How to make RSA style videos with your class — part 2

A few years ago I published a post on “How to make RSA style videos with your class” and it was a monster of a post.  It wasn’t until I shared the process with other teachers at conferences that I realized what a big process it was.  If a teacher was new to doing projecty techy things it was a project that seemed simply just too big to try–I could see it in their eyes :)

This year with our new curriculum we are told what our “performance tasks” will be so I could not pull off doing RSA style videos with the kids like we have in the past…but I decided to go ahead and do them anyway–shhhhh.  Since I would have to squeeze them in I decided to approach it like a teacher who might find the regular RSA style videos daunting, and as a teacher who has little or no technology available in class, and like a teacher like me this year that simply had no extra time.

I would recommend looking back at my first post if you don’t know what an RSA style video is.

If I can summarize RSA style videos in school friendly words, it would be “the visualization of an essay.”  It is great at any point in a unit, or to use to introduce a unit.  It is a MUST MUST MUST that you do one with or before the kids.  Not just because you will be able to better coach them through the process, but because you will learn what a valuable learning experience it is.  You will realize that it is more than just drawing pictures to match words.  In my grad class I have the students make them (please check them out here, you might find something to use in your class).  As one student said something along the lines of, “I found my writing improving because as I was drawing the pictures I was going back to make the writing flow more smoothly, and  each time I attempted it I went back to make my writing more precise and clear.  Drawing the pictures made me really consider what was most important and having to explain them to an audience made me develop a better understanding of what my main point was.”

The videos that we made were a part of a unit on South America, and the Amazon rainforest.  We did a classic sort of “What should be done?” to the Amazon from a few different perspectives and then the kids gave their answer at the end.  We watched a few different videos and used only a couple text sources.

Just to touch on the content a bit….we watched this, then this, and finally this.  I spent a lot of time previewing videos and have to say that I think I nailed the order they were shown :)  I think too often videos are shown in class just because they are “on the topic” and with no real thought given to anything other than just show it to deliver content.  In short, the first video made kids fall in love with the Amazon, the second video made kids realize that there are more than animals trying to live in the Amazon, and the third simply put a human face to the struggle.  The first we watched straight through over a few days, the second we watched one of three edited versions I made, and the third we only watch about 30 minute.  At 30 minutes they “got-it,” were asking questions, wanted to know more, and any more of that video would have bored them :)  With all the videos we stopped them a lot to talk about what was happening, and all kids have the power to stop the videos at any time.

Throughout the videos and text I decided to experiment and the kids were not allowed to take notes.  All they were able to do was to write down questions, doodle, and draw pictures.  Each video and text I tried something a little different.  For example after one reading the kids had to summarize each paragraph in a doodle and write the domain specific vocab words in a circle around their images.  While it might not look like much to you, each picture was worth a 1,000 words to the artist.


I found that they wanted to talk a lot more about each text and movie doing it this way.  When we shared pictures they were more likely to want to explain to the class why they doodled what they did.  When we watched the movie there was drawing involved, but also they were only able to write questions, not classic “notes.”  What this lead to each day is a natural class discussion and kids wanting to know more about the content rather than just reporting back facts about the movie.  Unfortunately I just can’t locate the images of the other ways we took “notes” with drawings and questions!  The results were shocking though.  For years I have included drawing and doodling in units, but never to this extent.  The kids never complained about “taking notes” and at the end of class or the beginning of the next they were more than happy to share what they had, and each conversation we had as a class covered and had them recalling the content that I would have included in a classic “watch the movie and answer the questions.”  Problem with that method is that kids game the process and only watch for the answers on the paper and ignore everything else!

The power of drawing and doodling is a great summer research project :)  After doing this I stumbled onto an article about doodling in schools and I never realized that it was something that many have researched and it is a “proven” method of note taking.

At the end of the videos and text the kids all had to do the classic school essay on what they would do to the Amazon as dictated by our school system, and then they formed groups to make the RSA style videos.

They first got together to finalize their claim (yes, we no longer call it a thesis) for the group armed with their essays which lead to some neat conversations.  Everyone did not have to necessarily agree, because if there was one kid who disagreed with everyone their view could simply be brought into the video as an alternative perspective.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Then they started writing their script, first on regular paper with images doodled under their writing.

