Todd LaVogue: Microsoft Innovative Educator
Flocabulary helped save my life.
Let me explain.
When I was young, I thought I would be a pretty good teacher. However, it wasn’t until I had turned 42 years old, and spent 19 years in another career, that I actually mustered the courage to become a teacher.
I was hired at an inner-city, Title 1 middle school. Title 1 means a vast majority of my students face socio-economic disadvantages not seen in most schools. Some of my students would be homeless and others would be aspiring gang members.
So, how was a 42-year-old, first year teacher going to succeed at a school where I do not look like, and wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to relate to, 96% of my students?
I quickly discovered my students loved movies, music and rhymes. I purchased the following supplies from Flocabulary to help me draw out that passion and enthusiasm from my students:
- Hip Hop US History and Word Up: Level Blue for my eighth grade social studies class
- Hip Hop History of the World (Part 1) and Word Up: Level Green for my sixth grade social studies classes
After the introduction of Flocabulary in my classroom, student engagement increased and classroom management issues decreased. The loud sounds coming from my classroom were no longer students yelling at each other but students singing, rapping and creating content-related digital media that we began sharing with other classes and schools.
I had to somehow make Mesopotamia interesting to students who had far more basic and urgent worries such as food and shelter.
My students proved to be incredibly talented and eager learners. It may have been the first time someone was teaching my students in a way they wanted to learn. We studied the Fertile Crescent and created a music video and put it on YouTube. You can view it and see for yourself:
Flocabulary helped me make ancient Mesopotamia interesting to my students.
Then came our unit on Egypt:
Even better than the videos, my student’s vocabulary was improving through the use of the Word Up books. I complete a new chapter in the Word Up books for each unit of study in my history class. I make sure I model these new vocabulary terms frequently during our history lessons.
Everything became a rhyme. During our exams, I could see lips moving all around the room as students silently mouthed the words to our Flocabulary-inspired songs that helped them prepare for the exams.
We also use the “Week in Rap” provided by Flocabulary to discuss current events. It is definitely different than network national nightly news shows. The important point is that the “Week in Rap” has my students telling me what they saw or read about Egypt or Syria. They couldn’t find either country on a map when they entered my classroom but can now locate both and discuss their respective revolutions.
Flocabulary.com also provides continuous new content my students ask about weekly. When time permits, we have even viewed other subject area material simply to introduce new learning opportunities.
Our videos began drawing the attention of our school district. Over 200,000 students and 12,000 teachers are in our district, and people were talking about student-created content in a first year teacher’s classroom.
In my third year of teaching, at 45 years old, I was named the Most Innovative Educator in my school district. That same year, Microsoft named me one of the 15 Most Innovative Educators in the America at the Partners in Learning United States Forum in Seattle, Washington.
In my fourth year of teaching I placed third in the world in the Educator’s Choice category at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in Prague, Czech Republic. Approximately 260,000 educators applied worldwide. Five hundred educators from 92 countries were selected to attend. But it was the guy, armed with his student-created Flocabulary rap videos and television shows, teaching at a school most teachers would shy away from, that was called to the stage in the Spanish Hall at Prague Castle.
See for yourself at the 5:40 and 5:47 marks:
I am teaching eighth grade science this school year, my fifth year in education. I can guarantee Flocabulary will be an integral part of my teacher toolbox. At this point, word has gotten out, and my new students will be expecting it.
Perhaps stating Flocabulary saved my life was a bit of a stretch, but spending approximately $80 to jump start my second life seems like a bargain. Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” It took 42 years, but I finally figured out the “why” and I can thank Flocabulary for assisting me in my transition.
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