Episode # 47

Becoming an Engaged Citizen with Michael J Edelman

January 4, 2024

About This Episode

On this episode, Kara and Caryn speak with Michael J Edelman about his career and how it led him to Newsdepth, a program designed to teach students how to approach current world events and how to ask critical questions about the world around them.


Michael Edelman

Michael came to Cleveland to serve as the Director of Curriculum and Staff Development for a network of charter schools. In his current role, he directs the activities of the Education Department of WVIZ/PBS ideastream. Michael holds School Turn Around credentials from the University of Virginia and degrees from West Chester University and the University of Pennsylvania. Michael is a resident of Bay Village with his wife and two children.



Kara: Joining us today is Mike Edelman. So, hey, Mike.

Michael J Edelman: Hello. How are you today? Good. How are you? I’m well. I’m happy to be here. Good.

Kara: Well, and we’re going to start off by just asking you to tell us your journey into education.

Michael J Edelman: Yeah, certainly. So I I actually graduated with a bachelor’s in elementary education.

The first few years of, of my my, my, my career were spent in a middle school classroom in suburban Washington. On the Maryland side of the river and there, my, my teaching assignment was sixth grade earth and space science, which was it was a ton of fun. We had the opportunity and the privilege to to teach in a block setting which gave me 90 minutes to really have a lot of [00:01:00] fun with the students that I was working with.

We we, we, we got our hands dirty almost every day. The, the way we kind of approached our instructional practice there was we looked at our 90 minute period and kind of broke it into three distinct segments you know, with, with the understanding that the sixth grade mind definitely has a a shelf life, right?

You know, the, the downside to that setting is in my classroom, we had stools and I think knows where this story is going. If you put the thirty 6th grade students on stools by the end of the, the, the, the period, at least 15 of them have fallen off of a stool. You know, after I, after, you know, that had kind of run its course I, I jumped the river, so to speak, I went to the other side of the Potomac and I was in Manassas, Virginia, teaching in a fifth grade setting in an elementary school.

And in, in that setting, I, I had the the opportunity to teach you know, all of the content areas in that traditional elementary school setting. Interestingly, that particular school building was about a mile and a [00:02:00] half from the, the Manassas battlefield. So, you know, there’s an area that was very rich in history.

Really pretty area with the rolling hills and everything. But in that particular place, you know, I kind of got my 1st taste of you know, educational leadership as it were you know, as a grade level chairperson representing the building for all of the the districts You know, curricular decisions and things of that nature in that particular district, City of Manassas.

At the time, there were five different elementary schools before a reconsolidation and an opening of an intermediate building, which, you know, I was very involved with the design of their science classroom. building, but fortunately or unfortunately, I I left the summer before that particular building welcome students.

And you know, from, from Manassas, I went to the school district of Philadelphia and in, in, in Philadelphia, you know, I had the privilege of finishing my, my master’s degree in educational leadership. And you know, from there I moved from the classroom and, To the started as an [00:03:00] assistant principal and then a principal and you know, I kind of had a unique role in the principalship in that I went to the city’s existing junior high school buildings and I reconfigured them as middle schools and, you know, some might, might think, you know, big deal.

What is that? What does that entail? Well you know, it’s kind of a complete restructuring of the instructional staff in, in that we, we went from a school building that was Organized and based on content areas, you know, you’ve got your science department, your math department, your social studies department, and we reorganized into a into a fashion that was based more on grade levels, teams you know, so the cross the traditional cross curricular teams that you see in the middle school.

But we also, you know, moved the 9th graders out of those junior high school buildings and brought in the 6th graders. And I will tell you, if you want a an immediate change in school culture. Replace ninth graders with sixth graders. Now, I’m not going to say that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I will say that it was a very different thing.

Right? Yeah. You know, and, and, you know, the, [00:04:00] the, the interesting thing is the the temperament of the eighth graders from one year to the other. Completely different people. You know, I can imagine ninth graders are around. The eighth graders are little pinballs and maniacs, right? And I say nothing but love and admiration of the grade mind.

But once they became the oldest students in the building, they become, you know, little adults, you know, their maturity changed, their leadership changed. It was a really wild transformation and seeing students, 13 year olds go from you know The second oldest in the building and kind of unpredictable hurricanes of, of, of youthful joy to you know, taking on the mantle of leadership, being the oldest students in the building and that just kind of happened naturally.

Right? Yeah. I mean, it was it was an interesting thing to observe, but it’s nothing that that myself or the administrative team or, or the guidance counselors, the teachers, nothing that we did to facilitate that change. Right. It just happened. [00:05:00] And we were grateful that it happened. Because, you know, it kind of gave us a very sound base to welcome those, those incoming sixth graders who were used to, you know, the elementary setting where they’re with the same teacher all day long to a traditional secondary setting with you know, changing classes and, and, and lockers and, you know, All of the drama that comes with that and then you know, after you know, four years of, of doing that I had the opportunity to come to Cleveland to be a part of a a charter school organization that was opening three different campuses, two here in Cleveland and one in Canton.