RSA style videos 2015

Great discussions ensued on how to best visualize what they had written, and you have to remember that if I told them to discuss the content I would have gotten very schooly sort of responses and enthusiasm.  When they were discussing the drawings they naturally had to discuss the content and the larger points they wanted to make.

RSA style videos 2015

One group has someone out sick but they were still excited enough by what we were doing to find a way to come to class :)

RSA style videos 2015

The kids had to take their doodles under the written words and do them “big” on paper first before they filmed.  Absolutely necessary step, and this is not the “dress rehearsal.”

RSA style videos 2015

It really forces them to see the “whole story” and see how one image flows from one to another.  By doing it on paper they also have a record of the entire thing so when they are done and they want to talk about a certain problem it wasn’t erased as it would have been on a whiteboard.

RSA style videos 2015

The kids have the option of doing it on a whiteboard or big chart paper.  We have a big whiteboard in class, and I have smaller whiteboards.  You can buy a 4’x8′ shower board for around $12 and have them cut in half twice and you get four 2’x4′ whiteboards. I just went to look for a link to one and see that even home depot is calling it “marker board.”

I left out something key…these were supposed to be RSA-lite style videos right?  The videos the kids were going to take of themselves drawing were going to have zero editing.  Zilch.  That means that narration gets put in while filming, and that the film would not get speed up like in real RSA videos so all drawing would have to be done at the speed of narration.  This meant that the kids had to choreograph their hands and markers to match the speed of the narration.

RSA videos

No music would get added, and the kids would film and then upload to out youtube channel directly from their phone, no transferring of files to me.  This was made possible by the fact that we have enough kids in each class this year who have smartphones.

We had one day of dress rehearsal, and then one day to film.  A reminder sheet given to them on the day we filmed.

We have become very creative in how we support the phones.

Notice below the paper folded up and placed at the edge of the desk, that allows the phone to not record the legs of the desk.  A stapler is on the other end and then it is all strapped down with tape.


This was a great $10 investment.  A cellphone holder than mounts on any tripod.

RSA style videos 2015

Not everyone wanted to be on the floor.

RSA videos

There was some great use of duct tape.

RSA videos

Some kids did get fancy with lighting–notice their drawings hanging from the desk used to guide them.

RSA style videos 2015

And this group had their script with images right above their whitreboard

RSA videos

And of course there was the classic phone in book on chair method.

RSA videos

When the kids were done filming they did just upload their files to YouTube and we were done–it was that easy.  Some kids had to upload to google drive first, download on another computer, and then upload.

Finished products were not fancy :) but they worked.  As you watch these you have to remember that I am happy with these for the 7th grade kids that I have.  Results will vary based on your demographics, and what the final video looks like is not the most important thing.

You can do this with chart paper, big construction paper, crayons, regular markers, etc.  You can even do one video for the class and just give each kid a different part and film it all at once with one single camera.

RSA style videos 2015

With RSA-lite videos the final product is not fancy, but the learning is.

RSA style videos….more than just a school projects :)

Story behind video above is here…great to share with class to give an example about how RSA style videos are not just “silly” class projects, some people have made them a career!

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Dear Ms. Roache,

A note I just wrote to my daughter’s math teacher…

Hi Theresa,

Just a quick email to say thank you for being such a positive influence in Annie’s life this year.  I suppose all teachers to some degree know that their words and actions have the ability to make a difference in kids live’s, but sometimes I think they forget how kids absorb and carry them and make them a part of who they are and who they will be.  Teachers leave little pieces of themselves in each kid who use those pieces to build what they will become & what they believe is possible.

This year I have seen Annie re-build herself as a student and change what she believes she is capable of doing.  Thank you for giving her a little piece of yourself this year.  We slowly watched her transform at home from doing math HW in a pool of tears in September to total independence by June.  But most of all, the biggest impact you had was to very slowly chip away at her fear.  She brought years of school math baggage to you and it was slowly unpacked.

