Snakes Are Born This : Illuminating Standards Video

Back to Resources

Snakes Are Born This Way: Illuminating Standards Video

Format(s): Video

Topic(s): Spark Discussion

Audience: Educators

These days, it seems everyone is talking about grit, perseverance, 21st century skills, and noncognitive skills, but no one seems to be talking about courage. What does academic courage look like and what happens when students have the courage to overcome fear? In 2012, a group of second graders in at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Dorchester, Massachusetts redefined what it means to be academically courageous. After completing extensive research on snakes, the students wrote, performed, and produced the song “Snakes Are Born This Way” based on Lady Gaga’s hit song “Born This Way.” As if this weren’t enough, the students created a music video and posted it on YouTube. Throughout this project, these students were able to overcome their fears and today, as fourth graders, they understand what it means to be academically courageous. Currently, “Snakes Are Born This Way” has over 50,000 views. 

This video examines how student work illuminates—and is illuminated by—the following standards: 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 CCSS second grade writing standards).



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 (Expeditionary Learning) and Steve Seidel (Harvard Graduate School of Education), co-directors of The Illuminating Standards Project, wondered if this conclusion is 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?


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 student work in Models of Excellence 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 many 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. See a suggested protocol for viewing linked below, along with selected videos from the series. (The complete list of videos in the series can be found here.)

Relevant Resources

Back to Resources