Nonprofit Organization Launches Scholarships For Young, Queer Black Men Attending HBCUs


Morehouse College freshman Jauan Durbin may not have been able to pursue his degree if not for the mentorship he received from Black, Gifted and Whole, a nonprofit organization that dedicates itself to the empowerment of young, queer black men.

Its most recent extension of this initiative is the launch of the Ambassador Program, which awards partial scholarships to black queer men attending historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs. Last September, Durbin became the program’s first scholarship recipient. But he won’t be its last.

BGW co-founders Guy Anthony and George Johnson told The Huffington Post that while Durbin was their inspiration for the program, they also recognized that young, black queer men attending HBCUs don’t receive much support on campus. Each school year, the program will award up to five scholarships.

“Being gay is not considered much of a ‘norm,’ especially on HBCU campuses,” Johnson said.

According to a report by the University of Pennsylvania,only 21 of the 105 HBCUs in the U.S. have LGBTQ organizations.

“Dealing with living as an openly gay person, in addition to problems we deal with in the black church around homophobia and masculinity issues can create an environment that isn’t very conducive to learning, growth and nurturing for these men,” Johnson continued.

Students with the Ambassador Program will receive support and mentorship from BGW throughout their college experience. Johnson and Anthony raise money for the scholarships through GoFundMe campaigns, private donors, galas and grant submissions.

“Our goal is to ensure that these young men know that they don’t have to live their lives in pieces and can truly embody the essence of what it means to be black, gifted and whole,” Johnson said.

Durbin himself dealt with homophobia in school. As the first male cheerleader at School Without Walls in Washington, D.C., he was bullied by his peers. When he applied to Morehouse, he was initially denied because of a low GPA. But with the help of Johnson and Anthony, he successfully appealed and was accepted into the college.

In a statement sent to HuffPost, Durbin said that since attending Morehouse, he has worked to make his HBCU campus more inclusive of the LGBTQ community. He was even elected a freshman class senator in his first semester. In this position, he began an effort to make the school’s constitution more inclusive by advocating for the implementation of non-binary pronouns.

“I am blossoming into the black queer man that I was destined to be at the institution that I was destined to help change,” Durbin said.

Some helpful tips on creating an appropriate musical library for your child


A Library of Variety
Whether they’re singing along with Curious George’s theme song or asking you to turn up a popular song on the car radio, children love music. But what kind of music should kids listen to at a young age? Here are some helpful tips on creating an appropriate musical library for your child.

Not Just for Listening
Before you pick the songs, keep in mind that your child benefits from doing more than just listening. To get the full benefits of music, children need to sing, clap and dance along with the tunes. Singing and moving to music tells the brain to make meaning of it, a cognitive process called audiation, explains Lili Levinowitz, cofounder of Music Together and professor of music education at Rowan University of New Jersey.

Audiation in music is like thinking in language. We learn by practicing it, making sounds and essentially training our brains. The brain can only develop its musical comprehension if we tell it to through voicing and dancing, not through simply listening. “We’re isolating ourselves with the earbud,” she says. “My research shows that 50 percent of children enter kindergarten without knowing the difference between singing and speaking.”

As you start to build your child’s music library, focus on interaction with the music that’ll help train your child’s musical ear. Peggy Durbin, a music educator at Kindermusik in Columbia, Md., suggests using bought or homemade instruments to play along. Help your child make music, not just listen to it.

The best musical library for your child includes a wide variety—a mixture of genres you like and music they like. Levinowitz compares music you play to the foods you serve: you don’t want your child eating only mac and cheese, or similarly, listening to the same CD all the time. “Create an ear food buffet,” she says. Your musical menu should consist of songs from your culture and those around the world, as well as music that you love.

“In addition to playing multiple genres of music, parents should play music that they enjoy,” says Eric Rasmussen, chair of early childhood music at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. “I emphasize classical and jazz especially (that’s my taste), but there is no bad type of music. It’s harder to find appropriate music in some styles than others.”

