My first job out of undergrad was teaching high school math and physics at a New York City public school. It was a crazy and truly unforgettable experience. One of the craziest things I had to do was come up with physics labs in a school that had no equipment to speak of and a laughable budget. “Teacher’s Choice” was the term for the check we got at the beginning of the year to pay for supplies. When I was a teacher it was about $200. This wasn’t that long ago; it’s not like $5000 in 2010 dollars or anything like that. In fact, teachers in NY get even less now than they did when I was in the classroom.
I blew a big chunk of that just on Halloween, because if doing math and science with M&Ms on Halloween is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Beyond that and some paltry other supplies (graph paper, colored chalk), any sort of project I wanted to do with my students was funded out of my pockets. As you can imagine, first year teachers in NYC aren’t exactly living high off the hog. There were a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. There was definitely a “physics of water balloons” lab. I think I did a pretty good job nonetheless. Once I demonstrated Newton’s second law by having students pull me–on rollerblades!–down the hallway keeping constant force on the spring scale between us. It was a pretty visceral way to experience acceleration–for me especially. Still, with a little more money, the kinds of things my students could have done. I could have had my math students build brilliant polyhedral sculptures with Zome Tools. I could have had my physics students making circuits that actually did things. The money just wasn’t there.
The point of this reverie is that microtransactions exist now, and you can make a difference for science teachers and students. Much as I hate to admit it, tossing a water balloon and measuring the distance to the splat isn’t likely to get a kid to pursue a career in physics. There are projects that will, and these projects need funding. Please consider giving a few dollars to Donors Choose. Don’t forget, there are prizes to be won!
Here’s a photo of a bunch of us from my cohort of math teachers in the New York City Teaching Fellows, mere weeks before heading into the classroom for the first time. The youthful idealism, it overwhelms me.