School innovators from across Ohio show off results of grant spending at Statehouse fair

Chromebooks for students, unconventional classroom configurations and art projects incorporating science and technology concepts are among ways schools and education groups are using money from Ohio's Straight A Fund.

More than 50 recipients of the innovation grants filled the Ohio Statehouse on Thursday to share details of the projects funded by the state money.

The $250 million Straight A Fund was created in 2013 by Gov. John Kasich. Two rounds of grants have been awarded so far, and the program continues to be funded in the budget the Republican governor introduced Monday.

A total of 226 school districts received grants, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

In Carrollton, the money is being used to design and develop an educational campus that takes advantage of local natural gas development in career-building opportunities for students and reduced energy costs for the district. Eighth-grader Olan Domer showed off a model of the campus he and fellow students helped design.

It features a butterfly garden, observatory, apple orchard and frog pond the district has planned to encourage excitement about science, as well as an on-site oil-and-gas well and strip mine that the district is developing. Natural gas will be used to power district buses and heat buildings.

In Springfield, high school senior Cassie McLean said she and other students used grant money in a collaboration with the Springfield Museum of Art, a Smithsonian institution. They accessed photos of the cosmos for an art exhibit that teaches astronomy, filter technology and other scientific concepts.

"Science and art are my two favorite subjects, so it was nice to combine them," she said. "We wanted to show that art isn't its own subject as much as it's a way to communicate useful concepts."

Paula Johnson, a middle school history teacher in Paulding in western Ohio, said her students received Chromebooks through their grant that have allowed her to make use of the many free Internet educational resources that are available.

"There's a lot of wonderful stuff out there, but if you don't have technology, you can't do it," she said, naming websites such as BiteSlide, Blendspace and ExitTicket. "Before the Chromebooks, we had only two computer labs from K to 12, and we had to wait our turn."

In North Canton, grant money helped fund an "Inq Spot," short for "inquiry," where students can work puzzles, experiment with professional recording equipment and engage in other explorations. In Mentor, couches and unique space configurations were created for more collaborative learning.

Many projects are carried out through the work of teams that may include nonprofits, technology companies and local businesses.