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Vol.32 No.1 February 1998
ACM SIGGRAPH



Money: How to Get It for Your Classroom



R.J.Wolfe
DePaul University


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This article marks the beginning of a new column devoted to items of interest and concern to educators at all age levels. It addresses issues for those who teach computer graphics, as well as for those who use computer graphics to teach. This first column focuses on funding and how to obtain technology for the classroom.

A universal concern of educators that has persisted since the dawn of the teaching profession is the problem of obtaining technology to assist in the learning process. In the Middle Ages, teaching institutions suffered from an acute shortage of reference books. Today, teachers struggle with obtaining computers. While the continued fall in prices is certainly encouraging, the terms "cheap" and "accessible" are relative. What may seem to be a small amount for a single PC will mushroom into a king's ransom when trying to accommodate an entire classroom.

While some sources for funding have dwindled in recent years, panels at SIGGRAPH 97 demonstrated that opportunities still beckon for those who are willing to invest time and effort. Two panels covered grant opportunities at the K-12 and university levels. Panel participants were people who had obtained multiple grant awards or who had reviewed proposals for a granting organization. Both grant recipients and grant readers agreed on the characteristics of a good grant proposal.

The Idea

Essential to any proposal is the identification of a problem and a proposed solution. No granting agency is interested in the statement, "I want computers for each student in my classroom." Big deal. So does everyone else. They are more interested in statements like, "Keyboard skills are important to computer literacy, and fifth graders are not too young to acquire them," or "To engage at-risk students in mathematics, we would like to introduce them to a simple architectural drawing package." Spend some time analyzing why it is that you want the technology, and this will lead to an idea that you can develop into a proposal.

Finding Leads

For a fee, research services will help you find contact information for organizations that are interested in funding projects like yours. However, the Web is a rich resource for this sort of information, and you can find many leads on your own. As a starting place, you can use Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com) or any other search engine to gather information. (With Yahoo, click on the "Education" category and type "funding" as a search word.)

In addition there are Web sites that list funding institutions and briefly describe the type of projects they seek. Several comprehensive sites are listed here: http://cos.gdb.org Lists opportunities for both art and science education.

You can also find contact information for funding organizations in Scott Grissom's "101 Funding Sources to Support Using Computer Graphics in Education" (SIGGRAPH 97 Educators Program CD-ROM). Of special interest to K-12 educators is Janice Stuhlmann's article, "Finding the Money" (Computer Graphics, 31(3) August 1997, pp.38-41), which lists the government funding agencies for K-12 education in all 50 states.

In addition to the national organizations, take a look at local opportunities. Many colleges and school boards set aside a small amount of money for start-up initiatives, and some local businesses and business groups will sponsor educational activities. Talk to your boss and check your local library.

An alternative to asking for money is asking for equipment. Several major computer manufactures have such programs, as do some businesses. If you can't obtain new equipment, you may consider programs that offer used equipment. The Christina Foundation and Computers 4 Kids (http://www.c4k.org) offer refurbished equipment to groups who can't afford to buy new. For a list of similar programs that facilitate donations to schools, consult the computer recycling pages at the PEP Web site (http://microweb.com/pepsite/Recycle).

You may also be able to persuade local businesses or business groups to donate equipment. They can take a tax write-off, and your students benefit from the computers.

Organization

No matter if you're writing a grant application to a federal agency or making an oral presentation to a local merchant, there are several essential characteristics to successful proposals. These are compatibility, preparedness, clarity and novelty.

  • Compatibility -- Study the goals of the granting program carefully. In your proposal, explain how your project is consistent with those goals. This is why it's important to spend the time to find a funding organization whose goals are similar to your own.
  • Preparedness -- Do your homework. Follow the guidelines of the granting agency. Supply all requested materials, which usually include a budget and supporting letters. While working on the proposal, refer to the guidelines often so you don't inadvertently omit requested information.
  • Clarity -- Use a concise, clear writing style. Reviewers want a clear statement of your problem and proposed solution. Remember that reviewers aren't necessarily aware of the particulars of your situation and you will need to justify your solution and budget accordingly. As a test, ask a colleague to review a draft of your document. If your colleague has problems understanding your intent, then a reviewer who's unfamiliar with your environment won't understand it either.
  • Novelty -- Find a "hook." Some aspect of your proposal needs to catch a reviewer's attention. Emphasize any innovative or novel features of your project that will help make it stand out.

Learning How

Writing your first proposal is a learning experience, and it's helpful to take a look at a successful proposal or two. If you know of colleagues who've received grants, ask them for copies of their proposals. For science-oriented proposals, refer to the NSF Web site http://www.nsf.gov/home/grants.htm#awards for information about research projects that NSF has funded since 1989. For projects related specifically to computer science, look at http://www.education.siggraph.org/nsfcscr/.

You'll find another resource in the granting agencies themselves. Representatives from federal agencies and many private ones will be willing to read your proposal on an informal basis and give you feedback. It's best to do this at least six months before the grant deadline so that they'll have time to respond and you'll have time to act on their suggestions.

Volunteering to serve on a grant reviewing committee is a great way to gain first-hand experience about the essential ingredients of an effective grant proposal. One possibility is reviewing for a federal agency, but also take a look closer to home. Most school boards and colleges have a review board for their local grant programs and it's often hard to find teachers willing to volunteer for this work. Of course, if you've applied for funds, you'll have to wait until a decision has been made about your proposal so as to avoid a conflict of interest.

Rosalee J.Wolfe
Department of Computer Science
AC 450
DePaul University
243 S.Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60604

Tel: +1-312-362-6248
Fax: +1-312-362-6116


The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.

Build on Success

Once you've been notified that you'll receive funding, get busy. Buy the equipment, implement your project and get results. Once you have your results, let the world know of your success by presenting them at conferences or by publishing. One important issue considered by reviewers is your track record with past grant awards.

Best Wishes

If your proposal wasn't funded on your first try, use the reviewers' comments as a basis for revising your proposal and resubmit it. Don't be discouraged. Many people with a long and successful track record of winning grants will tell you about how their first proposal was rejected. A willingness to rework drafts and an attention to detail should result in success.