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Celebrating Bright Ideas

Local teachers use grant funds from Jackson EMC to implement innovative projects.

Sometimes, an innovative or creative idea for a classroom project just needs a little support. Thanks to Bright Ideas grants from Jackson EMC, educators can provide projects to students that could not be funded otherwise.

This academic year, the Jackson EMC Bright Ideas grant program awarded $61,720 to 40 middle school classrooms in 25 schools. Winning entries represent a variety of disciplines that interest students, including biology, information technology, history, language arts, math, science and social studies.

‘VeRy’ Engaging Lessons: Heather Zook, $1,515, Osborne Middle School, Gwinnett County

Students in Heather Zook’s seventh grade science class used a Bright Ideas grant to view human organs using virtual reality with a product called Merge Cubes that she purchased with the grant funds. “The students were allowed to use their own technol-ogy along with a free app called Mr. Body,” Zook said. While holding a Merge Cube, the students could view a virtual organ in their hands as information displayed on their personal devices would explain the characteristics of that organ. The Merge Cubes can be used with virtual reality goggles, including conducting virtual dissections.

3-D Printed Cars: Caralena Luthi, $1,300, West Jackson Middle School, Jackson County

Eighth grade science teacher Caralena Luthi and her students at West  Jackson Middle School used their Bright Ideas grant hold a high-tech  pinewood derby race. Students used a 3-D printer to create their digitally- designed cars. The students coordinated a racing project to help all eighth  graders at the school apply the principles they learned in a lesson about force and  motion. After testing and modification, students raced the cars in an event called the Panther Derby. 

Applying Math, English Lessons with Simulator: Brad Hillman, $1,995, West Jackson Middle School, Jackson County

Brad Hillman, a physical education teacher at West Jackson  Middle School, used his Bright Ideas grant for an indoor golf  simulator that allows students to model a golf ball’s path  algebraically and graphically with linear and quadratic  functions. English teachers at the school also used the students'  simulator experience to teach narrative and informational  writing. The simulator software allowed Hillman to share the data with math teachers who are using it to teach speed, angles, and trajectory. “Students learn how each aspect of the game can change based on their swing, club, launch speed and spin,”  Hillman said. “It’s a fun way to teach math in a real-world setting.”

Coding to New Heights: Tori Jones, $1,850, Lumpkin County Middle School, Lumpkin County

Thanks to a Bright Ideas grant, Tori Jones used her funds to help her STEAM students at Lumpkin County Middle School learn how to code computers using data collected from drones. “Our students learned aeronautical terms — pitch, roll, and yaw — and how to control the drones both with a handheld device and the written code they created for the drone to fly autonomously,” Jones said. She created an indoor obsta-cle course with hula hoops where students made measurements to determine how to code their drone to navigate the course successfully. “The Bright Ideas grant provided an incredible opportunity for our students to engage in computer coding,” Jones said.

Middle Invention Studio: Jennifer Dunn, $532, Coleman Middle School, Gwinnett County

Jennifer Dunn, assistant principal at Coleman Middle School,  used a Bright Ideas grant to create an Invention Studio for all grades. “The Invention Studio allows our engineering students to develop entrepreneurial skills using emerging technologies,” Dunn said. The students took their interests in science and business to create shirts. “Using project-based learning, they collaborated during all stages, from initial idea to final product design with peer  feedback.” The students also created a marketplace to sell their final products so they can purchase additional supplies. 

Analyzing the Aerodynamics of CO2: Arpan Bosmia, $1,995, Northbrook Middle School, Gwinnett County

Arpan Bosmia, an engineering and technology teacher at Gwinnett County’s Northbrook Middle School, used a Bright Ideas grant for students to analyze the aerodynamics of CO2. “Using the wind tunnel I purchased with the grant funds, my students calculated the drag force on their dragster — the lower the force, the more aerodynamic their dragster,” Bosmia said. The students made adjustments to their dragsters to lower their drag force and placed them in the wind tunnel again. “Thanks to the Jackson EMC Bright Ideas grant, our students were able to use visual data to iterate on the design of their dragsters, which is quintessential to the engineering design  process because engineers frequently have to make improvements to their products in order for them to perform optimally,” Bosmia said.

Bright Ideas grant applications for the 2020-2021 school year will be open June 1-September 8. Stay tuned to jacksonemc.com/brightideas for details.

Editor's Note: Since 2015, Jackson EMC has awarded $279,494 in Bright Ideas grants to middle school teachers with innovative projects for their classrooms. This school year is different than previous years. Because of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were closed in mid-March, and the teaching environment for most classrooms was shifted to online digital learning platforms. Prior to schools closing, a number of teachers who received Bright Ideas grants had implemented their projects with students or worked on their projects online. These are some of their stories.