In order to challenge your child musically, aim for a variety of rhythms and tonalities, or songs that are in different keys. “Play adult quality music,” adds Rasmussen. “It is also best to play music that does not have strident tone quality, that is, music that changes its sound frequently. Orchestral music is best for this. By contrast, most thrash metal bands usually don’t have much contrast from one song to the next, let alone within a song.”

Variety exposes children to more styles, but more important, musical variety may help them learn better. “Children learn through the juxtaposition of difference,” Levinowitz says. “They should be singing those songs in unusual tonalities. Other beneficial actions include singing along or chanting to songs that are in asymmetric meters and not necessarily inherent in the culture.”

Start with the Familiar
When determining how to introduce your child to music, consider the songs you sang growing up and start there. Durbin suggests starting with nursery rhymes put to music before gradually moving into folk songs and classical numbers as the children reach preschool age.

When in doubt, consult the experts. The National Association for Music Education (NAfME, formerly MENC) created a list of 42 songs every American should be able to sing in hopes of uniting more people and communities through song (see below). The list was created in 1995 and has since been expanded; it is a great starting point for a family musical library.

“For ages two to nine, most of these songs are sophisticated,” says Elizabeth Lasko, assistant executive director of NAfME. “Little kids can sing ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad’ with ease, but they may have more trouble singing ‘Blue Skies’ by Irving Berlin. The list imitates book form, making it a resource for kids to start with and potentially master by the time they are teenagers.” Parents can also learn these songs with their children, making it a bonding activity to do together.
Rasmussen has a list of songs (see below), some of which are also on the NAFME list, that he uses to teach young children melody and harmony.

As you expand your child’s library, consider adding classical music—especially if the piece tells a story or teaches them about instrumentation. You can try Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens or Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev, both of which use instruments to represent different animals and characters. The children can learn about specific instruments while learning a story. “A programmed classical piece is going to help children feel comfortable with classical music and get the story at the same time,” Durbin says.

Rasmussen suggests avoiding very long orchestral music, and instead listening to short pieces about four to five minutes in length. He also says that string quartets or other pieces that rely on only one class of instruments are not the best for young children because they may not demand as much of the child’s attention.

“Any music that has strident timbre (or tonal color) will not distract children to listen to it as much as music that shifts in tonal color more frequently,” he says. “String quartets are wonderful, but it is all strings and doesn’t distract a child’s listening as much as an orchestra that has more variety of instruments. The same would go for brass or woodwind groups.”

What Should Be Off Limits?
While many music educators believe there is no such thing as too much music, it’s up to you to decide what, when and how your child will listen to it. Some music educators caution against purchasing mainly “children’s music,” which may be more about the lyrics than the tune, and instead aim for child-friendly music.

“Kids’ CDs that are geared toward children are not necessarily very healthy music for children to be listening to,” Rasmussen says. “They are often poorly produced, sung by children singing as if they are adults, and in major keys only,” he says. Follow this rule: If you think it’s bad, it probably is.
“Music with inappropriate lyrical content should be avoided,” Rasmussen says. “There is no bad style, it’s just harder to find hip hop that is high musical quality and also has appropriate lyrics.”

Parental Guidance Suggested
Although your child may be an expert with your iPod, you may want to be nearby to guide him. “Until you think your child can make good selections, I would recommend supervising what they are listening to,” Durbin says. Sit with your child at the computer and go through iTunes or Pandora to find new songs to add to your developing collection. “As children get older, encourage them to be more independent with their selection of music. In the car, give them a choice of CDs or stations,” Rasmussen says. Then take turns playing music you like. Also, remember to turn off the music and give children the opportunity to sing on their own and practice the songs.

Sharing Music Time
Your child may not like your passion for Pink Floyd, no matter how loudly you sing along, and that’s okay. The point is to give them time with the music they like, and then bring your own music into play. Take them to an outdoor concert so they can see the music in action. The more they hear different types of music, the more expansive their tastes and respect for artists and genres will inevitably be.

