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BrainPOP Guest Blogger: Todd LaVogue’s Award Winning Project

Posted by cemignano on

Our new guest blogger is Roosevelt Middle School educator Todd LaVogue, who recently received the first-place Educators Choice Award for his project “What’s Up Egypt?” during Microsoft’s Partners in Learning U.S. Forum. LaVogue is one of 16 U.S. educators who will attend the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in Prague, Czech Republic, in November. 

My name is Todd LaVogue. For the past three years I taught sixth and eighth grade history at Roosevelt Middle School in West Palm Beach, Florida.

I enter each unit of study with the idea of taking something the students know and enjoy and combining it with the material mandated by the state that should be taught during the unit. My students, in turn, create television shows, plays, public service announcements and music videos within our unit of study.

In one of our more recent projects, my students researched and created an ancient Egypt Today show-style news program with news, weather, sports, cooking, lifestyle, historical and music segments. For example, the weather segment discussed the annual flooding of the Nile and how that was essential to life in ancient Egypt through the depositing of silt on the banks, fertilizing crops.

We accomplished this by infusing technology into the curriculum. Using a flip video camera, a digital camera, video editing software and tools like Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer and Windows Live Movie Maker my students were able to compare and contrast ancient Egypt with today’s society very well. We also incorporate BrainPOP into our lessons with another innovative use of technology. I created an interactive whiteboard, using a Nintendo Wii remote, an infrared pen and some software for $115. This substitutes for a $3000 whiteboard and does almost as much. Students love to watch BrainPOP episodes and participate in the quizzes using our innovative whiteboard. In the end, they had a better understanding of what it would have been like to have lived during that time.

Some of my students are homeless, others are gang members. Over 80% of my students qualify for free and/or reduced lunch. A vast majority of my students have more important issues to worry about than what took place in Egypt 4,000 years ago. A vast majority do not enter my classroom with enough prior knowledge to scaffold learning. It is important I engage students in a way that involves and inspires them in the learning process. Innovative uses of technology, combined with what they know and like have been my hook to involvement and inspiration. My students are engaged in learning. When this happens, classroom management takes care of itself.

Once you complete a couple of these projects, it gets easier as well. Students enter my class knowing what is going to happen because someone they know has taken my class. Once students see examples of completed student projects, it’s easier to get them focused on their own.

My students also publish books on our content. An example would be a book about the jobs people had in ancient Mesopotamia. The book was titled, My Sumer Job.  The concept was created when a couple students asked what the Sumerians did for a living. We have published 11 books in the past three years. All are available in our media center for other students to checkout.

Find out what your students enjoy and figure out how those interests can be incorporated into your lessons. Students at my school also enjoy being celebrities. When their work gets exposure outside the classroom, students seem to relish those moments. I contacted a local cultural council who arranged a public screening of one of our television shows during an evening event on the waterfront. The students loved that strangers were sitting and watching their production in a public setting.

I left the Microsoft Partners in Learning US Forum a much better educator. It was the best professional development I have ever received. I look forward to representing the United States at Global Education Forum in Prague, Czech Republic. I am anxious to learn from teachers around the world.

Todd LaVogue
Magnet Coordinator
Roosevelt Middle
Member Team USA Microsoft Global Forum