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FMS teacher named ‘innovative educator’

A Farragut Middle School teacher has been recognized as one of the nation’s most innovative educators in the 2007 ING Unsung Heroes awards program, which recognizes teachers for their imaginative teaching methods and creative educational projects.

Karen Rehder, an eighth-grade language arts teacher, helps students improve their language arts and reading skills by creating a 10-minute documentary on a topic of the student’s choice, a project she calls Wide Angle: Creations in Film.

“I do it with one of my classes, and I can teach the language arts and the reading skills in a way that’s real-world for students and is more interesting than pencil and paper kind of stuff,” she said. “They end up with a really good product.”

Students select a topic, conduct research, create a bibliography and conduct on-camera and telephone interviews.

In addition to improving language arts skills, Rehder said students strengthen interpersonal and leadership skills as they collaborate with local professionals and community influencers to develop their documentaries.

“The thing that I really like about it is that it gets them involved in the community, because they have to go out and find their own interviews. They have to set up their own interviews with those individuals,” she added. “Students really get out into the community, and the community really becomes stakeholders in students’ successes, because they want to participate and they’re helping them with their documentaries.

“Some people might say ‘this is just a film documentary project, how is that different from everybody else?’ Well, I think it’s because you get the kids out in the community and you get the community involved.”

Last year, “the topics they chose were some of your hot-button issues like global warming and immigration, but then I had some kids who were interested in medical malpractice and affirmative action in the college application process,” she said. “We had Oak Ridge scientists, doctors, lawyers, local businessmen [involved]. Senator Tim Burchett [R-7th District] came out and talked to the kids. He allowed them to interview him, so that was nice because the documentaries had a political presence, which added a viewpoint to their film. He’s been very kind to do that for us again this year. We kind of work with Channel 10, and Abby Ham and Ben Senger came out and helped critique some of the rough, rough edits of the film, so they had some expert opinions on their projects.”

As an Unsung Hero, Rehder, who has been teaching at FMS since 1992, will receive a $2,000 award.

“The money had to go towards my project. I had to submit a budget to show what the $2,000 would go to,” she said. “I can get a computer with the money, which will be nice, so I don’t have to borrow a computer like I did last year. … Now we’ll have a nice, multimedia computer to utilize in the classroom, plus we can use that forever, next year and the next year.

“[The computer] will take up most of [the award], but I think I’ll be able to purchase memory sticks to let the kids have to put everything on and bring back. We’ll also be able to buy D-V-Ds. We burn constantly.”

Final versions will eventually air on the Knoxville community channel, CTV.

To learn about this year’s winning projects, as well as those from previous years, visit the ING Unsung Heroes Web site at

Applications for the 2008 ING Unsung Heroes awards are available on the Web site, by calling 800-537-4180 or e-mailing


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