“They may find something they like that is particularly awful,” Rasmussen says. When Rasmussen’s daughter discovered a popular music show with kids that was musically horrendous, he allowed her to watch it, but “Daddy and Mommy music time” followed. “I was also open with her at four years old that I didn’t like the show, but that it’s perfectly acceptable for her to like it; I validated her taste, but also told her she might not like some of my music.”

Whether it’s your choice or hers, remember above all to model your love for music. Sing, hum, dance or air guitar to your favorite songs, even if your child doesn’t like them. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing in tune or dance well, because you are showing them the joy of music.

NAfME List:
Amazing Grace
America the Beautiful
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Blue Skies
De Colores
Danny Boy (Londonderry Air)
Dona Nobis Pacem
Down by the Riverside
Frere Jacques
Give My Regards to Broadway
God Bless America
God Bless the U.S.A.
Green, Green Grass of Home
Havah Nagilah
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
Home on the Range
I’ve Been Working on the Railroad
If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)
Let There Be Peace on Earth
Lift Every Voice and Sing
Michael, Row the Boat Ashore
Music Alone Shall Live
My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’
Oh! Susanna
Over My Head
Puff the Magic Dragon
Rock-a My Soul
Shalom Chaverim
She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain
Simple Gifts
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
Star-Spangled Banner
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
This Land Is Your Land
This Little Light of Mine

Rasmussen’s List:
All the Pretty Little Horses
Amazing Grace
Ants Go Marching
Aunt Rhody
Bei mir bist du schoen
Comin’ Around the Mountain
Don Gato
Down by the Bay
Erie Canal
Fire Fighter
Itsy Bitsy Spider
Jingle Bells
Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho
London Bridge
Mary Had a Little Lamb
My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
Old MacDonald
On Top of Spaghetti
Patsy Ory Ory Aye
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Silent Night
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
There Was an Old Woman All Skin and Bones
This Land Is Your Land
This Little Light of Mine
This Old Man
This Old Hammer (John Henry)
Twinkle Twinkle
Two Little Kitty Cats
When the Saints Go Marching In
Yankee Doodle
You Are My Sunshine

One simple trick to raising curious kids pay attention to their questions


Young children are naturally curious. They have an itch to explore their world and figure out how things work. And parents have compelling reasons to foster this inherent inquisitiveness.
Curiosity is tied to academic achievement, with research showing “unequivocally that when people are curious about something, they learn more, and better.” According to one study, children whose parents encouraged them to ask questions were more likely to succeed in science. Curiosity also drives creativity, or as writer Elizabeth Gilbert notes, creativity is the natural byproduct of a “curiosity-driven life.”

Here’s one simple trick to raising curious kids: pay attention to their questions.

A one-year-old child’s first question is usually: “What’s that?”—or as my kids pronounced it, “Dat?” They want help naming their world—what they see, hear, taste, smell and feel. From there, the questioning steadily evolves.

For example, like most four-year-olds, my daughter is fascinated with “Why?” Yesterday, as an experiment, I wrote down each of her questions. Here is a small sampling:

Why can’t I drink water and breathe at the same time?
Why do slugs make slime?
Why do walruses have tusks?
Why are they called hot dogs if they aren’t made from dogs?
Why does the sun go to bed later in the springtime?
And then there are the unspoken questions that can sometimes seem like misbehavior. My curious two-year-old spends much of his time asking himself, “What will happen if . . . ?” In the last few days, he has wondered:

What will happen if I drop this egg on the floor?
What will happen if I press this button?
What will happen if I put a ukulele on top of my block tower?
What will happen if I flush Mommy’s toothbrush down the toilet?
For parents, children’s unending questions can challenge our knowledge—and our patience. But if we want to nurture their curiosity, perhaps the best response we can give is simply this: “Good question. Let’s find out.”

