Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Debate, Rooftop Garden, and A Behrman Hero

Welcome back!

The Behrman Charter Debate team has been on a war path this spring as a participate in the Crescent City Middle School Debate League. As you can see, we have been taking home some big prizes, both as a team and individually.

In the last 3 months, we have researched, collaborated, rehearsed, and successfully debated the following issues/propositions:

-Mardi Gras is bad for New Orleans.
-Civil disobedience in a democracy is morally justified.
-Middle School students should be allowed to wear headphones at school during non-instructional time.
-Physical education should be required for middle school students.
-The United States should ban the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO's) in food.
-Social Media should be abolished for children under 16 y/o. 
-Homework should be banned.
-Community service should be required for graduation from high school.

In fact, the three students on the left (above) placed 2nd (Kiya), 1st (Aalyah), and 4th (Terrence) out of over 100 students this past Saturday at Tulane University. The other two gentlemen (Jeremiah and Rejon) won the team work award as they were asked to fill in for other teams who did not have enough members to participate.  Behrman Charter is all about collaboration, and we were happy to share our research and debate skills with students from other New Orleans middle schools.

The Rooftop Garden is exploding! We RED tomatoes, budding broccoli and cauliflower, and our peppers are starting to change colors!  A picture is worth a MILLION words, and those smiles (above) are proof that Behrman is ripe with naturalistic learners.

Note: Take a look at the tiny holes in the broccoli leaf (top right above) -- those are the work of a mild caterpillar infestation.  No worries! Everything is a lesson in the Rooftop Garden; we discussed the life cycle of these caterpillars in first grade and then used their presence to provide real-world evidence for our debate team (5th-8th grade) when we researched GMOs in food (see proposition list above)!

Last by not least, this morning I helped Aalyah accept an "Inspirational Hero" award from Cox Communications.  If I can say one thing about Aalyah, it is that students like her don't come around often, and yes, she is the same Aalyah pictured above (1st overall!). Here is the blurb read as she accepted her award:


More soon!

My best,

Mr. Razem 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

PARCC Breakdowns, Higher-Level Thinking, and Arts Integration Galore!

Welcome back!

We are deep in PARCC-prep here at Behrman Charter, and as one of the instructional coaches, one of my duties is to produce, analyze, synthesize, reproduce, simplify, and present everything I can get my hands on concerning PARCC and Common Core in order to install confidence in our teachers and students.  We are less than 1 month away from Phase I and I've given a handful of PLC (Professional Learning Community) professional development sessions on PARCC.  Besides understanding and applying new rubrics and writing tasks (for ELA and math...yes, LOTS of writing in math!), some of my presentations require magnifying PARCC's smallest details and reporting out on subjects like "multiple selective" strategies and partial credit grading.  Here are a few slides about these subjects:

Darwin would appreciate the evolution of the PARCC's multiple selective-style questions, steadily changing (and growing my rigorous) as the student enters new grades. 
Partial Credit has always been a slippery slope; since the PARCC requires so much explanation (on both ELA and math), students and teachers can utilize their knowledge of the rubric to maximize students' performances. 
I always like to end sessions about assessment with "Big Ups" to teachers in the pre-testing grades who are taking the challenges of Common Core seriously as they prepare more rigorous lessons for their students.  At our school, the kindergarten - 2nd grade teachers are really pushing the boundaries of a growing mind....and as you can see, arts integration and STEM-style tasks and questions push these students to reach new achievements:
Finally, here are some tweets about the great things happening at Behrman Charter:

5th Grade

Chess Club:

1st Grade:

Our school's rooftop garden:

Following our "dreams":

Much more soon!

My best,


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Harvest from Round #1 of our Rooftop Gardening Club!

Welcome back!

Pictures are worth a thousand words, so here you go! Thanks again to DonorsChoose.org for all your (financial) support!

1st graders looking at different-sized carrots

Principal Carter
Mr. Razem and the harvesters!
Snap Pea Blossom

Taste Test!

My best,

Mr. Razem

P.s. Our Creole Tomatoes are in the ground! Coming Spring 2015!


Thursday, January 22, 2015

ExihbitBe in Algiers

Welcome back!

Community Outreach Alert: 
Recently, some of our best and brightest seventh and eighth grade students took a trip to see ExhibitBe, an art experience unlike any other. Called “the largest street art exhibit in the American South,” ExhibitBe is a collaborative graffiti exhibit which occupies an abandoned, five-story apartment complex. Filled with murals, art installations, and pictures of such famous faces as Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr., ExhibitBe was an impressive, inspiring experience for our students. Take a look at some of the best pictures from the field trip! BIG UPS to my colleague, Mr. Moore, for the great community scouting!

