Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gold Rush; An Insiders Look at the Grant Writing Experience

A little over a year ago a meeting was held for high needs schools eligible to apply for a 3-year competitive grant. The grant application could not have come at a worse time. Schools were packing and shuttering their doors. To make matters worse, the grant was due in the middle of August when all staff members enjoy their vacations. This was going to be difficult. After all, who would want to work on a grant during the summer? Fortunately, tough economic times has a funny way of inspiring people to write even in the heat of the summer.

And so it was… Against the heat of a sweltering sun, the brave, the foolish, and just the plain na├»ve embarked on a Gold Rush. One such tale begins in the eastern section of Brooklyn. A teacher in his mid forties attends a grant meeting and begins his journey looking for inspiration. As a young adolescent he always enjoyed Beatles music; especially Sergeant Pepper. He always loved the opening…

It was twenty years ago today,

Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play

They've been going in and out of style

But they're guaranteed to raise a smile.

So may I introduce to you…

That was it… He would call the grant, “It Was 5o Years Ago Today” observing all the historical happenings in that neighborhood. And why not? This neighborhood produced famous TV personalities, athletes, comedians, poets, and other notables. There was only one problem; luminous as these people were… they were not connected to STEM… you know; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. For days, the teacher would toil with this theme. Perhaps if he conducted more research a STEM connection could be found. However, he would have no such luck. The simple truth was… this was not working. He needed a new angle… a new way to look at this.

Our hero proceeds to turn on the radio and listens to Neil Young’s “Hank to Hendrix” and its comparative use of varying pop icons and cried… “I got it! Why not call the grant From Pong to the Xbox?” This grant would explore the evolution of gaming technology… starting with Pong, Space Invaders, and Galaxian. It would then move to the 2nd generation of gaming looking at Pac Man, Pole Position, and Donkey Kong… followed by the modern era of gaming. Certainly, the elements of game design would lend itself to a project centered on STEM.

This project was starting to shape up. Our hero was finding some great resources on the web. Per chance he bumped into a few of his school colleagues and shared with them what he was planning. They did not say much. However, our hero could see from their dour expressions that they were not impressed. Needless to say he was demoralized. Our hero was now questioning the validity of his idea. Perhaps he should scrap this idea and go back to his original idea. For days he would pace in his apartment back and forth. Tommy (his 8 year old kid) asked, “Are you OK, dad?” “Yes, little man. I just got lots on my mind.” Tommy said, “Why don’t you watch Sponge Bob with me?”

Our hero watches Sponge Bob with his kid and becomes fascinated. He instantly enjoys the clever subtly of the program and does some research. He learns that the Sponge Bob creator used to teach marine biology. A few days later he unleashes the The Legend of Ocean Town”. He shares with his colleagues the following abstract….

The Legend of Ocean Town” will have students create a digital mockumentary depicting the life and times of Ocean Town. This mockumentary will explore the housing structures, sea life, foods, sports, politics, culture, medical advancements, and ecological issues of that fictional era. Additionally, they will create a companion web site entitled “Living in Ocean Town” which will include a travel brochure, findings from research/interviews with marine biologists/scientists/and other experts, a customized wikipedia profiling ancient and modern sea life, blue prints of proposed housing structures, personalized maps of Ocean Town using Google Map Technology, as well as pod casts documenting the making of the digital documentary.

His colleagues love the idea and offer to help him with this project. A few weeks later our hero submits the grant application. And a few months later… he receives a letter learning that his school was awarded the grant.

Editor’s Note- This story is based on a true story and is dedicated to the relentless spirit of educators.


  1. I don't see any mention of the intended grade level of this grant project, but I can't help thinking how unfortunate it is that this teacher abandoned his original idea for the sole purpose of adhering to/satisfying some imposed guidelines. Had he been fortunate enough to propose and receive a grant for the "Neighborhood" project, his students could have had the exact same experience with the technology, with the following exceptions: They could produce a real documentary instead of a mockumentary, explore real environmental issues affecting their real neighborhood over the past 50 years, even study the history of the very buildings they live in, to learn about the modernization of urban/suburban dwellings, tying the science together with subject matter much more meaningful than an imaginary ocean town. The lives of the famous/notable people from the neighborhood could provide a timeline from which events relating to STEM could, um... stem. The companion web site, travel brochure, wiki, and podcasts documenting the experience could all relate directly to the real lives of these kids, hopefully giving them a positive outlook on the future of their neighborhood, and rewarding them with a sense of accomplishment for identifying problems and proposing solutions that will benefit the neighborhood. Who knows, maybe some of the celebrities would offer to support efforts to improve the quality of life in their hometown!


  2. Paul, I believe the project targeted grade 4 and 5. Thank you for sharing your ideas. They are very creative.

  3. Thanks for your help polishing our grant project. Check out our Space For Rent final project video: http://www.vimeo.com/12737605

    Year two underway.

  4. Thanks Matt. If I ever write the fictionalized version of your schools grant story it would be called "Werewolves of London". For some reason, I always associate that song with your grant.