Here’s how that might look:

Let’s explore: Rather than squelching toddlers’ and preschoolers’ curiosity, redirect it if necessary: “You can’t do that, but you can do this!” If they want to know what happens when they turn the juice carton upside down, let them play outside with cups and a jug of water. If they want to know what it’s like to draw on walls, make some bathtub paint and set them loose in the tub. Take kids on nature walks and follow their pace—as they stop to dig in the dirt, look at bugs, pick up leaves and hunt for “treasure.”
Here’s another reason to give children space to explore their world: explicit directions about how to play make children less likely to make their own discoveries. For example, when you show children exactly how to use a toy, they are more likely to play with it one way: the way you demonstrated! But if you let them explore independently—particularly with open-ended toys such as blocks and “make believe” materials—they get curious and are more likely to find new, creative ways to play.
Let’s look it up: In the information age, the answer to many “Why?” questions is in our pocket. When kids stump you—as mine regularly do me—it’s easier than ever to say, “I don’t know. Let’s look it up!” But before going online or to the bookshelf, first ask your child, “What do you think?”
For example, when my daughter asked me over breakfast why walruses have tusks, she followed up with, “Let’s look it up on your phone, Mommy!” She guessed that walruses use tusks to protect themselves and was delighted to discover she was right—but we were both intrigued to learn that they also use them to pull their bodies onshore and to cut breathing holes in the ice.
Let’s ask an expert: Help your curious child see that we are surrounded by experts who are willing to share their knowledge. Curiosity can drive connections. Start by thinking about your network of friends and family—and how they might be able to share their skills, hobbies, and life experiences with your kids.Recently, when my four-year-old was peppering me with questions about farm life, I suddenly remembered that we had an expert in the family: Grandma grew up on a ranch! Through FaceTime, Grandma gamely fielded questions about milking cows, gathering eggs, and riding horses. Both were delighted by the exchange, and my daughter found a new resource for satisfying her (hopefully unending) curiosity.

How Gardening with Kids Affects Your Child’s Brain, Body and Soul


For parents struggling to find ways to encourage their kids to eat a healthy and balanced diet, gardening can be an important tool. Don’t let the idea overwhelm you. Gardening doesn’t require a perfectly level, large or sunny backyard. Try planting in a small raised bed or growing a few edibles in existing landscaping. Lean a trellis against an outside wall to grow beans or other edible vines. If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, a few containers and soil in a sunny spot can be an easy way to grow herbs or some sweet cherry tomatoes that kids won’t be able to resist. Plants like zucchini, radishes and herbs are fairly easy to grow without a lot of fuss, making them a great return on your investment. The much bigger return is how planting a garden can affect not only your child’s body but also their brain and soul.
How gardening can affect the BRAIN:

There is a myriad of scientific concepts you can discuss with your kids when planting and tending to a garden. One study showed that children who participated in gardening projects scored higher in science achievement than those who did not. The wonder of seeing a garden grow may spark your kids to ask questions like: Why do the plants need sun? How does the plant “drink” water? Why are worms good for the plants? Soon you will be talking about soil composition, photosynthesis and more! Add a little math while gardening by measuring how much plants are growing from week to week or counting the flowers on each plant. Supplement the experience of gardening with books about plants, trips to a botanical garden, or a photo journal of the plants that you are growing.

Once you harvest your produce, think of all the brain-building vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients your kids will be eating and how that will continue to boost brain development. Foods like spinach, garlic and beets (which are all easy to grow) have been show to help with cognitive function and can give your kids an advantage in their growth and development. Even if kids may not love the foods they grow at first, teach them to keep tasting and trying and to train their taste buds to enjoy the bounty of their garden.