Justin, an amazingly creative 7th grader, was my tour companion.  He even discovered his uncle was pictured among the art (last picture)!  Please click the link above to read more about this fantastic collection of creativity.

Mr. Razem and Justin

Justin and his uncle

My best,

Mr. Razem

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Starship Salvation -- Introduction to Dystopian Literature

Welcome back!

Here is a brief outline of a wonderful supplemental unit I used to introduce dystopian literature.  Please excuse my lack of explanation in this specific blog post --- please contact me via email if you desire more info and I will surely provide it for you!

Before Christmas break, I met with my 7th grade students to discuss a very serious subject --- the end of the world...

Please read:

Here are the candidates:

As interesting as this assignment is for both students and adults (I modeled it with the entire Behrman faculty during one of our Professional Learning Community meetings), the main objective of this supplemental unit was to introduce a new strategy for small group discussions.  See below:

The students were to use these signals while discussing...

So much more can be said about this unit - again, please contact me if interested in implementing in YOUR classroom - but I think one quote from a student post-discussion sums it all up quite nicely: "After this (discussion), I realized I NEED to become a doctor, lawyer, architect, or at least learn how to grow some veggies!" College and Career-focused, indeed!

My best,


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Paper Pulp Paintings in 7th grade Math Class

Welcome back!

I try to wear many hats at Behrman Charter. In fact, one of the best aspects of my role as an Instructional Coach is the freedom I have to dually-act an "Arts Integration" Coach. I'm paired with quite a few math teachers this school year, so I am happy to bring the arts into these teachers' classrooms due to the largely shared, incorrect view that "math" and "the arts" are on the opposite sides of the lesson-planning spectrum (more and more evidence is appearing that proves the arts is not only beneficial but a critical ingredient for the math classroom). 
Over the summer, our school faculty attended the Louisiana A+ Summer Institute to polish our A.I. skills and learn new and exciting ways to bring creativity into our classrooms. One session that impressed me was one introducing "Paper Pulp Paintings."  I've noticed my students gravitation to hands-on learning models in the past and thought this would be a great way for them to express their understanding of a mathematical skill - in this case, scale and proportion - while creating something artistically tangible and challenging.  Here is how we did it....

First, I collected as much colored construction paper as possible; even paper "scrapes" are useful.  This makes the paper thrown in the recycle bin truly recyclable. Then, I sliced them up in to small squares and let them soak in water overnight in small Ziplock bags.  I wanted the paper to get as mushy as possible before the next (fun!) step.      
The next morning, I took a standard blender and placed the contents of a single bag in the pitcher with 3-4 extra cups of water....then pressed "Puree."        

Watch the "pulping" action with this short video:


The result: A mushy, colored "pulp" that won't stain your fingers or clothes.

Next, the math.  The students were giving a 1/2 sheet of cardstock (you want a solid base; regular copy paper will eventually disintegrate during our next steps) and ask them to create some strategic boxes dividing their area into proportional sections (see example below).  I provided two models for students, the first being this simple design involving 4 dots, a circle with a heart inside of it, and a triangle (I later stressed the importance of choosing a similar "simple" design since this was their first PPP).  As you can see in this model, the first 1/3 of the paper (green box) housed the entire design, then the second third (blue box) contained a "zoomed-in" slice of the original design.  Finally the final third contained the design of smallest section (red box) of the original design.

Here is another model I created to emphasize this concept.

Of course, during this process, the amazing 7th grade math teacher, Mrs. Middlebrooks, filled in the mathematical principles for the lesson, discussing the correlation of these images with fraction and scale drawing questions found on the PARCC exam.  Finally, after all the students finished their designs and correct "zooms," we got to work. Every student received 2-3 paper pulp colors and a sponge, which they forcefully press down on the pulp, soaking up the moisture and essentially gluing it to the cardstock.  The students then squeeze out the water from the sponge into a cup so they can continue arranging the pulp in accordance to their original designs.

The final result looks something like this:

7th grader students Coran and Andrelle completed their PPPs on the first day and showed them off for some LAA+ visitors:

If you are interested in my information about the Paper Pulp Paintings, please don't hesitate to contact me via e-mail (Philip.razem@theacsa.org).  I want to give a HUGE shout-out to Janet Wolfe and Becky Roy for introducing this project to me for our students!

My best,

Mr. Razem