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 for smaller projects.

As with any quest for potential funding sources, teachers must have some type of project or idea in mind before they start looking. Aimlessly searching the internet or through print materials about funding sources with no clear project in mind will become frustrating and waste 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 large-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 vendors run. Several 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 in the exhibit hall at conferences.

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

Most of the contests I have seen require 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 United States, might have grants available (up to $10,000) 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 the local United Way or search the Council on Foundations web site for its listing of community foundations.

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

Teachers might also find funding for classroom projects in their own communities. Some local chapters of service organizations, such as the Rotary Club, the Sertoma Club, the Lions Club and the American Association of University Women might have mini-grants available.

Another local source is banks, which might have their own foundations from which you can seek funding. Call your local banks and ask whether funds are available. Small businesses in your community might be another source of smaller sums, especially if the business owners have children in your district or there is a direct connection between your project and the business.

The local United Way might have mini-grants or grant programs available 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 preparation and a proposal that is 50 pages long. There are grants for sums up to $10,000 that do not require the same amount of preparation as those for larger sums of money. Check out the grants available, and ask for copies of the Request For Proposals to see what is required to submit a proposal.

An example of these types of grants is the Toyota Tapestry program, sponsored by Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. and administered by the National Science Teachers Association. 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 schools or districts 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 a proposal is written, you have material that can be used for other requests, 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.

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. The Council on Foundations web site is http://www.cof.org.