How gardening can affect the BODY:

When children participate in gardening, the fruits and vegetables that they are inspired to eat will no doubt have a positive effect on their body. But the act of gardening itself can also promote a healthy body. Kids LOVE to get their hands and feet in the dirt, which can run counter to the modern parenting style of compulsively keeping hands and surfaces cleaned and sanitized. However, consider the “hygiene hypothesis,” a theory that a lack of childhood exposure to germs actually increases a child’s susceptibility to diseases like asthma, allergies and autoimmune conditions by suppressing the development of the immune system. So getting dirty while gardening may actually strengthen a child’s immunity and overall health.

These days all kids could benefit from a little more physical activity and sunshine they’ll get while gardening. Activities like moving soil, carrying a heavy watering can, digging in the dirt and pushing a wheelbarrow can promote gross motor skills and overall strength for a more fit body. Plus, these activities, known as “heavy work,” have been shown to help kids stay calm and focused.

How gardening can affect the SOUL:

In this electronic age, kids need time for meaningful family connection. Time in the garden allows for team building and promotes communication skills. Planning a garden, planting the seeds and watching them grow give kids a sense of purpose and responsibility. Making sure that the plants get enough fertilizer, water and sun fosters mindfulness. The concepts learned while gardening, like composting food scraps for fertilizer or using gathered rainwater, can show kids a deep respect and responsibility for taking care of our planet.

In addition, studies show that when children have contact with soil during activities like digging and planting, they have improved moods, better learning experiences and decreased anxiety. Most important, the self-esteem a child gets from eating a perfect cucumber that he grew himself is priceless.


Do Some Simple But Great Summer Science Games


Summer has just arrived, and like you, we’ve been looking for new ways to get outside and do some great science. With both an eight-and-a-half-year-old and a five-year-old in the house, the question this summer is, how can we (and you) get your youngest children thinking like a scientist and engage different age levels at the same time? We turn to an old classic game and add a few twists: “I Spy.”

Observation is the very heart of science. The “Oxford English Dictionary” defines the scientific method as: “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

Observation and measurement can be utilized in many ways and can easily be adapted to many age ranges. When you play “I Spy,” you can vary the object in different ways—you can spy a color or a size (bring a tape measure and spy something one foot long, for example). You can also spy something distant like the sun or moon. We also play “I Hear with My Little Ear”—ask your children to sit or stand still and see what different things you can pick out of the background noise. You can easily vary what you are listening for to suit your location or needs. You can find a quiet spot to listen to birds and compare the pleasant songs of a cardinal to the not so nice sound of crows or catbirds. When animals call, what are they saying to each other? Or listen for patterns—a rhythmic drip from a gutter after a rain or the sound of a passing car or bike. Be as specific as your ages will allow, and again, ask for something unexpected. Ask for a soft sound or a grating sound—maybe the sound of a rake reaching concrete. What are all the ways that you can categorize sounds?
Take a brown paper bag outside and play “I Feel”—same rules, only no peeking! Pick three or four different leaves off of nearby trees and see if you can identify them just by feeling them. There should be clear rules about what goes in the bag: nothing sharp or dangerous, no bugs or animals. But there is really no limit to what can go inside—a cotton ball, an acorn, a flower petal. Ask them to describe the difference between a flower petal and a leaf. Why are flowers smoother and softer than leaves? Or why are sedimentary rocks smoother than other rocks?

Finally, the truly adventurous can play “I Smell” or even “I Taste.” “I Smell” can be both good and bad—be prepared for some potty talk and to have your breath or hair analyzed. If you choose to play “I Taste,” make sure the rules are firmly established and think about fun. I remember playing this game when I was a kid and being given juice from a pickle jar to taste, which was not fun! But if you prepare three or four things and explain the range (one sweet, one salty, one sour, etc.), you can have a lot of fun without negative surprises.

A great way to tie them all together is to come up with a theme. Choose a basic and open theme, like the weather: what can you spy that says summer, but definitely does not say spring, fall or winter? Popsicles, lawn sprinklers, dogs with their tongues hanging out. … Similarly, there are sounds and smells and things to touch that only happen in summer weather. Does heat have a smell? Things get hot in the summer, but how does a cool breeze feel?

