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Snakes Are Born This Way: Illuminating Standards Video Series

Second grade students in Boston, MA created a professional-quality music video as a culmination of an interdisciplinary study of snakes. Their song, based on Lady Gaga’s hit “Born This Way,” was written by students, and the video became a viral phenomenon. This film features the video and gives the backstory of the video through an interview with the teacher. It focuses on two themes: how students overcome their fears, and how standards can be joined to discovery, joy, and beautiful work. Illuminates CCSS ELA standards W.2.7, W.2.1, W.2.2, W.2.3, W.2.5, W.2.8, W.2.6, (All of CCSS for Writing for second grade).

The Illuminating Standards Project 

In the last two decades of the ‘standards movement’ in American public education, many educators have concluded that ‘teaching to the standards’ and project-based learning are incompatible. Ron Berger (EL Education) and Steve Seidel (Harvard Graduate School of Education), co-directors of The Illuminating Standards Project, wondered if this conclusion was true. Indeed, they speculated that long-term, interdisciplinary, arts-infused, community-connected projects may well be one of the best ways to actually see what state standards look like when fully realized in the things students make in school—to make the standards visible.
Three questions frame the work of The Illuminating Standards Project:
~ What does it look like when state standards are met with integrity, depth, and imagination?
~ How can we use standards to open up and enrich curriculum, rather than narrow and constrain it?
~ How can we use student work to raise the level of our understanding of standards and our dialogue about them?

The Videos
Collaborating with Berger and Seidel on The Illuminating Standards Project, over 30 students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have explored these questions by choosing projects from the Student Work Archive in the Center for Student Work and considering the ways in which those projects did—and didn’t—meet specific state standards. Further, they examined how the student work illuminated the standards—and vice versa. Many of those students created short films and 13 of those films are presented here.
We invite you to watch these films and we encourage you to use them as the catalyst for discussions with your colleagues about the relationship between your commitment to meet demanding state standards and approaches to designing powerful learning experiences for our students.


- It doesn’t matter if you’re scare of them or not, just open up your heart ‘cause snakes were just born this way.

- [Announcer] In 2012 the second grade class at the Expeditionary Learning School Conservatory Lab Charter embarked on a learning expedition. ♪ Our teachers told us in second grade ♪ ♪ We’d be herpetologists. ♪

- I went to my head of school and said I want to make a music video but I want to make a real high quality music video. I think a lot of courage is needed when approaching the common core but I think it should be seen as this positive challenge that you rise to rather than something that holds you down. So I think of the common core standards as how can I get my students to be even better than I thought they could be before. And then how can I get the students to realize that they could do that. ♪ Don’t judge snakes by their looks. ♪ ♪ You can’t change who they are snakes are born this way. ♪ ♪ Did you know that without snakes ♪ ♪ Mice would eat up all the grains? ♪ ♪ There would be no food for cows. ♪

- [Announcer] Through hands-on research with snakes, support from professional herpetologists, and in-depth research using nonfiction resources the students learned about snakes. After the students completed their research the class worked with a professional songwriter and musician to write, perform, record, and produce Snakes Are Born This Way. Throughout this shared research and writing project students were able to state an opinion and supply reasons that support that opinion, use facts and definitions to develop points, recount well-elaborated events, strengthen their writing through revising and editing, gather information from provided sources to answer a question, and use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish their writing. Through this project, the students met all of the second grade common core state standards for writing with depth, imagination, and courage.

- I think I needed courage at like that moment because I had a solo, I guess you could call it, and I was afraid after hearing it I was afraid people were gonna like make fun of me but when people laughed I just like laughed with them. So I didn’t really care because I tried my best.

- I made the courage to make my snake because I didn’t think I could do until I’ve done it and it looked the same as the picture.

- Even though there is such a push for rigor and grit and meeting these standards I don’t think it’s possible to meet the common core standards without the character building component. And when you realize you cannot meet those standards unless you focus on character it makes meeting the common core standards so much easier because it is not possible to meet those standards unless your students have courage. ♪ No, snakes can be just like us ♪ ♪ Some can give birth to their young ♪ ♪ Once they find their mate then their cycle’s begun ♪ ♪ When they are looking for mates ♪ ♪ These snakes have special traits ♪ ♪ Males do a combat dance to stand a chance ♪ ♪ No need to be scared of snakes ♪ ♪ They’re not all the same ♪ ♪ You can’t change who they are ♪ ♪ Snakes are born this way ♪ ♪ They are a part of this world ♪ ♪ Don’t judge snakes by their looks ♪ ♪ You can’t change who they are ♪ ♪ Snakes are born this way ♪ ♪ They are born this way ♪ ♪ They are born this way ♪ ♪ You can’t change who they are ♪ ♪ Snakes are born this way ♪ ♪ They are born this way ♪ ♪ They are born this way ♪ ♪ You can’t change who they are ♪ ♪ Snakes are born this way ♪

- That was great.

- [Student] That was actually great.

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