Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Behrman Debate Team WINS!

Welcome back! 

Martin Behrman Charter School's debate team went undefeated (4-0!) to take 1st place at this year's first debate competition at Lusher Charter School this past Saturday.  There were over 15 middle schools represented in this competition! 

Our team defeated the following teams/schools:
Lusher Charter, KIPP Believe, Sophie B. Wright, and John Dibert Community School

debating the following propositions:
-On balance, Common Core is bad for Louisiana. (research topic)
-Uniforms should be required for all middle school students. (improv. topic)
-College athletes should be paid. (research topic)
-Student bystanders should be punished for failing to stop or report bullying. (improv. topic)
Our debaters on Saturday were: 

Aalyah B. - Top 10 finish
Kiya W.  - Top 20 finish
Terrence L. - first ever debate competition(!) 
Zyria T. - Behrman's official scribe/note-taker 

We want to give additional thanks to all our past and present debaters who helped us prepare, the entire Behrman faculty who assisted us by observing our team debate the Common Core proposition during a Wednesday PLC session (pictured), and all the parents who came to the competition on Saturday to watch us exercise our critical-thinking skills.

Follow the #nolamiddleschooldebate hashtag on Twitter for more great pictures from Saturday. 

My best,

Mr. Raze


Friday, October 3, 2014

Behrman Charter School's Rooftop Gardening Club (Stage 1)

Welcome back!

One of the biggest projects I started this school year is the Behrman Charter Rooftop Garden.  So much has been written about the benefits of exposing children to gardening - specifically,  vegetable gardening, which leads into conversations about healthy eating, as well -  so I thought it was about time for Behrman Charter to add this experience to the countless other valuable opportunities available for students' development.   It all started with a DonorsChoose.org grant for three raised planters.  Behrman Charter's school building, built over 80 years ago, has a unique balcony area that was rarely used in the last decade, so I thought, "Hey! Let's beautify this!" Two weeks later, thanks to many generous donations, three planters arrived at our school's front door:

Students help assemble the planters


Ready for seeds!

Then, a little research needed to be done concerning what types of vegetables will grow in New Orleans in fall/winter.  The students and I decided on the following: snap peas, radishes, beets, carrots, lettuce, kale, spinach, and onions.  To stir up the excitement for the garden (for both students and their teachers!) I visited a half-dozen classrooms to talk about gardening and show the students the specific seeds for each vegetable. We compared the size, shape, color, etc. of the different seeds and reviewed the the 5 things these seeds need to grow: soil, air, sunlight, water,...and LOVE"Will you help me love these plants so they can grow up big and strong?!" "YES!"

Seeds for snap peas, radishes, beets, carrots, lettuce, kale, spinach, and onions.  

Talking to a 1st grade class


Some of my advanced kindergarteners took a special liking to this presentation so we incorporated some visual art, predicting what these seeds would look like when they reach maturity:

For some of my middle school students, we got a little deeper by analyzing the back of the seed packets. We talked about seed placement, germination, and (relevant to the "Informational Resources" section of Louisiana's state test) sought out facts from the map below.

As you can see below, this space can even serve for some engaging conversations among our debate team members:

9 days later, radishes started poking through the soil, with the snap peas a close second!

Much more coming on the Rooftop Garden's happenings, but for now, patience and LOVE!

My best,


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Math and Arts Integration - Model Lesson for 6th/7th grade

Welcome back!

For the past four years, I've bombarded this blog with arts integration in an ELA classroom.  I think most teachers would agree that art and ELA (or Science/Social Studies) have some obvious, common threads that facilitate teachers' arts integration/subject planning, but then there is mathematics.To quote one of the math teachers at my school, "Most math teachers are very logical thinkers, and even though there is some creativity needed to solve some math concepts, the first question we ask ourselves when planning isn't 'How do we use art to teach this?'"  So, I decided to assist the math teachers at our school in this process by modeling a math arts integration lesson using an altered A.I. lesson I facilitated as an ELA teacher.

First, the objectives:

Fractions (and equally, decimals) were the math skills both the 6th and 7th grade students needed to master in order to move on the more complicated algebraic equations in 8th grade and beyond.  Since I gravitate to the visual arts due to my training last year as a KIDsmART Teacher-Leader, I decided to focus this lesson on the art elements of color and value.  As we can see, the students' goal was to convert teacher-created math and color formulas for a 500-pixel rectangle in order to create a camouflage "pattern" for a student-selected landscape.

