As I go around the country doing presentations about funding for technology, I am often asked about opportunities available for classroom teachers. In many cases, teachers have limited (or no!) extra time to apply for grants, and the task of pulling together a proposal for a state and/or federal grant seems daunting–to say the least. Hopefully, this column will give classroom teachers some additional ideas about potential funding sources for smaller classroom projects.

As with any quest for potential funding sources, teachers must have some type of project or idea in mind before they start looking for opportunities. Aimlessly searching on the internet or through print materials about sources of funding with no clear project in mind will become frustrating and result in a loss of time–which is in short supply already for most teachers.

Spend constructive time pulling together an idea or a project with a sense of what you want to accomplish, what the outcomes will be for the students, and who your potential partners might be if you will be collaborating. Remember that collaboration is not restricted to the “big” dollar requests for larger-scale projects. Consider working with other classroom teachers, parents, libraries, museums, and local businesses to make classroom projects successful.

When you’re ready to research funding sources, I would first suggest looking into contests that are run by vendors. Several vendors run contests in which they give away pieces of their equipment as prizes. These contests are often announced in magazines dealing with school technology, and you can also find information on contests in the exhibit hall at conferences.

The next time you’re walking through the exhibits at a conference, be sure to keep your eyes open for this type of information–or stop and ask vendors whether they run such contests.

Most of the contests I have seen require either a short application form or short proposal answering questions about your idea for the project, its impact, and–in most cases–how the vendor’s specific equipment will be used.

Foundations are another potential source of funding for smaller projects, especially local community and educational foundations. Community foundations, which are springing up all across the country, might have small grants (up to $10,000) that are available for classroom projects. As the name implies, the primary interest of these foundations is to fund activities in the community or communities they serve.

If you don’t know whether your community has one, call your local United Way or search the Council on Foundations web site for its listing of community foundations (see link, page 8).

Some teachers have access to their own district’s education foundation. I know of several that have mini-grant programs available which fund projects in the $500-$5,000 range. Ask your district superintendent if you can apply for these mini-grants.

Teachers might also find funding for classroom projects in their own community. Some local chapters of service organizations, such as the Rotary Club, the Sertoma Club, the Lions Club, or the American Association of University Women might have small grants available. Check out your local clubs to find out.

Another local source is banks, which might have their own foundations that you can apply to. Call your local banks and ask whether monies are available. Small businesses in your community might be another source for small sums of money, especially if the business owners have children in your district or there is a direct connection between your project and the business itself.

Your local United Way might also have mini-grants available, or grant programs that encourage collaboration among community organizations. Call and ask!

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all state and federal grants require months of advance preparation and a proposal that is 50 pages long. There are grants for sums up to $10,000 that do not necessarily require the same amount of preparation as those for larger sums of money. Check out the grants available and ask for copies of the RFP to see what is required to submit a proposal.

An example of these types of grant programs is the Toyota TAPESTRY grants program, sponsored by Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) U.S.A. Inc. and administered by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). The program awards 50 grants of up to $10,000 to K-12 science teachers who propose innovative science projects that can be implemented in their school or district over a one-year period. Most of the sections of the proposal are restricted to one page.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that once you write a proposal, you now have material that can be used for other requests as well, rather than having to start from scratch every time. (Never send the exact same proposal to several funding sources, however.)

Nothing beats the excitement of a teacher who has just received word that a classroom project is going to be funded. With these tips, I hope you’re able to experience some of that excitement!

To obtain Toyota TAPESTRY guidelines and entry forms, write to Toyota TAPESTRY Grants for Teachers, 1840 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201-3000, call (800) 807-9852, or eMail tapestry@nsta.org.