Week 28 in Class: The YouTubes


Stage 28

This week’s share will be YouTube videos. YouTube videos can be a great source of short videos on topics that can help illuminate a larger topic you’re teaching. Here’s how I used them:

Right now we’re finishing up a unit on music (Beyond the Notes in the Open Court reading series). YouTube is a great source of music from almost every style and time period. We’ve studied Beethoven, and Ray Charles as part of this. Here are some videos I’ve used:

two cellos thunderstruck – YouTube  This is an anachronism that works. Two guys on a cello in front of a baroque era audience (Vienna, maybe?) playing…AC/DC’s” Thunderstruck”. I works for a couple reasons. It gives a fresh view of “classical” instruments and also how music may changes but some things stay the same.

ray charles – YouTube
boogie woogie – YouTube Students read a story about Ray Charles, playing boogie-woogie, but few know what that means even though they go to piano lab in school once a week, and many take piano lessons after school. These two videos give a good example of Charles’ early sound, and what boogie woogie sounds like in general.

How I Feel About Logarithms – YouTube I’m trying to introduce more general ideas of mathematics and more visual representations of the same. These videos are too fast moving to take in one setting, but we’ll go back to look at it, and pause to discuss. They need a lot more of just exploring ideas, and less “solving” problems with a single answer.

vsauce – YouTube A student asked me to show this, and it was  a winner.

For the second year, I played RadioLab’s Speedy Beet episode. This discusses time notations Beethoven added to his symphonies later in life with the advent of the metronome, and as deafness to hold. Since students are doing a weekly keyboard lab class they had some familiarity with the basics of this (time notation, metronomes, etc.). Combining this with two-cellos video was  a way to make an old topic (classical music) a little fresher for the kids.

Image Credit: Stage 28 by Kevin Dooley, on Flickr



Number - 33

It is really starting to feel like we need a vacation. This is the time of year when I do not dare ask students the question, “Have you lost your minds?” because they are likely to respond, “Why, yes we have!” with a nod and a bemused smile. SERIOUSLY! Each class has it’s own rhythm.  Mine starts the week with a roar, mellows by mid-week, and starts to rev-up again as the week winds down. My co-worker’s class is somnolent on Mondays. I will just share a couple things I’m doing now to make it all better.

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Common Core: David Coleman is no Doug Lemov…


This week, my student teacher and I were discussing questioning techniques during reading of texts to guide student learning, and boy this was timely with some recent discussions about Common Core ELA.

Thanks to Tom Hoffman, I’m learning more about Common Core standards than my district is sharing with me (even though a chunk of our districts $81M budget for consultants is for common core implementation). He has a recent post that refers to  a number of  posts from educators who seem to know what the heck they are talking about discussing a recent piece from David Coleman (Mr. Common Core ELA) on close reading. Basically, his take is that you are not supposed to provide students with pre-reading lessons when embarking on having students read a text. Instead, students should get meaning from multiple reads of the texts. Here is a video where he explains what students should be able to discern from the text.

Some folks are noting how this is in opposition to Doug Lemov’s  approach.  I have to say though, it’s not just opposition that I’m seeing, but Coleman and Lemov seem to have completely different goals. Coleman has an end game that he wants teachers to get to and that is his sole focus. Since he’s never taught a classroom, and has NO discernible background working with elementary students–where goals for discernment are limited by student cognitive development. He also spends NO time explaining how to get from A ->B for teachers who he and Common Core are going to have to rely on to carry out their ambitious agenda. Mary Ann Reilly’s critique of Mr. Coleman is a lengthy but thoughtful indictment, which boils down to the fact that children and students have NO place in his lesson representation. My own take is that he talks throughout about what ideas kids who are good readers will be able to pick up as he reads through the text, but he offers no insights in how they would get to that point, beyond reading it over and over again.

I’ve had my criticisms of Lemov, around cold-call and no-opt out, but there are many techniques in his book that I’ve used, both before and after reading it. But, Lemov does give specific techniques in Teach Like a Champion (see Chapter 10 for preread and reading comprehension). And although the videos that come with the book do not have one specific to the comprehension techniques in Chapter 10, all of them have teachers working with students demonstrating them.

I’m not going to even delve into how many of the techniques described in this post are contradicted by studies and best practices, most especially this is anathema to good teaching techniques with ELs. I’m beginning to appreciate that this will be a huge issue trying to merge Common Core into our state’s ELD standards, if not downright impossible. Since that is +40% of our students, that’s a not insignificant problem.

What I found most useful was Grant Wiggins piece. What he found to like about what Common Core is after was something that was NOT obvious from Mr. Coleman’s video, or the other posts. Apparently, they (Common Core) would like to have reading comprehension driven by questioning strategies. Mr. Wiggins notes that this is nothing new, and talks about this strategy from Essential Schools (and other earlier practioners of Socratic Method). What he points out is that it’s easy to talk about doing this, but translating it to practices is much harder.

We know from first-hand experience in doing model classes that when you have 7 different grade levels of reading ability in a class and a great deal of pent-up student boredom and intellectual laziness that this vital approach won’t work quickly; you can’t just plunk Socratic Seminar into conventional classrooms without hardship (hence, firm leadership). On the other hand, when my colleague Denise did a mock Seminar with 9th graders in a poor Louisiansa HS, the immediate reaction of kids was – this was way more interesting than typical class. And the Principal blurted out something that was unfortunate but revealing – wow! I had no ideas our kids could think like this!