Remember to keep it fun, but focus on seeing (and hearing and smelling) things in new ways, and especially think of ways to observe like a scientist. Pick things that show the difference between the qualitative and quantitative, like an unusual flower, not in how it looks but in how many there are on a plant or stem. Slow down, look around, start observing like a scientist, and always follow up with questions that lead to more questions. You don’t have to answer all the questions—just help the kids form a good way to ask them. I spy with my little eye…little scientists having fun! And I hear with my little ear…the sound of little scientists laughing and having fun!

Vince Harriman is a contributor to—kids’ challenges with a twist—where he writes science activities for kids and is the author of the widely followed blog Kids Need Science. He is also known as Science Dad on NPR’s Science Friday blog. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with his two sons, who ask him “why” approximately 6,542 times a day.

Some helpful tips for beating the back-to-school blues.


There he was, our son, as sweet as a cinnamon bun, marching confidently into a new chapter of his life: his first day of preschool. We felt like celebrating—or at least doling out a healthy round of fist bumps watching him move into “big boy” status last fall. To be frankly, we were also relieved. Despite a small delay involving a slightly burnt piece of toast, we made it out of the house easily. No protests. No crying. No drama.

As we move toward kindergarten and grade school, I can only hope that heading back to school—after a summer of sun and fun—will always be so effortless. However, for many children, the start of the new school year means the end of fun and free time. If most kids had it their way, summer would last forever. But we already know that’s never going to happen, so instead, help them see that there’s a way to return to school buses, backpacks and books with a genuine smile—not a grimace—on their faces. Here are some helpful tips for beating the back-to-school blues.

Give them the 4-1-1.
If your child is starting at a new school—moving to kindergarten from day care or middle school from elementary—they may feel anxious about all the newness. It’s important to give them as much information as possible in advance, says Dr. Rochelle Harris, a psychologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri. For example:

  1. “If you can, visit the school one week before, to help them learn the layout of the building,” she says.
  2. Get your kid’s class schedule ahead of time and walk through it with them. “You can decrease a lot of uncertainty and help them get familiar with all of the new components they’re facing.”
  3. Practice opening their lockers, especially if it’s a combination lock. “It can be a panicky thing for kids if their locker sticks and they can’t open it,” Dr. Harris says.
  4. Meet the teacher. “Make sure the teacher knows that your child is new to the school or the neighborhood,” she says. “Writing a letter to the teacher with basic tips and easy requests is a big help. “For instance, let the teacher know that you just moved there or that your child has never been to a school this size.”

Talk through anxieties.
Kids might feel ambivalent or anxious about returning to school for a number reasons. “Whatever the issue, talk about it, but don’t dwell on it,” says Dr. Harris. Also, listen closely to the content, she says. Kids tend to globalize things: I never have fun. School is always boring. “It’s that ‘all or nothing’ thinking that can lead children to feel depressed,” Dr. Harris says. Get them refocused, and challenge that negativity. Remind them about the fun that awaits them at school and on the weekends too. “The key is to normalize it for them and keep a positive spin: ‘Oh, yeah, I hear you, but also remember how much fun you had with your classmates last year. I’m sure this time will be like that.’”

Create a plan of action.
If your child has a legitimate issue that’s leaving them unenthusiastic about returning to school—maybe they struggled with a subject or were bullied—Dr. Harris strongly recommends creating a plan of action and explaining it to your child. “If your kid had trouble in math last year, tell him/her that you are going to start the process of getting them more support, and then follow through,” she says. Or in a bullying situation, let your child know that you will speak to the school and involve the necessary parties to ensure that it’s being looked into and handled.

