Beyond The School Building
To take a peek inside the most beautiful classroom in Kansas City, you’re going to have to get far away from a school building.
From the heart of downtown, head about 30 minutes west to Wyandotte County Lake where Dr. Hotz of Wyandotte High is hosting class - outside. Out here, there are no slumped bodies in chairs, or four walls encasing these 10th graders as they explore the effects of watershed (area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place). Instead, 38 students hover over the edges of Wyandotte Lake on a brisk September day peering into test tubes, squeezing pipettes, and throwing nets into blue waters.
Dr. Michael Hotz provides hands-on, real world experiences for his biology class by writing numerous grants to extend learning opportunities far beyond the boundaries of his classroom.
A 31-year educator, Dr. Hotz has taught at Wyandotte High School for 19 years and recently was the recipient of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). His innovative approach to grant-writing has led to projects with his students which include an aquaponics program, school greenhouse, courtyard garden combined with a compost system, and energy audits that saved over $100,000 in utilities’ costs.
But on this particular day at Wyandotte Lake, Biology 1 students were broken up into six groups focused on several experiments. Four stations involved testing for temperature of air and water, pH levels, conductivity, turbidity, phosphate levels, nitrate concentration, and dissolved oxygen. Students also performed fecal coliform tests and collected & identified macroinvertebrates from the lake’s waters. Finally, the last two groups calculated the run-off of the lakefront’s parking lot using a GPS to measure its area, while another station utilized oximeters to demonstrate oxygen/pulse rates before and after students exercised.
Dr. Hotz could not have pulled off this project, or his prior ones for that matter, without partnering with community groups. He’s a progressive educator in this sense - extending his networking outside of traditional education circles to include Friends of the Kaw, Mid-America Regional Council, and even the Environmental Protection Agency. All of these partners were on the ground with students, coaching and guiding them to complete accurate tests of the water in the lake.
So how did Dr. Hotz become not just a teacher, but almost a nonprofit executive, community leader, and environmental pioneer all at the same time? Initially, he was sparked to begin thinking outside of his classroom by an in-service training with the Environmental Protection Agency, pushing him and his students to turn an unused courtyard in the middle of Wyandotte High into an outdoor classroom complete with over 20 gardening beds, automatic irrigation system, and two ponds filled with fish, turtles and aquatic plants. After seeing an EPA video “After the Storm,” Hotz then collaborated with an English, math, and engineering teacher to create a challenge-based learning project where all the curriculum centered around Big Eleven Lake’s watershed. In addition to studying its effects, students also reported their findings to the Kansas Health Department.
On how he funds the projects, Hotz says he writes 3-4 grants per year, looping in community organizations that not only serve the surrounding area around Wyandotte High School, but expand his students’ opportunities. “Oftentimes other organizations are just look for someone to collaborate with,” Hotz says, “and I am willing to do things that I think are best for my students.”
For other teachers looking to begin writing grants for their own classrooms, Hotz says it can all start with a basic internet search. But more than that, Hotz suggests that a successful project and grant will come from getting outside of the classroom - go to conferences and extend your network.
As Hotz puts it, “Think outside of the box and have fun doing it - take some risks.”
Have an idea for a classroom project or grant? Attend The Lean Lab's October Innovation Workshop for Education to learn how to take your idea and turn it into a reality. Use code FutureKCschools10 for $5 off your registration.