Students will always be who you are, and never who you want them to be.  An important piece of who Annie will be was forged in your class this year, and it is not because of some carefully planned school curriculum or technology, but simply because of who you are and what will be left with her long after she forgets how to divide mixed fractions of negative numbers :)



“If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”

There is no protection under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech for a teacher while on duty for advocating opting out of standardized testing for students.

That is how the letter from our state union started, and I suppose I should not have been shocked by it.  I know that I accepted a contract with my school system, and my school system whole-heartedly supports lots of testing.

Similarly, there is little, if any, constitutional protections for a teacher advocating opting out while off duty.

That is how the letter continued, and I was shocked by that…but I should not have been.  It’s fair for McDonalds to fire a manager who on her day off attends rallies supporting the end of fast food, and wears a “Stop McDonalds” t-shirt to the beach.  I get that.  I do.  I will put away my “Stop Common Core T-Shirt,”  take down the sign up by the road, and I suppose next year when we opt our child out of testing only my wife will sign the letter.

Since administration of the tests is a part of the teacher’s job duties, a teacher’s encouragement of opting out would be viewed by the district as being disruptive of its obligation under state law and district policy.

There are teachers who support opting out of all the standardized tests, in some schools there are many.  I can assure you that for at least around her in CT, there is NO disruption in testing whatsoever that I experienced in the testing schedule that lasted for 26 days.  There was a disruption of class time, schedules, lunches, being able to sign-out for the library, and no ability to sign out any computers, but that is just part of the price we pay for being given the opportunity to collect data on our kids on a test which will be used to determine….I am not sure what exactly it will determine…hmmm…I know that 60-70% of CT students will fail it.  CT has already set the cut-scores before my kids took it.  I guess when the results come back we will see how valuable they are.  I guess when I get my kids scores I can send them with a messenger to the high school since that’s where my kids will be when I find out what they scored.  I won’t be able to tell the high school teachers what they need to work on because the questions are secret.

A school district’s interest in its efficient administration of education can outweigh its public employee’s right to speak on issues of public concern.

I understand that as well.  If the test were not administered efficiently they might take 36 days to finish it, or we might have to delay the start each day until all of the opt out kids leave the class.  Parents and students might also begin to question other things that we do.  That would mean extra meetings, and of course lead to possibly trying something new, which of course would lead to years of committee meetings.

Prohibited actions which could give rise to discipline and possible termination include but are not limited to the following actions: conversations with parents encouraging opting out, posting on school sponsored websites, posting on private websites, or handing out flyers.

I guess I will have to go through my common core posts, I will make sure I do not leave comments on other sites that question school policies, and if a parent asks me about the test and opting out, I will simply answer with the response that sbac script told me to use with kids, “I can’t help you, try to do the best you can.”

Given that opting out is an act of principled civil disobedience rather than an exercise of a legal right, it is better to have the CEA, with its collective force of 43,000 members, take a unified stance…

Is better to wait for the CEA to take a stance?  The same union that supported the governor that said that “only thing you have to do is show up for four years…” in order to get tenure.

It is scary because it is not just about opting out.  What about at department meetings?  If I disagree with something there should I stay silent?

I know if someone working in the “business world” reads this they would probably be thinking it is silly to complain because anyone working for a business is supposed to support the company’s bottom line.  I guess I thought teaching was different.  I guess I thought I was supposed to speak up to protect the kids and not stay silent to allow for the efficient administration of education.

Maybe someone does not have a First Amendment right to speak up, but would someone be protected under Whistleblower Laws??

As set forth in General Statutes § 4-61dd, any person having knowledge of corruption, unethical practices, violation of state laws or regulations, mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or danger to the public safety occurring in any state department or agency or in any quasi-public agency may disclose such matter to the state Auditors of Public Accounts.

 **special note: the letter from the union was posted on a Facebook page and all quotes come directly from it.  I can’t share the link to it since I do not want to appear to be supporting the site it was posted on ;)

What’s his problem?

Because blogging is cheaper than therapy…I just need to clear my head of something…

He doesn’t do his homework.

She just sits and does nothing.

He doesn’t ask any questions.

She doesn’t pay attention.

He was offered extra help and did not come back.

She was given a study sheet didn’t use it.

He just doesn’t care.