Get reacquainted with old friends.
With summer camps and family vacations, sometimes your kids don’t see their school friends until that first day back. Dr. Harris recommends reconnecting with buddies a week or so beforehand to get reacquainted. Play dates or, for older children, an easy end-of-summer BBQ in the backyard are great ways to do this. “Suggest that your child call up a friend and coordinate a preschool meetup. Maybe they can arrange to walk into school at the same time on the first day,” she says. A phone call to a friend three or four days ahead can help calm your child’s concerns about going back to school.

Make a special purchase.
Sometimes getting your child excited about the new school year can be as simple as letting them pick out a special item when you’re doing back-to-school shopping. “If the latest backpack helps them feel included, and it works with your budget, just buy it,” Dr. Harris says. “It could make a world of difference.”

The Teacher Mixes Rap Songs Like ‘Bad And Boujee’ Into History Lessons


“You know, it’s your boy, honest Abe. Making this song to shut down the lames.”

This is how middle school history teacher David Yancey began a lesson on the Civil War at Edwards Middle School in Conyers, Georgia.

Yancey’s remake of Migos’ banger “Bad and Bougee” went viral on Sunday after a high school friend of his tweeted the historical spin on the song, titled “Mad and Losing.”

“The troops are mad and losing. Slowing them down is a doozy. Soldiers are ready and ruthless. With rifles and ironclads, too,” Yancey raps.
While the educator, who’s been using popular songs to create a unique curriculum for three years ― admitted to a lack of vocal talent in an interview with WSB-TV Atlanta ― that hasn’t hindered him in the least bit.

Yancey, who was awarded the school’s 2016 Teacher of the Year title, has also remixed Young MA’s “Ooouu,” Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and even Adele’s “Hello” to educate his students om everything from telegrams to Cherokee tribes.

“It’s not just random things that are being thrown together,” Yancey told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “I’m very intentional … on what content I’m delivering. I’ll do the lesson and I’ll pull it all together in a song.”

But Yancey doesn’t just rely on the power of music to get the lesson across. The songs serve to emphasize lessons he’s just taught.

“I’m not Migos. I’m not Adele,” Yancey said to WBS. “I am an eighth-grade social studies teacher who is trying to reach them.”


Designing Engaging, Interactive eLearning for the Virtual Classroom


Cindy Huggett advises eLearning practitioners on choosing and using virtual classroom technology. She is the author of The Virtual Training Guidebook: How to Design, Deliver, and Implement Live Online Learning. Her next book, due out in the summer, will discuss designing and facilitating engaging virtual-classroom training. Huggett is a frequent presenter at eLearning Guild events. We spoke in January about converting in-person training to successful eLearning. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Pam Hogle (PH): Many of our readers are new to eLearning and might be moving from face-to-face to eLearning. You’ve done a lot of work around that transition, helping people do it successfully. What are the first or most critical steps an instructional designer or instructor needs to take?

Cindy Huggett (CH): It’s so much more common to convert a classroom program to online than it is to start from scratch, so it’s a great question. It is a common question, and my answer is a little bit untraditional or perhaps not what you would expect.

I believe the very first step is to remember everything that you already know about what makes really good training. I think that people, organizations, trainers, designers think, ‘OK, I’ve got to design for this new modality, so what’s the first step? … What’s the process to follow?’

The very first process to follow is the one you already know. Design is design. Adult attention spans are adult attention spans. Adult learners are adult learners. You’re still trying to meet a business need, solve a business problem, get results; it just so happens that technology can help you reach an audience that maybe you didn’t reach before. It’s a different type of modality. That’s really step number one: remember everything you know about good design and adult learners.

Once you remember that—I’m going to talk specifically about the virtual classroom, live, online synchronous, facilitator-led—the next step is to start asking yourself: What of this belongs in that online classroom? Of all the content I have, of the eight-hour program, or the three-week program, or whatever length of time it is—what needs to be done with a facilitator versus what of this can they do on their own? What can they read? What can they watch? How do I chunk this program into segments, into components that make the most sense for learning? That’s really the next step; step back and look at your big-picture design from the lens of, ‘I already know what makes good training; I already know what makes a good learning experience.’

