Lego robotics as well.  The Transylvania Education Foundation provided grants to Rosman Middle School for a Lego Challenge Kit and to Brevard Middle School for twelve Arduino Kits, and the school system has found ways to spread the science budget to help schools purchase their own robot kits.  This allows Arnaudin to share the 4-H “seed kits” with other schools.  The Brevard High School shop class even built the Lego Challenge table for RMS.
Yes, robotics is spreading across Transylvania County, but it’s more than a simple after-school club or mini-class at the elementary and middle school levels.  It’s a commitment from educators in Transylvania County to provide relevant, engaging opportunities for students that help keep them interested and excited in school, opens their eyes to a possible future career, and teaches them such basics as perseverance, problem-solving, and collaboration.

Photo Credits: Kevin Smith, Transylvania County Schools
Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.

3 Grants = 1 6-Week Unit Reaching 240 Students

What happens when you merge three grants–a Transylvania County Schools Educational Foundation(TCSEF) grant, a Haywood Electric Bright Ideas grant, and a building-level grant?  You get an entire project-based unit that focuses on communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity.

Cali Photo 1This is what Brevard Elementary School (BES) media coordinator Charlene Cali has done in her “On Cloud Nine” Technology Stations project.  Over the past year, Cali has combined the TCSEF grant of $846 (for a laptop, 40” Insignia TV, and connecting cables), a $1956 Bright Ideas grant (for four Nexus tablets, two Wonder Robots, Makey Makey and Squishy Circuits kits, and Augmented Reality Books and Puzzles), and a BES principal-sponsored grant for a SmartBoard to enable her to transform the BES Media Center into a 21st Century center for learning. The current “On Cloud Nine” unit contains six weeks of interactive lessons that support the NC Standard Course of Study and the Common Core curriculum.

The day I visited Cali in the media center, she was introducing six new learning stations to Mrs.Morris’ fourth grade class.  By the end of the week, all the school’s fourth and fifth grade classes will have cycled through the media center and experienced the first of their six stations.  Each station focuses on a different technology and a different curriculum concept.  Each class is divided into six groups, with each group working at one station each week for the six weeks leading up to the end of the school year.

Station One was a makerspace station.  Each student cut out 3D glasses from a pattern after watching a YouTube video that explained the process.  Cali reminded the students that the blue acetate covered the right eye opening of the glasses; the red covered the left eye.  After they made the glasses, the students could watch a video of a 3D Virtual Roller Coaster Ride.

Trying to cut out the glasses and colored acetate, taping the acetate to the cut out eye portions, and attaching the ear pieces to the glasses was a challenge.  Students had to figure out how to cut out the eye sockets.  (I wondered if playing with paper dolls was a prior value-add as one of the girls in the group told the boys how to do this.)  Once this task was actually accomplished, the video viewing began.  Students asked such questions as “What happens if the acetate colors are reversed? (The video isn’t 3D.) Why?  (Using red and blue lenses tricks the brain into seeing 3D.  Each eye sees a slightly different image.)  What happens if you view the video without your glasses? (It’s blurry and “weird.”)  There’s a lot of sophisticated science here, but the students are getting an introduction to how the human brain works.

The second station was an interactive puzzle.  Students were challenged to put together a complex puzzle of the solar system. Even though another class had started the puzzle, it still wasn’t completed by the end of the fifty minute class.  Once the puzzle is actually complete, all students will get to use the Planets Puzzle app on the Nexus tablets to begin to research how the planets relate and interact in space.

What was the value of working on this puzzle even though the group did not finish the task?  Spacial and process skills are hard to teach, but important throughout life.  Puzzles help students acquire these skills and perhaps more importantly, also work on the intangible skill of persistence.  Most of us can relate to wanting to throw up our hands in the middle of a tedious task and walk away.  These four students in the puzzle group stuck with the task the entire class.  Bravo!

Station three had everyone who walked in the media center mesmerized.  Two Wonder Robots named Dot (with one eye) and Dash (with two eyes) needed to be programmed to do certain things like roll across the room or navigate around the group’s table and chairs.  This coding activity reviewed the coding concepts taught during the district’s Hour of Code in December and challenged both pairs of students to figure out how to code a new device and collaborate together to do so.

Imagine how excited the Station Four group was.  They got to take the digital camera throughout the school, each student taking one picture.  When they returned to the media center, they were to download their pictures into a presentation that would challenge their classmates to figure out “Where in the School Is This?”  Fortunately the school’s Instructional Technology Facilitator (ITF), Alyse Hollingsworth, was there to help the children download their pictures, figure out how to rotate them if necessary, and add a caption.  At the end of class, Cali previewed the photos for the rest of the class to solve.  How much fun this will be when all groups add their pictures to the presentation!

Station Five was a hard one.  This group used the Makey Makey kit to create circuits using everyday items like bananas and Play Doh.  Another adult, district ITF Vera Cubero, was there to help the students put the circuits together and asked such important questions as “What does he need that you all have?” (a ground)  Why don’t we hook up our grounds together and see what happens?” (They could play notes on a virtual keyboard–although they never quite got a coherent tune.)  Students experimented by putting a quarter in the Play Doh and becoming the ground themselves by holding the wire, and many more combinations, challenging themselves to understand the principle of circuits, grounds, and collaborative problem-solving, all while using the scientific method.