She should just get an F and learn her lesson.

What’s his problem?

What’s her problem?

I have sat through hundreds of meetings as a middle school teacher in which the above lines have been spoken.  We spend countless hours trying to get kids to conform to what we want them to do.  If kids do not do what we want them to do, then they have a problem.

“Schools that are set up to be boring do damage to kids.”

I wish just once at a meeting the tables were turned and the kid took over, looked at the teacher and administration, and asked, “What’s your problem?”

I have never met a kid who walked into school hoping the day will suck and hoping they will fail.  I have never met a kid that hoped to live a mediocre life.   I have never met a kid that when given an opportunity to do something exciting doesn;t want to do it.  I have met kids who after spending years protecting themselves in a system that targets them as the problem might not jump immediately at the chance to do something exciting.  The protective wall the psyche takes years to build does not crumble in a day, and sometimes it takes years to undo what school has done to kids.

It is getting more frustrating as we now are two years into our “common core” aligned curriculum that is centered around collecting data so that we can identify which kids have problems.  Gone are the days when I could sit with a kid and say, “What I am doing is not working for you. Let’s figure something out that will.” I find myself more and more trying to figure out ways to get kids to do certain things a certain way that I know will be weighed on some assessment.  It’s now less about getting kids to do incredible that they previously thought was impossible, and more about getting them to do what someone way outside my classroom thinks is possible that can easily be scored a 1, 2 , 3, or a 4 on a rubric.

I have my end-of-the-year evaluation in about a month.  If my kids do not get those 4s, then someone across the table will look at the data and ask me a single question…

“What’s your problem?”

My fear is that someday after I retire I will meet a student and they will ask me, “What was your problem?”  And I will utter that line that so many before have tried to use to feel better about what they have done.  “I was just following orders…I had to cover the curriculum at all expenses regardless of the collateral damage.”

I think after recently finding out that I can retire in five years, I am having a bit of an identity crisis.  A couple years ago I could have retired knowing that I make a difference.

Now, I am not so sure what my legacy will be…

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Tell me a story…

I have to give credit to a twitter convo between @wmchamberlain, @spencerideas, and @shareski for being the spark for this post.

twitter convo

Have we forgotten how to hold kid’s interest without tricks?

I heard a storyteller once tell a tale that I have not forgotten.

I can remember that she walked to the front of the room and sat criss-cross on a desk.  She said, “I am going to tell you a story that is almost an hour long. ”  She paused for the very subtle but noticeable groans.  She then said, “Most of you will be turned off after the first line when you find out it is about baseball.  But is about more than baseball, and it is a story that will make you lose track of time.”

She proceeded to tell the story, and 60 minutes later she finished.  It could have been 6 minutes, maybe it was more than 60, I don’t know because I lost track of time and never even looked at my watch even once.

After she was finished, a student asked a simple question.  “What is the moral of that story?” Her answer burned into my brain.  “The moral is is not up to me to determine, it is up to your heart to determine. Great storytellers never tell the audience what to think.”

That hit me hard.  I was five years into teaching.  I was hitting that phase where essential questions drove my teaching.  Objectives were clearly written on the board.  I had 25 kids walking out of class all being able to re-state what they were “supposed to” have learned that day.  Every unit drove home a powerful point.  I even designed each unit to have a moral.

“Great storytellers never tell the audience what to think.”

I still remember that line, that story, that classroom, where I was sitting, how I felt when she said that line, and how it impacted my teaching the very next day.

I listened to that story 20 years ago.  The storyteller’s name was Carol Birch.  You leave a little piece of yourself with everyone you meet.  That day Carol left a piece of herself with me that I used as a cornerstone to re-build myself as a teacher.  I learned the importance of story.

When I look back at the people that each left a block with me that I used to build my teaching career, they each have one thing in common–they told great stories.  They were not professors and teachers who supported Project Based Learning , active learning, or used programs or techniques like Class Dojo :)

They were people who changed my life with stories.

I wonder if teachers have forgotten how to tell a story? Have we forgotten how to hold kid’s interest without “tricks?”

Could you walk in tomorrow, sit on a desk in the middle of the room, and with just your voice, could you grab kids hearts for 5 minutes? 10? 20?

