Skip to main content

Creating Educational Tools for the Community

Learning while interacting with the Chapel Hill community and helping to provide it with new educational resources that are lacking seems like the perfect match for a language course. Well, that is what is offered in SPAN 329, Spanish for the professions and community engagement, alongside its APPLES Service-Learning component, taught by Professor Heather Knorr. In this episode we talk to her and one of her students about their experience with a wonderful and creative project.


H: Host

HK: Prof. Heather Knorr

G: George (Kostantinis, Georgios)


H: Learning while interacting with the Chapel Hill community and helping to provide it with new educational resources that were lacking seems like the perfect match for a language course. Well, that is what is offered in SPAN 329, Spanish for the professions and community engagement, alongside its APPLES Service-Learning component, which is the topic of today’s episode. More specifically, we will talk to Prof. Heather Knorr’s and one of her students about their experience with a wonderful and creative outreach project. This is ROMS podcast, a space where we give a more intimate look to our community, our professors, and students, and to all the experiences and stories that happened here at ROMS. My name is Caro Register, welcome to the second episode.


HK: [00:00:33-00:00:44] My name is Heather Knorr and I am a teaching assistant professor of Spanish here at UNC. I started here in grad school in 2003 and now I am a lecturer.


H: Prof. Knorr has been teaching SPAN 329 for several years, and right now she is also one of the coordinators for SPAN 203. She is a very proactive member of our academic community, and someone who is always looking for new ways of improving and innovating in her teaching work. The project she is going to talk about here started when her SPAN 329 students were completing their service hours with Carrboro elementary school, Frank Porter Graham, and ISLA, which is a local nonprofit dedicated to learning of teaching Hispanic students about Spanish language and culture.


HK: [00:00:45-00:01:02] When we started the project, we noticed that there was a need in the community when we were doing our Apple Service Learning project for more books that were written in Spanish, rather than just translations of books, especially in the local elementary schools and middle schools.


H: this happen in 2017 and her students were invited to go read to the children as part of our Apple Service-Learning Project.


HK: [00:02:05-00:02:54] when we got there, the students noticed that all the books were just translations like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Cinderella or stories that we had read perhaps growing up. But they just translated in Spanish and they were really bored reading to the students, and the students seemed bored too. So when we got back to the classroom, I said, What if we were to substitute a couple of your service learning hours for you to write children’s stories about the topic that we’re studying this semester, which was health and health care, especially related to dental care. And that’s a good age for students to learn about dental care anyway. So the teacher said, Oh, that would be great. Could you donate them afterwards and print them for us? So my students decided to work in pairs to write the books, and then I ended up giving them some apple service learning credit hours.


H:  During this first experience with the project, students wrote the books initially in Spanish and put an English translation at the bottom of each page. And then the books were donated to Carver Elementary.


[00:03:26-00:03:53] The first year we did it, the teachers at the school really loved the books, but they noticed that there was a problem when the students would take them home, some of them wouldn’t have anybody to read with them. So they asked us if we would be willing to make an audio version of each of the books. So the next year we started making an audio version. We would upload it to YouTube and include the link on the book. So when the kids go home, they can click on that link and they can listen to it.


H: One thing that happily surprised Prof. Knorr was her students’ engagement and creativity while working on the project


HK: [00:04:39-00:04:56] that was that was another thing I wasn’t anticipating, was just how awesome it would be to see the products that they created. I mean, they came up with topics that were anything from learning to brush your teeth on a spaceship and outer space with gravity to like what foods lead to more cavities and doing a matching game for the students.


H: with time, the project kept growing and developing into something bigger and very meaningful  for Prof. Knorr, her students and the community partners they were working with.


HK: [00:05:02-00:05:41] by the third year of the project we were getting feedback that the teachers wanted us to create some sort of interactive activity for each book too. So first we started to do before and after questions, before you read and after you read. And then we did some matching games to bring in. And then eventually we got a beam grant to go into the beam maker space and create board games that had game pieces they printed on the 3D printer and little toys and things that they made on the woodshop materials and the laser cutter. And so then we could bring the stories into the classroom, but also have a game to go with each one.


H: So the project evolved quickly from being just reading to also being interactive.