That’s the point of academic leadership and professional development: we know it is the right thing to do, so let’s plan backward from it as a result, starting now, working to make the most seamless and happy transition possible.

I agree with one of the commenters who noted that we as teachers have always been balancing the need to do pre-reading with students with the need to NOT spoon-feed them. I also appreciate that Wiggins understands this is not an easy technique to learn, but it is one that I would like to improve on in my practice. This is not because Common Core, or David Coleman tell me to, even if they won’t tell me how in the heck to do it, but because it’s a good practice.



Behind the curtain at Diane Ravitch in Sacramento


Set up

This post is more a personal behind the scenes reflection of Diane Ravitch’s recent speaking engagement in my town. For a more comprehensive look at that event, look here. I’ll be adding more posts at http://sacteachers.org/ over the next few days.

Part of mi vida loca lately has been taking over social media duties for my union local. Complicating my union work further, we are having our contract “opened” on wages and benefits, and there were threats to bring TFA to our district (now quashed, thankfully). Just to make life exciting, I’m doing this while teaching  full-time, and I also suffered through stomach flu, and one of the worst sinus allergy attacks of my life since coming back from Winter Break.

The capstone to the last few weeks, heck to the last month or two, was a visit from education historian and commentator Diane Ravitch,  in an event to which SCTA (my union local) was the main sponsor and organizer. Needless to say, when you are having the Queen of Education Twitterers visiting , you want a robust social media presence. I was happy to supply that ;-). What did I do? I put up Facebook and Twitter notices of the event, and got others (Larry Ferlazzo, other locals, etc.) do share and re-Tweet. For the event, I tweeted, perhaps excessively at points (blame it on the coca-cola I was drinking to get through a long night) during the actual event. I made some videos, and took some pictures. I even had an “intern” (a high school volunteer) who helped with coverage. Did it turn out perfect? No, but I got some great stuff, and some good responses. Could I have done more–maybe a live stream? Sure, but we managed (thank you intern JivAn Feliciano) to get some great audio of Diane Ravitch. The pictures, because of the dim lighting, were less than optimal, but others with better cameras were there, and I’m going to try to collect shots from them over the next few days.

Lessons learned? In the immortal words of Wes Fryer, it’s better to bring your own bandwidth. I’m now packing a 4G (LTE) hotspot on my new Moto Droid Bionic. That kept me online, and helped David Cohen earlier in the day, and Larry Ferlazzo at the event. Oh, and the reporter from the Stockton Record would have been “dead in the water” filing his story without “borrowing” from me. Having electrical will also help make you friends. Because I was with the folks putting the event on, I had the set up crew rig me up a cord, and a table, and brought my trusty 8 foot power strip. This helped the Stockton Record reporter, and the video crew from PBS who filming the event. That’s how you make friends! My take away, I think during live events, I need to edit my tweeting a bit more, and not flood the stream with every comment the speaker makes, but you as readers will have the final word on that.

Classroom Reflections on Week 4


My classroom is still a work in work in progress, but many of my practices have started to “gel” and routines are taking shape. I also have some tech stuff to share, but much of the progress will not be visible as it happened offline. This week saw the addition of a lab to science, art in social science, and more structured writing.

Social Science is a trying subject, and the one most students list as their least favorite. First, I went old school and opted to read the lesson aloud myself. This had the advantage because I could convey my interest in the subject through tone and inflection, and I could add interesting tidbits and examples. The students were more engaged. I also had them do an art project, creating a buffalo hide painting (that I got at a Thinkfinity training with Gail Delser), which was a way Native Americans of the Plains kept their history and stories. As a result, their writing on the subject was better in terms of content, and quality.

Language Arts involved doing more explicit writing instruction, and having students write paragraphs with topic and concluding sentences. We’re using WriteTools which is influenced by Douglas Reeves work. The plus is that it provides explicit ways to teach students writing mechanics. The downside is that it can result in formulaic writing. I was fortunate that the story, a selection called “The Marble Champ” from Gary Soto’s Baseball in April, really connected with the kids. In addition, the writing topic was about family support which students enjoyed.

The science text seems to know that it is, desperately, competing for time in the curriculum. This means that it is much thinner than the other textbooks, and has lots of the lessons chunked into bite-sized pieces. They even have the text and workbook compressed together in what they call an interactive textbook. It’s a shorter version of the text, with lots of visuals. Also, they are providing a couple potential lab activities for each lesson. We were studying air currents/wind, and did a lab using lamps. I had a bunch of clamp lamps I bought for video lighting at one point. They were supposed to hold a paper spiral over the lamp, and see what happens. It is supposed to create an upward movement of air causing the spirals to spin but it didn’t. That was fine because it shows that just because it didn’t turn out doesn’t disprove, we just haven’t proved it. Many noted the effect of air conditioning coming on during the process.

On the technology front, I’m adding more content to the class blog, http://sacschoolblogs.org/msmercer2012/. I’m putting up homework forms at the top right, and I let parents know about this. I’ve also added the digital content we are creating a little farther down. I’ve put the video on YouTube, and did get our class channel unblocked by the district, but kids were still have trouble accessing it all at once when we had the mobile Mac lab, so I’ve loaded the MP4 on the blog as well. We did our first class report about what we’re doing. It’s rough, and I edited it together, but I’ll have the kids take over, and we’ll have a more polished product with intro music, etc.
Photo Credit: Number 4 by Francesco ML, on Flickr

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