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 (  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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"The Magic Seed" -- Book-writing and Storytelling with Ms.D's 2nd grade students

Welcome back!

As our Rooftop Garden flourishes and more and more students learn about plant life in their science classes, I jumped at the chance to promote the naturalistic intelligence and model a fantastic assignment Ms. D's 2nd grade students were working on: create a book from scratch - all the characters, plot, and drawings! Below is the book I created for these wonderful students! Enjoy!

Note: I underlined all the story's vocabulary words and then asked a few leveled questions, such as a)What is a miracle? Why might the children at the hospital see the events on the last page as a miracle? b) Why did Bobby and Jane select that specific mud puddle for their seed? c) Where might you have planted your magic seed?  d) What are some words you could use to describe Bobby and Jane?  How are they similar and different from their peers? and on and on....
Miss D's fantastic students

Big thanks to Miss D and her students for being a great audience and providing even greater answers, opinions, and ideas!

My best,

Mr. Razem 

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 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,