I challenge you to try it.

Grab and hold kids’ attention without any tricks.  Without any technology.  Without any images or video.  Let a great story be the center of your class one day.

Tomorrow don’t just focus on content.  Use that content to tell a story that has heart. Remember kids do not want to be taught, they want to be moved.

And this is where I should probably end…but I feel the need to add one more thing.  Kids do want to be moved, but they also want to have the power to move others.  Make sure you give them the chance to tell stories in class.  And I challenge you again…let them do it without any tricks :)



Test scores optional

My oldest daughter is starting to visit colleges and has created her short list.  In an era which ed-reformers’ influence is pushing schools to emphasize test scores as a way to find out if kids are college ready, I find it ironic that not a single school on her list requires test scores.  We just visited Clark University and during the opening remarks they had a slide with several items they consider in the admissions process.  Test scores was at the bottom, and the admissions official stated that if you don’t test well don’t even bother sending them.  She is looking at little schools like Bennington College and bigger schools like Eastern Connecticut State University.  Each one, same thing, test scores optional.

We spent another staff meeting this week getting “trained” to deliver the sbac tests.  No cell phones, all paper in room is a secure testing item that cannot be allowed out, touch your computer every 15 minutes so the test does not time out otherwise the kids will have to retake it the next day–we were not given instructions on how to spy on kids social media accounts during the testing…I guess that is above my pay grade. The testing will go in school for five weeks.  All computers will be used so the project we had in which we were going to create web pages for our unit on the Amazon has been canceled.  Canceled, even though I have sat through numerous college presentations that have all reinforced that the skills the kids would be learning from such a project would be more important than their test scores.  I can guarantee that the kids will learn nothing positive during their many hours of being measured.  I was taught early in college that the best assessments were the ones in which new learning occurred, not ones which required simple regurgitation.   For five weeks our school will be regurgitating.  Nothing new will be learned while going to the pre-test rally, sitting in rows waiting to be tested, testing in silence, or sitting in rows in silence waiting for the test to end.

Nothing will be learned from a test in which Connecticut has already determined before the kids have taken it how many will fail.  A test in which already the state has decided that up to 90% of special education kids will fail.  A test whose results are already pre-determined by a kid’s zip code.  A test that will determine which 5% of schools can be taken over by the state and given to corporations to run.  A result which then creates a new bottom 5% the following year to be taken over, taken over by the same groups that pushed the test into school in the first place.  The test that was supposed to determine if kids were college ready.  The test that is supposed to help kids achieve that great American dream.  Aptly called a dream, because the only people that believe submitting my kids to all of this testing will help them fulfill their dreams are clearly still sleeping.



“How do you engage students?”

Picture by Pablo Bogusho

Often in the presence of teachers the following question comes up…

”How do you engage students?”

I received that question again this week.

“How do you engage students?

I always have an answer, but it usually focuses on what kind of activities to do.  I try to share those “can’t miss” activities and the philosophy behind them.  This time I started thinking about why someone would ask that question.  What is the personal baggage behind the question?  Why isn’t doing certain things with kids obvious?  I thought back to the most fantasticly engaging activity I ever did.  I immediately shared it with another teacher who watched it fail miserably in their class.  I did the same activity the following year with mixed results. So it can’t be about the activity, the lesson plan, or the integration of technology.  What was different between the year I did it and it was incredible, the teacher who did it and had it fail, and the year I did it with mixed results?

I started jotting down some random thoughts while waiting for my daughter yesterday…and here they are :)

I think there is a dark side to the question “How do you engage your kids?”  The question is not about class activities, or what rubric or technology to use.  It is not about being student directed or how to implement Project Based Learning.  The real problem behind the question is hard for teachers to admit, so it comes out as “How do I engage my students?”

The real question is “Who are my students?”

I am finding more and more that teachers that engage kids know who their kids are.  They know where they went over the weekend, they know that their baby brother kept them up all night, they know what makes them laugh, and they know when they are afraid.  They know when they need a high-five,  they know when they need to back-off, and they know that sometimes kids get mad and snap at them but it’s ok, because teachers  sometimes snap too.

