Fulton School News

TFS Receives STEM Grant

The Fulton School: 2019 ITEF Innovator Award Winner

Last November, Carrie Wilson Herndon, a STEM teacher at The Fulton School at St. Albans, began the labor-intensive process of writing a grant for the Innovative Technology Education Fund (ITEF).

ITEF is a St. Louis-based, charitable, private, nonprofit foundation that strives to advance the innovative and creative use of technology to promote excellence in K-12 education with a keen interest in schools and students with minimal access to the tools and strategies that spark innovation.

Each year, ITEF awards grants and actively seeks collaborative partnerships with innovative educators throughout the region. To date they have given more than $3.4 million to area schools for enhanced learning through the use of technology.

Founded in 1994, The Fulton School (TFS) is a small, toddler through 12th grade, independent, Montessori school located in Franklin County. Head of School Kara Douglass explains, “As a small, young, independent school without an endowment to support innovative technology, it is challenging to find funding for our students’ out-of-the-box endeavors.”

 “Our students’ joy of learning and curiosity surprises me every day,” Douglass said, “They approach me to request robotics and other equipment, but we usually have to push to find lesser, lower-cost compromises or do without. This grant proposal is an exciting opportunity!”

Herndon named the grant,Innovative Partnerships with Nonprofits,” and designed it as a student- and community-based collaboration to collect, analyze and catalogue data in partnership with two other local nonprofits: Friends of the Rainforest (FOTR) and Shaw Nature Reserve.

By partnering with these nonprofits, TFS students would get the chance to work alongside experts who are passionate about their work. Plus, the partnership would expand its reach beyond just the TFS student population – it could potentially impact more than 900 students in the St. Louis area who are connected to Shaw and FOTR.

“The proposal I submitted provides funds for technology that will allow students to design and build educational materials and software for our two non-profit partners,” said Herndon.

Herndon is specifically talking about zSpace technology, which combines elements of virtual and augmented reality in a computer.  zSpace allows people to interact with simulated objects in virtual environments as if they are real.

“One of our main goals is to have students use zSpace technology -- from a 3D scanner or  3D printer to zSpace computers and software,” explained Herndon.  With the technology provided by this grant, students could conduct historical and scientific studies with this equipment while building and maintaining map and geographic databases for both FOTR and Shaw.

For example, students can preserve blue morph butterflies for FOTR. Using the proposed CNC machine, they could build display boxes to be used to showcase the butterflies. 

In another project, students could use the proposed 3D scanner to obtain digital images of artifacts from Shaw Nature Reserve and, with their new 3D printer, make replicas of the animals, plants, or historic artifacts to assist in scientific study. 

The Fulton School received word in late spring that they were the recipient of a $56,354 grant from ITEF. And now the fun and learning begins -- now their “what ifs” can be put into action!

The students were challenged to help devise a list of equipment that might be used in their experiments, classes, and field trips. Here are a few of the items that they came up with that will be covered by the grant: a CNC machine for precisely cutting large aluminum and wood parts for projects; CorelDraw Software that students can use with the CNC machine, 3D scanner and printer for designing files; 3D scanner to replicate artifacts and perform comparison studies from different geographic locations; 3D printer that will interface with the 3D scanner; thermal camera to measure the heat signature of plants and animals; solar and weather-proof trail camera; drone with camera for geographic data collection and land surveys; PCR and electrophoresis kit for teaching hands-on biotech lab DNA amplification and separation; a variety of robotics equipment; and of course all associated technology and equipment training needed for students and faculty.

Extracting DNA

Perhaps the most stunning of all of the equipment covered by the grant: three Z Space AR/VR workstations.  This state-of-the-art computer combines elements of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create lifelike experiences. With the workstation’s perception of depth, virtual objects look real as they appear both out of and in the screen. For example, biology students can participate in a frog dissection virtually rather than with a real animal. Every zSpace system has tracking built into the display. Students use a zSpace stylus (held in the hand like a pen) and wear zSpace glasses – both of which are tracked by the computer. As the user tilts his/her head to look around an object, zSpace dynamically updates to display the correct perspective in full, high-definition. With 6 degrees of freedom, students can hold the stylus and rotate their wrist naturally as they pick up and examine objects. The students to “learn by doing” in an environment where mistakes are reversible and there are no material costs or clean-up. 

The grant was awarded at the ITEF’s annual event, Art of the Possible, at the Sheldon Concert Hall this past April. It was an evening for area educators to explore, network, learn, and be inspired. Accepting the award for The Fulton School were faculty members Carrie Wilson Herndon, Tracy Lannert, and Lensyl Urbano.

Douglass says the community is thrilled. “This grant provides tremendous opportunities to engage in multi-disciplinary technical projects that serve others and the environment while building 21st century skills that are key to a strong education. We can’t wait to see it unfold!”


Note: Hover on photos for captions.

Bottom right: The award presentation at the ITEF Art of the Possible event at The Sheldon on April 18. Pictured left to right: TFS faculty members Dr. Lensyl Urbano, Tracy Lannert, and Carrie Wilson Herndon. Photo courtesy of ITEF and Fresh Art Photography.

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