Kelsey Brax

Telluride Mountain School math teacher Kelsey Brax monitored giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands over the summer as a part of the collaborative agreement between the Direction of the Parque Nacional Galápagos and Ecology Project International. She was in Hawaii this weekend to give a presentation about her trip during a teaching conference there. (Photo courtesy of Ecology Project International)

Telluride Mountain School (TMS) upper school math teacher Kelsey Brax traveled to the University of Hawaii at Manoa on Thursday to present during a three-day national social justice conference, where STEM educators from across the United States are exploring ideas for teaching math and science with the larger goal of creating justice in society. Brax, a Knowles teaching fellow, travelled to the Galapagos Islands this past summer and will presented her research at this weekend’s conference.

To be eligible for a Knowles teaching fellowship, individuals must have earned a degree related to math or science, must have earned or will earn a valid state teaching credential to teach math or science in grades 9-12 in the United States, and must be entering their first or second year of teaching. 

This is Brax’s fifth year teaching high school math and her first year teaching at TMS.

“Knowles recognizes that so many teachers stop teaching within their first five years, and they want to keep them in the profession and help them do a good job,” explained Brax, who learned about and applied for the fellowship while earning a Master of Education degree in teaching and learning at Ohio State University.

There are 35 Knowles teaching fellowships awarded annually. As of last year, 405 fellows are currently teaching in 43 states. The five-year Knowles teaching fellowship is valued at over $150,000.

Brax said the biggest benefit of being a Knowles teaching fellow is the support network of teachers across the country that she interacts with throughout the year. In addition, there are three all-expenses-paid professional development weekends offered annually.

“And we receive a small summer stipend so that we don’t have to have a job in the summer,” Brax added.

In return, fellows must demonstrate that fellowship resources are improving teaching efficacy via an “inquiry cycle” comprised of small groups of teachers across the country that collect and discuss data from their classrooms, including student work, lesson plans and agendas from staff meetings.

“As long as we’re engaging with the community and continuously working on our practice, that’s really all they want from us,” Brax said.

Teaching fellows also have access to professional development money through grants.

“They train us to write grants so that after we’re done with the fellowship, we can continue to seek resources for future professional development experiences or for classroom materials,” Brax said.

For example, Knowles funded the nine-day trip Brax took to the Galapagos Islands this past July via a grant submitted by a group of fellows.

“The trip was a collaboration between Knowles and Ecology Project International (EPI), which engaged us in learning about the environment and talking about conservation,” Brax explained. “We worked with EPI to collect data and study giant tortoises and helped contribute to their data base.”

This is the final year of Brax’s five-year Knowles fellowship.

“If you successfully complete the five-year teaching fellowship, there is a senior fellows program available for the rest of your teaching career so you don’t lose the community,” she said. “You don’t get the funding and the professional development experiences, but you still have resources and a lot of opportunities for fellow-driven professional development like engineering design courses and writing workshops.”

Head of School Andy Schoff said that TMS commits significant resources to support continuing education for its faculty, including time off to attend conferences or visit other schools, or funding for trainings and workshops.

“Every year our teachers, administrators and even our board members have opportunities to attend regional and national conferences,” he said. “While we often bring in school or division-wide professional development, we think it’s important to connect with the larger educational community outside of Telluride, too.”

Brax explained that part of the grant writing process for her recent trip involved a plan to present resulting data at a conference. Lucky for her and two biology teacher fellows, they were invited to present at the “Creating Balance in an Unjust World” conference in Hawaii, where they hosted a workshop called “Beyond Darwin: Re-Envisioning the Galapagos Islands in STEM Education.” The discussion centered around how scientific knowledge is constructed, who participates in the construction of knowledge, and who has access and why.

They presented to approximately 30 people on the idea of “local knowledge.”

“The Galapagos Islands have these really great ideas about how local knowledge should be valued,” Brax explained. “So we’re trying to engage workshop participants in conversations about the usefulness of local knowledge and the idea that if you’re trying to make change or study things in a community, it really requires the local community to be a part of it if change is going to happen.”

Upon returning to TMS, Brax will encourage students to consider their own community by posing questions like what does the community need? What kind of information can we gather about our community? How can we as students be scientists and mathematicians and use that knowledge for the better?

She will present a slideshow of the conference and her trip at a TMS whole school community meeting in February. Once the lesson plans that she and her two biology teacher fellows designed are ready, she plans to utilize them in her classroom with students.

For more information on the Knowles teaching fellowship program, visit knowlesteachers.org.