Teachers who engage their students know that they don’t like sitting in rows for 7 hours a day.

They know that the kids don’t want to hear you talk for more than a few minutes.

They know when they are bored.

They know that they should not be the one asking all of the questions.

They know that the kids don’t like to make things that are just going to be thrown out.

They know that kids are not motivated by grades to do things they previously thought were impossible.

They know that kids do like to take risks.  They just don’t like it when their risks are compared and judged by grades and others.

They know that they do want choices, but too many choices sometimes overwhelm them.

They know that they want to self-direct their learning, but they want to know someone will hold their hand when they take the first step on their own, and be there when they fall.

They know that kids want you to think that they are pretty cool, even when they are the biggest thorn in your side.

They want you to know that your class is not the most important think in their life.  It is their new puppy, the cute boy that they stare at during lunch, the bully that pushes them in the hallway, the news of their parents’ divorce, and sometimes, maybe just once-a-week if you are lucky, it is indigenous people who are living in the Amazon.

And teachers that engage kids know that kids do not want to be taught, they want to be moved.

How do you engage your kids?  Get to know them.  It is not up for YOU to engage THEM. You cannot make your kids drink your cool-aid.  It is up to you to provide the salt to make them thirsty.

How do you engage your kids?  Let them get to know themselves.  They have been probably spent years being told what to do, when to do it, what is acceptable, and what to do when something comes back unacceptable.  They don’t know who they are!  In a conversation with my kids after our first project that became crystal clear.  Every class brought up the fact that they have been powerless in their education.  They have been treated like students who need to be given everything, instead of learners who are capable of making decisions and taking responsibility for themselves.

How do you engage your kids?  1. Stop trying.  2. Sit and talk with them.  3. Make them a part of the learning process.  Let them figure out what the next engaging thing is that you will do.  4. Be who you want them to be, and stop telling them who you want them to be.  Learn alongside them.  Stop teaching and be the lead learner.  5. Repeat over and over again until you get the results you want because if you are asking the question and try this, the results the first time will probably look and feel like a terrible messy failure.  If it is not messy, then you need to repeat the process because you somehow got in the way again.  Expect chaos, orchestrate it, put parameters on it, put them in a box and make them kick their way out.  It is a giant misconception that kids need “out-of-the-box” thinking.  During their lives they will constantly be put into a box and need to figure their way out.  No one gets a job and is told do whatever you want.  People get a job and are told “solve this.”  Putting kids in a box increases their creativity and power–especially when you lead them to build it themselves.

How do you engage your kids?

Stop teaching.

Kids do not want to be taught, they want to be moved.

And you can only move them when you are connected to them.  Learn with them and eventually follow their lead.  Focus on making yourself useless.

How do you engage kids?

Be authentic.

Be vulnerable.

Be connected.



Imaginary Friends…

Just sent this home to parents:

Every morning when your kids walk in there is a whiteboard with some life changing information on it, some kids claim it is filled with witty nonsense, and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  Of course today is April Fools Day.  We had the obligatory loose change superglued to the floor, and also a great message on the board.  I stuck a video camera in the background and here is the result J

 I was going to edit it down but the kids that were around me during the editing process thought it was better if they could watch the entire thing…so it is a bit long…but here is another glimpse into our mornings.


Opting out…

Each year I have been asking my daughter if she would like to opt out of the standardized tests we take in CT each spring.  Each year she has said no and given some pretty good age appropriate responses.  This year I did not ask.  I did not want her to feel pressured, I wanted the decision to be hers.

This year she asked us…and the letter is in the mail.

March 8, 2015

Dr. Richard Dellinger, Principal
Amity Middle School, Bethany
190 Luke Hill Road
Bethany, CT  06524

Dear Dr. Dellinger,

We are writing to inform you that Annie Bogush is not to take any tests produced by or related to the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition (SBAC).

We request that the school district provide my child with an appropriate alternative setting during any Common Core SBAC testing periods or activities.  If an alternative setting is not available then Annie will read during the test which is a provision for students who have finished the test.

If there are any questions, the best way to contact us would be by email:

Thank you,

Aimee and Paul Bogush