The final station used the SmartBoard so that the group of students could practice coding using Scratch and Botlogic coding language.  They could move puzzle pieces around this large interactive board simply by touching the board.  They were, however, on a ten or twelve second time limit to complete the programming.  Not as easy as it looked!  Again, this was reinforcing the coding skills learned earlier in the school year and demonstrated the value of focusing and problem-solving together to reach a common goal.

A lot was going on in that media center, all with approximately twenty-three students in fifty minutes with three adults collaborating and guiding the students to gain the most from these interactive experiences.  But none of this richness would have been possible without the vision and generosity of three separate funding sources.  When citizens contribute through a direct gift to the Transylvania County Schools Education Foundation or purchase tickets to the Taste of Transylvania, they ensure that creative and persistent teachers like Cali can enrich their classrooms with 21st century tools that inspire communication, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving through one or more grants that reward their vision and hard work.

Photo Credits: Kevin Smith, Transylvania County Schools
Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.

It’s a Battery-Powered Buggy Challenge!

BHS Physical Science teacher Matt Tuckey assists Zhenya Parker as he solders for the first time.

BHS Physical Science teacher Matt Tuckey assists Zhenya Parker as he solders for the first time.

If you’re familiar with the scent of solder, you’ll know what I encountered when I walked into Matt Tuckey’s Brevard High School Physical Science classroom. School hadn’t even started, but students were huddled together in pairs putting the finishing touches on their cars. They were alternating between the hot glue gun and the soldering iron, attaching wires and glueing batteries in place on their cars’ bodies. One pair of students was happily painting a plastic drink bottle, another pair was voicing frustration. Their car was only running backwards and in circles. When I inquired as to why that was happening, they confessed that they had put the motor on backwards. “It’s too late to change now,” they said. “We’ll just have to make it work.”

All this well-managed chaos was in preparation for the Battle of the Battery-Powered Buggies Challenge, an Education Foundation grant-funded project that Tuckey had designed to teach simple machines, power, motion, and dynamics. As one of the students explained, “We’re tying up the whole kinetics unit. We’re going out with a bang!”

The students had three separate challenges for their buggy. The distance/time race, the tractor pull, and the uphill climb. Students were given a gear set, a motor, a 9-volt battery and connections. They had to come up with their wheels, axles, and bodies using anything not originally intended for that purpose

They experimented (and learned) a lot. If the body of the car was too wide, the air wouldn’t flow around it efficiently and it would be slow. If the wheels were too large, it would topple over. If the wheels were out of alignment, it would go around in circles.

And they had strategies to solve those problems. Rubber bands on the right back wheels might keep the buggy traveling in a straight path instead of veering left. The large wheels (made out of old CDs) might be more stable with weights in the body of the car. And slowness might not be so bad if the buggy went in a straight line all the way to the finish line!

Soon after class began, Tuckey directed the students to the hall where he had set up a starting line for the distance/time race, the first of the three challenges. Each pair of students raced their vehicle individually, with Tuckey holding the stopwatch. They had three tries to go thirty feet. They received points for time and distance, with the ultimate winner receiving a few extra points on their final grade for bragging rights.

The race itself was fun, funny, and a learning experience. These students were well aware that this was a trial run and they would soon be competing with the other Physical Science classes who were working on the same challenge.

Toy cats PD and Jelly add ballast and smiles to one of the class buggies.

Toy cats PD and Jelly add ballast and smiles to one of the class buggies.

The first buggy to race was the one deemed “the cat car” because its owners had glued two cats to the body of the racer. It slowly rolled in circles half way down the track. The second buggie threw a wheel soon out of the starting line prompting one young man to half-jokingly ask, “Hey, does the wheel count as distance?” When one buggy balked and sputtered, the young lady asked Tuckey if they could use “their” battery. She had realized theirs was a used battery rather than new and so didn’t create such a burst of energy as the car started.

What was most fascinating about this whole experience? Everyone failed! Yes, every car got picked up by its students and taken back to the classroom for repairs, additions, or complete reconception. But the students didn’t see it as failure. As one student muttered, “Well, this will help us figure out what to do next time.”

It’s a perfect example of what educators call “failing forward.” Every buggy modification, every run on the challenge course or pull of the tractor added to the students’ understanding of motion, dynamics, and simple (and complex!) machines. Every change in design involved critical thinking and problem-solving. Add a rubber band here, tape the battery connections there: these were solutions creatively proposed and implemented on the fly.

Mary Grace Aubrey readies her buggy at the starting line of the Top Speed Challenge portion of the Battle of the Battery-powered Buggies.

Mary Grace Aubrey readies her buggy at the starting line of the Top Speed Challenge portion of the Battle of the Battery-powered Buggies.

Students were learning so much from a single project: not just motion, velocity, simple machines, traction, gears, how batteries work; but how to collaborate, problem-solve, think critically, and persevere. Perhaps the most important lesson embedded in all this creativity and fun? How to recover positively from failure–how to fail forward.

Yes, Tuckey’s Education Foundation grant was for $522. $72 for motors, $42.90 for gears, $209.50 for batteries, and additional dollars for small items necessary for the project. But as the commercial says, the lessons learned? Priceless!

This year’s Taste of Transylvania will be held on May 2, 2017, at The Lumberyard. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to

Photo Credits: Kevin Smith, Transylvania County Schools
Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.