HK: [00:09:57-00:10:33] And we were recently asked by LA, the local nonprofit. If we could bring in more Afro-Latino stories and more indigenous community stories. So the students last semester even went as far as to create instruments that are common in Peruvian culture and South American culture. And then another group focused really on the festivals and traditions that are common in the Afro-Latino communities in Honduras with the Garifuna and in Central America. So the students have taken it above and beyond just a children’s book. They’re really trying to bring in the cultural.


H: And to talk about those students who took this project above and beyond, we should introduce our second guest. He is George Kostantinis,and he graduated this past May of 2022. He was a Spanish for the professions minor, and he took the SPAN 329 class during the first semester of his senior year in fall of 2021. Here are his thoughts on why the APPLES Service learning was a crucial element in his language and cultural education for him.


G: [00:06:05-00:06:57] I think the class overall in general was very important because a lot of people have opportunities to like study abroad and have those kind of engaging efforts with with future cultures. But people who can’t that class was just a gateway to just do something locally with the addition of apples. And it was kind of embedding yourself in the community and kind of way studying abroad in its own way, you know, And having studied for language, I know that while the curriculum is amazing that we have here at Carolina, if you really want to excel in a language and use it, you have to use it outside of the classroom setting. So with the addition of apples and this engagement that the class put forth, it was doing that, you know, engaging the community to actually use the language outside of a classroom setting. So I think it was just an overall perfect course.


H: Aside from having a direct interaction with the community, the fact that the project included a creative aspect that would allow him to use the BEAM studios was everything George could have asked for


G: [00:03:11-00:03:27] The project that we did was actually involved the Beam studios that we have here on campus where you can 3D print, you can laser cut, which I was very proficient in already. So when I found out that we could use those elements in the project, I was very, very excited because I knew it was going to be a perfect project.


H: There were a lot of possibilities for what students could propose or create, so he and his partner decided to do something unique


G: [00:04:01-00:04:22] all of us took very different approaches in the class. A lot of people did some kind of board games and stuff like that. My partner and I decided to do something that the children who these people were going to be playing with would play on with with our game, I guess continuously you could do a trivia game where you can memorize the answers and always win. [00:04:22-00:04:35] You can do some kind of ball game that people get tired. And we kind of were thinking about ideas on how can we can engage the students in something that’s not only culturally relevant and important to indigenous cultures, but they can play with it over and over.


H: They came up with the idea of making musical instruments from Indigenous cultures, so they were able to use the Bean space studios to make two instruments, one from the Dominican Republic and then one from Puerto Rico and Cuba


G: [00:04:52-00:05:13] Aguado and La Guerra And we were able to completely make it out of plastic. We made the boxes. We made the bags we also include. Did little books that told, of course, where this instrument comes from, traditional music plays and QR codes for videos. So pros to teach them how to play it. And they actually worked great. [00:05:13-00:05:25] We danced with them to songs and played with them, and we thought that this way students can continue playing with it. There’s no end goal to the game. It’s a fun game to play. It was educational and we were very proud of our project.


H: The entire process took many steps, but both Prof. Knorr and the students were committed to achieving high quality teaching tools that would serve the community


G: [00:08:59-00:09:44] She had the guidelines and said, here are some, you know, this is what we’re trying to do. Here are some previous projects in the past for inspiration, but whatever culture you decide is up to you, whatever game you decide is up to you. We did have meetings throughout the entire semester, so that was our end goal semester project, obviously. So we had meetings where we first proposed what we were going to do, our ideas monthly check ins of where we’re doing with the project and how which direction we’re going to not only ensure that we are doing something correct for our final grade, but also to ensure that the culture we’re representing is appropriately represented and respectful, also accurate.


H: For him, one of the most important aspects of this project was the impact it created both on the kids at school and the students at SPAN 329


G:  [00:07:19-00:07:29] the project was not just us filling a checkbox in our curriculum and doing something for the class to get a grade. It had many more benefits beyond what we can even imagine

[00:08:26-00:08:39] it was very happy, like a happy ending for us to know that like this is going to do a huge act of service that goes beyond of just doing a project.