I introduced some relevant vocabulary, asked some color and value guided questions, and modeled two different ways for students to convert the fractions into the number of pixels (boxes) they will need to fill in for each designated color.  The students got to work in small groups, calculating the number of boxes for each color.

The results were fantastic! The students, carefully randomizing their colors within the 500-pixel box, created mathematically accurate camouflages for their selected landscape.

Winter Wonderland

A Walk in the Woods
Finally, the math teachers and I selected a few exemplary examples and created a poster so all the teachers and students at Martin Behrman Charter School can see how math and the arts are connected! BIG UPS to Mr. Paulin and Mrs. Middlebrooks for their cooperation!

My best,


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Great Tweets about @behrmancharter from @philiprazem

Welcome back!

I have A LOT of great projects brewing with fellow teachers at Behrman, and I am just about ready to spotlight them for you, loyal blog readers, but for now, I want to share with you some of my recent tweets.  I LOVE documenting the great lessons and student work at Behrman Charter, and I think all teachers should be exploring Twitter as a way to expand their creativity and pedagogical skills.  Many of the amazing lessons I plan for teachers and students originate from simple tweets, and if collaboration is essential to "grow" teachers, then Twitter is like a glass of milk and a multivitamin! It won't give you all the answers, but it sure gives you a boost! Check it out!

A LOT more info coming in relation to the next tweet:

Thanks for visiting and come back soon for more great teaching and learning!

@philiprazem -- Follow Me!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"The Story of Jane and Bobby" (Wednesday PD @ Behrman Charter)

Welcome back!

ACSA, Behrman's charter operator, has designed this school year with "1/2-day Wednesdays" so teachers can focus on professional learning communities and multidisciplinary collaboration.  Yesterday was the first of these sessions and I was asked to present a lesson for a small group of teachers on a relevant topic of my choosing.  A large portion of our school's conversations about how to increase "rigor" in the classroom returns to the need for our teachers and students to ask and answer higher-level questions (Level 3 and 4 Questions on the Depth of Knowledge wheel). Since I absolutely love the study and application of critical-thinking lessons (going back to my critical thinking skills-focused lessons as a Peace Corps Volunteer in China), I decided to present "The Story of Jane and Bobby" (learned from the USPCV staff in China) with a Behrman/arts-integration twist.
I entitled the presentation "Extracting Culture and Student-generated Questions through Visual Storytelling." This lesson could easily be adapted for a late-elementary through high school classroom, but yesterday, it was just for teachers.  Since I blog with the  "eloquence in brevity" motto, on this, I will just give you some highlights, but please e-mail me @ philiprazem@gmail.com if you would like to fill in the missing pieces:

I started with a series of quotes and asked the teachers to identify one or two that resonated with them.  Think, Pair, Share.
Then, I told a story orally and visually (this is the part with MANY important details that I will not mention here, but again, reach out to me if you are interested). In a nutshell, the story involves 4 characters interacting in compromising situations that deal with love, money, opportunism, and sacrifice. I interrupted my story 3 times to have my audience ask clarifying questions (crucial!) and make decisions based on the details I provided and their prior, personal experiences and beliefs.  

Then the teachers were asked to rank the characters in the story from the most virtuous to the least virtuous based on the characters' decisions and possible motivations.  As you can see from the picture above, teachers had a wide range of verdicts (tally marks).

After discussing our unique supporting evidence for our answers and framing the lesson by returning to the quotations' relevance to each character, I presented some student examples of my use of visual storytelling from last year (using our reading of "The Lady, or the Tiger?") and picked the teachers brains for additional story elements that might satisfy subject-specific questioning (e.g. How could I incorporate more science-specific questions into this story?).

These are fantastic examples:

All in all, the teachers exercised their phenomenal debate skills by not only generating clarifying questions for me in order to make the best decisions but also questioned each other (just as we must train students to generate relevant questions/criticism for each other in the classroom). As a Louisiana A+ school with partnerships with KIDsmART and Young Audiences, the incorporation of art  - in this case, visual interpretations of characters and their scenarios - allows students to see the story, and with me telling it orally, they advance their skills in the art of note taking.  Lastly, since this specific session was designed for my fellow colleagues, we were able to interact and collectively deconstruct a problem all while taking stock in others' opinions and beliefs to propose a proper, agreeable solution - an task we must fulfill by designing creative lessons for/with our students in the 21st century classroom.  I firmly believe the purpose of professional development for teachers is not simply to highlight material applicable for students, but to exercise the actual minds of teachers (or, "lesson architects") in creative and critical ways so they themselves can be prepared to challenge students with rigorous questions and tasks.  Yesterday, we dug deep, and I believe this lesson will be an inspiring model for teachers to create equally challenging lessons (with deep, lingering questions) no matter the grade or subject area. 