Think about, ‘How can I leverage the technology?’ Not: An eight-hour classroom program means an eight-hour online program. It doesn’t translate that way.

What can they just read? So that, when we come together, with the facilitator and other learners, we need to talk about it or we need to practice or we need to do hands on. That’s where you’re going to get the best value and the best benefit from it.

The question then always comes up: ‘But my learners don’t do stuff on their own. What do you mean, have them read it and then show up?’

Well, you always start with an in-person component. … Session one is: What we are going to do; what’s the program? What are you expected to do? Here’s the platform. And then you make an assignment. So, think of it a different way.

Pearson Shares Its Learning Design Principles Under A Creative Commons License


In December 2016, Pearson published a set of 45 learning-design principles under a Creative Commons license. A company blog post calls them the “nexus of education research (i.e., products based on research) and product efficacy (i.e., research-based products that evidence impact on outcomes).”

Pearson is an international company that creates educational courseware, publishes textbooks, and sells a variety of technology-based learning services and products. From its place at the center of the US battle over “privatization” of public education, the multibillion-dollar company is not without controversy, particularly for its dominance of the standardized testing market. Pearson designs curriculum, creates learning materials and standardized tests, trains testers, runs tutoring centers and online education programs, and more.

According to EdWeek Market Brief editorial intern Leo Doran,the publication of the learning design principles is “part of a company-wide push for transparency in evaluating the efficacy of their products.” The company simultaneously released a report on how it uses learning design. Transparency is certainly valuable, as is insight into how Pearson and other instructional designers “make the sausage,” so to speak.

The principles are grouped into six themes:

Foundations (eight principles)
The nature of knowledge (ten principles)
Practices that foster effective learning (eleven principles)
Learning together (five principles)
Learning environments (seven principles)
Moving learning sciences research into the classroom (four principles)
They are presented as “cards,” each filling the front and back of a full sheet of paper. Each includes a description, list of capabilities, sample design implementations, learner impacts, and a “self-assessment instrument.”

What Is The Keys to Engaging Virtual Classroom Training? Planning, Design—and Channeling Oprah


When Cindy Huggett envisions a great online training facilitator, she’s thinking about Oprah.

A key skill is “building rapport with an audience that you don’t have visual contact with. People do this all the time. Think of a television personality like Oprah. She’s the master of creating that connection. And how many of us have ever met her in person? But we feel like we know her. She just draws us in,” said Huggett, a virtual training consultant and a dynamic, experienced presenter.

But being a great presenter is only a starting point; online training is very different from presenting information, Huggett emphasized. In training, facilitators—instructors in the virtual classroom—should engage with learners every few minutes.

That’s a far cry from a lot of learners’ virtual classroom experiences, where a facilitator drones on … and on, and on, maybe grudgingly squeezing in a poll question or two.

In a recent conversation, Huggett emphasized the need for frequent, varied interactions—every three or four minutes. She gets pushback from instructors on this; people say they don’t have time to do that much interaction, or they ask a question and get no response.

Huggett’s response is to tell facilitators to look at the design of their virtual class session. “ A presentation is not the same thing. It’s not the same thing in person, and it is not the same thing online,” she said.

“If you have a design or you have a facilitator or delivery person who goes 15 minutes of lecturing and then asks a question—of course they [learners] are not going to respond,” Huggett said. “You are thinking of it as, ‘I need to fit this into my presentation.’ But really, it’s about engaging them from the start.”

Set expectations for learners up front

When designing training, Huggett emphasizes that facilitators have to let learners know that they are expected to participate—even before they enter the virtual classroom.

“It’s a little bit of an art, when you think about how to sculpt a class or design an online class so that the interaction is natural and it feels like a collaboration, instead of feeling forced. A lot of it goes back to setting the expectation that this is going to be interactive,” she said. “It’s learning—it’s not a meeting, it’s not ‘Let’s hop online for a conference call.’”