H: It is also important to mentioned that in this process students became aware of campus resources that many of them did not know about before, like the BEAM Studios, a place where you can join the UNC maker community in the design and making of physical objects for education, research, entrepreneurship and recreation. And as an added bonus George and his classmates had the opportunity to share their project results at a BEAM showcase, which made it even more significant for them and within the Campus community in general


G: [00:10:34-00:11:07] the Beam Beam Maker Studios put a showcase for people who use the spaces and create different kinds of projects. And it was usually there were a few classes there that had beam elements that there were more from the design aspect of it, but we were the only one who was a Romans language class. People were like, Oh, what class are you like in engineering or anything? And we’re like, No, we’re in Spanish. And they’re like, Wow. And you guys came here and we were like, Yeah, we made this in beam. So it was really great to kind of be a standout. And the entire it was in the Great Hall, so it was a lot of people.

[00:11:14-00:11:30] they came to us and they’re like, this like teaches people stuff. This is educational, this is engaging. So I think that everybody who attended that showcase was so happy to see the be the Beam studios being used in a completely different way than anything like before.


H: Now, something that has this kind of impact on your students and your community usually comes with challenges, and we wanted Professor Knorr to talk a little bit about those challenges she faced while developing this project with their students.


HK: [00:04:14-00:04:36] I think the challenges for me was just finding the time to proofread all of their Spanish books because they are only 16 pages long and they only have between 20 and 50 words per page. But it was a lot. It was as if I were having to grade another two sets of compositions, and so I hadn’t anticipated how long that would take


H: But besides the challenging amounts of work this implies, there are also important motivations


HK: [00:06:50-00:07:15] I guess I try to think about my daughter. I’m a single parent. I have been for 11 years and she gets so bored with reading and so I try to think of her as my inspiration. I want kids like her. She’s Latina. I want her to see herself reflected in books. So that gives me inspiration to do it. But I do think I need more time to do it. And I think it would be great if instructors who did projects like this could be compensated for their work as well.


H: Professor Knorr also wanted to invite other faculty members to consider including an APPLES Service-Learning component to their courses.


HK: [00:14:13-00:15:08] all the legwork has been done for us. Becca Bender is the head of the Appels program. She has researched quite a few options in the community, as have some of my Rom’s colleagues and I, and we’ve found there to be over 50 community partners that we can work with. So I would encourage any professor that’s interested in applying for an Apple’s grant to go ahead and do that. It’s not a difficult process. It requires a little bit of paperwork and you have to submit a short proposal of how you would incorporate it into your syllabus. But by and large, getting started was an easy process for me. The harder process is that you do end up teaching an additional one credit class. So you need to assign work in that class and make sure your students are staying on track with their projects. But teaching an apples course is an awesome opportunity that anybody in this department can do. There’s funding to support. Are you getting started? There’s funding while you’re teaching the course and you end up drawing students that really want to be involved in the community.  So you tend to get a different a different group. And again, it’s a one credit class that you would incorporate into your regular class, and you can make it a separate grade so you can continue to use your your syllabus that you use


H: Professor Knorr’s project is a really outstanding initiative that could, and most likely will, keep growing, transforming, and developing, so she also wanted to invite any interested faculty member in the department to join forces with her in this project and maybe replicated or transform it into something else for their own classes.


HK: [00:17:13-00:18:14] one of the things I love about romance studies department is how everyone wants to collaborate, they want to work together, they want to build each other up. And I think this is a good project that we could replicate if another instructor wanted to do so. We support each other. This is something that is not a copyrighted idea. It’s a free idea. Anybody can do it. And I’m happy to share the materials and the rubrics that I’ve used. If they would like to do something or if they would like to create a similar project and modify it. In one semester we were asked to do a booklet for the day laborers at the Centro Hispano in Carrboro, which taught them some useful vocabulary in English. So maybe there’s another Spanish class that could tweak the project in a way to make it more aligned with their curriculum or their syllabus. And we could just sort of use the general idea, but I think it’s awesome for us to continue collaborating and helping replicate projects that we’ve done before and build them up and make them bigger. So I’m hoping to meet with anybody who’s interested in doing a similar.


H: We thank Prof. Knorr and George Kontantinis for their generosity in sharing these experiences with us, and we hope this project keeps growing and allowing many other students to interact and contribute to the community in different ways. Thank you for listening, and don’t forget to follow us in Spotify, Apple podcast, Google podcast, or whatever your preferred app may be. Adios, adeus, Chao, Au revior, and we will see you next time.