My best,

Mr. Razem

Friday, August 22, 2014

How is our school like...a banana!? Model Lesson

Welcome back:

The building that houses Behrman Charter School is approximately 83 years old. In New Orleans, we are one of the oldest still-in-use school buildings.  All around the city, new, shiny school buildings are popping up, slick with modern, Eco-friendly designs. Yet, these new buildings lack the few characteristics that make Behrman special.  We have a huge auditorium (not a "cafetorium," but an actual auditorium and a cafeteria) and a gym, albeit old and smelly, exclusively for our student-athletes.  We find pride in making the most out of the classrooms with termite damage, windows that don't open, and leaky plumbing and air-conditioning systems. Behrman Charter's building has a deep, historic personality, and I've always been curious in its changes throughout the decades.  So curious that I decided to use our school's exterior physical changes as inspiration for a model lesson for our school's first and second grade students.

We started with a banana. What?! Yes! "What color is this banana?" I asked the class.  "Yellow!" they yelled! "Yellow, yes, but is it only yellow? What other colors do you see? Why is this banana a different color than that banana?"
After we established an understanding about changing bananas through strategic, student-centered questioning (What are some other things that change?  How are you different today than you were yesterday? Last week? Last year? Gimme specifics!), we put their visual and communication skills to the test by selecting 10 student volunteers. I created 8 banana peel "stages" using crayons and construction paper (see below) ranging from dark green to black with brown spots.  I also included a picture of a tree with green bananas with the number "1" and another picture with tiny black dots labeled "seeds" with the number "10". 

I shuffled the papers and gave each student-volunteer a random banana peel stage. "Talk to each other.  I want you to put yourself in the right place so the rest of the class can see the color change from '1' to '10.' You will need to use your eyes, your voices, your feet, and your knowledge about changing bananas! GO!"

 After the students started moving, the class gave the 10 students their thumbs-up or thumbs-down if they thought they were correct or incorrect.  Finally, the class found success! Round of applause!

But now the tricky part: "Class, now we are going to try something a little bit different, but you need to keep what you learned about changing bananas in your brains, because we are coming back to it at the very end! Do you understand?" "YES!" "Okay, cool, now take a look at this picture!"
"What is this? Is a new or old picture? How can you tell it's old? Now take a look at this picture!" 
 "What is this? Is a new or old picture? How can you tell it's new?  How are these pictures the same?  How are they different?"
Students came up the the board and circled the similarities in red and the differences in green.  I told them the first picture was from 1948 and the second, 2014, last week. We talked about trees, cars, lampposts, sidewalks, and windows. Then, the big question:

"How is our school building, Behrman Charter, 
like a banana?"

Students' minds began churning.  One student said the shape of our building is curved like a banana, much to my delight because I had never thought about this answer, prompting me to pull up the GoogleMaps image after class:
But then the intended discovery was made; things change, they grow, they deteriorate, they grow new parts when the old parts die, the world around them changes, but a banana is a banana regardless of what it looks like, and our school is our school, no matter if Obama is president...or Harry S. Truman!  The funniest answer, however, was a student's response that Behrman's building used to be a delicious green/yellow banana, but now, its a stinky, old brown banana (see picture below).  After noticing that the windows in the 1948 photo are the SAME WINDOWS my students struggle to open in 2014, I couldn't help by think, "That's the greatest answer I've ever heard." But after talking about the characteristics of the old and new photographs, this flip-flop of past and the present in comparison to old and new bananas is quite remarkable for a 2nd grader!
This lesson was geared towards the 1st and 2nd graders at Behrman Charter, but this could easily be advanced for older children; one idea I hope to experiment with is providing the students with a skeleton of the school's exterior and asking them to create what they think the school will look like in the NEXT 50 years:

They will need to think about futuristic cars, street lighting, new or existing trees, and the building's overall architecture.  Creation, after weighing all the ins and outs, is the name of the game.

BIG-UPS to Ms. Dorr and Ms. Laurent for allowing me to model this lesson for them and their fabulous students!

My best,

Mr. Razem