Sunday, March 19, 2017

Using Jacob's Ladder with Song Lyrics

By Todd Nasife

As a music major, I try to incorporate various aspects of music into the class. One idea I had from a PD session at school was creating our own Jacob’s Ladder to song lyrics.

I started using the ladders this year with song lyrics as a way to help students with theme. Determining the theme of a story, poem, song, etc. is a concept that students struggle with when studying larger novels, short stories, and especially poetry.  I thought  with a shorter 3 or 4 minute song it might make it easier before moving on to harder text.

The biggest problem I had with this was that my taste in music is usually different than my 10 year old students. So far this year, I have only used songs that I selected, but I might open this up next year to having students choose some songs and develop ladders around them.

This idea first came to me last year when we did The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. The story is set in a middle school in Long Island during the 1967-68  school year. Topics such as the Cold War and the Vietnam War come up throughout the story and I was looking for ways to teach about these topics and show the emotional impact they had then and now. I was a big Billy Joel fan growing up (still am) and was in high school when his Storm Front album was released. The song Leningrad immediately came to mind and I played it for the class and we discussed the lyrics.  This year I decided to create a ladder based on the lyrics. The other song I played at the end of the novel was Goodnight, Saigon.  I was a little hesitant about this because of some of the lyrics (Playboy and hash pipe), but this really did not come up at all in our discussion. I made a ladder for this to go along with the novel and give us more focus in our discussion.

The Storm Front ladder is something I use as a way to introduce the music and lyrics of Billy Joel to the class.  I also use it as a way to discuss theme. I remember when I first heard this song I took it in the literal sense and thought it was strange that he would be writing about going out fishing.  It wasn’t until I heard an interview when he explained the metaphor behind it. The urge to shrug off stability and ride off into a storm despite the dangers. I realize my students might not get this concept, but at least it gets them thinking on a higher level.

Todd Nasife is a 5th grade teacher at Barringer Academic Center in Charlotte, NC. This is his second year at this school and his eighth in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District. Along with his work in Charlotte, he also has international experience working as a 6th grade teacher in Astana, Kazakhstan and an English teacher in Taiwan. He loves the elementary classroom and the variety of subjects. Along with the standard curriculum, he enjoys working with all things technology and integrating it in the classroom. @MrNasife

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Passionate about EdCamps: My Experience at EdCamp Foothills

By Dr. Nancy Betler
It is EdCamp season in North Carolina and on Saturday September 10, 2016, I attended EdCamp Foothills (@EdcampFoothills) in beautiful Valdese, North Carolina.  Valedese is approximately two hours from Charlotte and is located near the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina.

EdCamps are an amazing trend in professional development where the participants guide the training.  As it says on the EdCamp Foothills website, “The learning at EdCamps is driven by the PEOPLE who choose to get up early on a Saturday and come out to learn.”  The participants not only choose the sessions that will be offered that day but also decide which of those sessions best meet their individual professional needs.

So on that beautiful morning my friend Peggy (@Peggyhrs3) and I got up super early and headed to EdCamp.  When we arrived we were greeted by the friendly EdCamp planners.  They were just as excited as we were and were even more excited when they found out we had come all the way from Charlotte.  We were happy to be there.  It was especially nice to enjoy a fantastic breakfast that had been sponsored by Squirrels (@Squirrels) after the long drive.

There were many take aways that day but the first thing that I personally took away from this experience was not only as an educator but as a co-organizer of EdCamp Queen City (@EdCampQC) was using Dot Storming ( to choose sessions.  The organizers had us login to their account and decide on the sessions for the day.  Dot Storming (@dotstorming) was not a format that I have used before.  Not only will we be trying it out at EdCamp Queen City, but this is a great tool to use with students in the classroom, also.

Peggy and I were eager to get started.  We started our day learning about how to better connect Makerspaces, Literacy and STEAM.  There are natural opportunities to connect these areas, and the participants had ideas to share.  The teachers in this group talked about available resources as well as ways to better incorporate new ideas into their MakerSpace.  One resource, Reflector (@ReflectorApp), was shared as an excellent way to share resources with your students.  This is a resource that I have used in the past during math instruction but loved the natural way it connected to MakerSpace.  This was a chance for me to take something I was already familiar with and use it in a new way.  Teachers in this group shared Twitter names and e-mail addresses in the hopes of continuing collaboration after the event.

The second session that we attended was about using Breakout EDU (@BreakoutEDU) with students.  This was something that I had been curious about for a while so I was excited when I saw this session as an option.  It had looked interesting, but I needed to see it in action to actually wrap my mind around it.  As I listened to different people share their experiences in regards to using Breakout EDU, I became smitten.  This was a way to engage my gifted students in higher level thinking and problem solving.  It is also great because you don’t have to buy the kit (although I plan to as soon as possible) to use this idea.  I felt like this was something that I had needed to see in action before using it in order to make it concrete, and EdCamp Foothills gave me that opportunity.  It left me empowered to confidently use it with my students.

Our third session choice was on using Canvas (@nccanvas) with your students.  It ended up being a discussion geared towards the district needs so Peggy and I used the “rule of two feet” and decided to collaborate with the individuals that had gathered in the Media Center.  We both enjoyed this time to talk with other teachers, grow our Professional Learning Community and see what they felt was and was not working in their classrooms.

At the end of the day we had the chance to win wonderful door prizes from some of the sponsors of EdCamp Foothills.  It is fantastic that so many different education companies understand the value of EdCamps.  Unfortunately I didn’t win but maybe next time.

As Peggy and I drove back to Charlotte we discussed our day and the overall benefits of EdCamps.  We both had the opportunity to learn with fellow educators on our own terms.  EdCamps are definitely “created by educators for educators” and that is what I think makes the difference in their success.  The people who run them are passionate about them as well as the people who attend.  This passion is what makes us all come back.

Dr. Nancy Betler is a Talent Development Teacher at Eastover Elementary and primarily works with gifted and high-ability students in grades K-5.  As a National Board Certified Teacher, she fully embraces life-long learning and has recently earned her doctorate degree.  Nancy is also heavily involved with the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators (NCAEE) and serves as a Board Member. She looks forward to connecting with you on Twitter @nbetler and being a part of your PLN!