And I was responsible for curriculum and and professional development for, for these three campuses that were K to 8. That was kind of a short lived position because, you know, you know, that October 1st deadline that looms on the ODE calendar that determines total enrollment and state funding you know, the school had [00:06:00] wildly missed on their enrollment projections and writing was on the wall that there was going to be a small budget shortfall and I knew that my position was going to be one of the first that was eliminated.

So fortunately, things all kind of fell into place very nicely. And I was able to move pretty seamlessly from the charter school situation to being responsible for an organization here in Northeast Ohio called the smart consortium smart being an acronym because in education, we can’t do anything without an acronym.

It’s smart. Exactly. Right. And smart stood for science and mathematics achievement required for tomorrow. And it was essentially a consortium of roughly 40 school districts across Northeast Ohio in Cuyahoga County, Summit, Stark, Lake, Lorain, and Medina County counties. That we’re all working kind of collaboratively to, to improve learning outcomes in mathematics and science.

And this was born out of the Tim’s testing that that had taken place in, in, in the late nineties. And that was one of the kind of those, those [00:07:00] alarm bells that rang across education because it really shed a spotlight on the lagging science and mathematics performance of American students compared to, you know, their, their International counterparts, Singapore, Germany and whatnot.

But you know, I was responsible for all of the professional development opportunities that the smart consortium had facilitated regionally and across the state of Ohio. And at the time. Smart consortium kind of had a unique relationship with with IdeaStream, which is, you know, the PBS station here in Northeast Ohio, where IdeaStream was essentially their fiscal agent, much like SOIDA and and, and, and think TV and eventually smart was fully fully absorbed into, into IdeaStream and we sunsetted that brand so to speak, and then that name and the bylaws, and we still offer a lot of those same services, but without the, The the formal structure of of, of, of that nonprofit entity.

At this [00:08:00] point, I’m now the director of education here at IdeaStream and you know, I’m largely responsible and by largely, I mean, completely responsible for all of the work that, that we do in the pre K 12 space. And, and I, I kind of say it broadly like that because you know, we, we do a lot of.

work embedded in a lot of the schools up here in Northeast Ohio. You know, we have a team of, of, of retired educators that we will contract out to to, to, to local schools to, to help kind of guide them through their school reform efforts or to provide classroom based professional development and coaching things like lesson development data analysis assessment, development, things of that nature making sure everything that they’re doing in the classroom both instructionally and curricularly is standards aligned.

We do a lot of work in community spaces libraries, boys and girls club, preschool entities that aren’t necessarily affiliated with one of the local school districts. We love providing support to parents [00:09:00] on, on all matters of, of learning and social, emotional development. 1 thing that we, we really find a lot of value in is, is helping parents reach to their children and helping parents kind of establish that culture of literacy.

In their home with the understanding that, you know, there are very real literacy barriers for some of these parents as, as, as they’re, as they’re working with their Children and we’re trying to kind of lower those, those, those barriers for participation. You know, 1 thing that we, we like to do is, is, is help.

Parents develop strategies that they can use in the home and, and they can use while, while reading to their children things like using an expressive voice very simple things things like talking about the illustrations and what we can learn from those illustrations and how we can add comprehension to, to a selection of literature.

Based on, on, on what the illustrations or, or the subheadings or, or things like that are telling us. Mm-Hmm. . And then obviously we, we, we do a lot of work directly with, with, with students. For [00:10:00] instance you know, we, we, we, we. We produce a television program called News Depth, which is kind of our attempt to talk about current events with children, have them asking critical questions about the world around them.

And our intent in that particular program is much more nuanced than, you know, this, this is what’s happening in you know, The war in Ukraine right now, right? We want to teach Children how to use that information to make those key decisions that they have to make. As it relates to being an engaged citizen kind of building off of that.

And one thing I’m very excited about for this season is along with the traditional teacher resources that we build for that particular show, we’re also going to start building on that. Parent resources with the understanding that, you know, there’s a lot of news inclined families. There’s a lot of families at home that are watching the news in their home, but they just don’t know how to talk about these very weighty, very, very touchy topics with, with their children, [00:11:00] you know, thinking about my own children, I’ve got a 10 year old, 12 year old.

And if they were sitting next to me, they’d be sure to correct me and tell me that they’re about to be 11 and 13.

Yeah, exactly right. But, but they, they both pay very close attention to the news and, and they’re both very, very feeling Children, right? Says that they often have a lot of trouble making sense of what they’re hearing on the news. And, you know, why is this horrible thing happening? How can we help these people?

So, so through through this effort, we’re hoping to give parents and caregivers the tools that they need to kind of have those conversations with, with, with the young people in their lives and to help them make sense of, of the news and, and, and help them to, to use that information. To then make those decisions on, on how they want to be engaged citizens.

Kara: That’s really cool. How do you come up with the topics that are covered on NewsDepth?

Michael J Edelman: So this, this is actually kind of an ongoing thing, right? And I’m glad you, you asked that on a Wednesday [00:12:00] because I’ll walk you through our production cycle because it starts tomorrow. Right? Every Thursday I get together with the producer of the show and the host of the show and we kind of go over the stories that are available to us and you know, we, we make those decisions from a couple of perspectives.

Number 1, what do we think is developmentally appropriate for the audience? The audience being students in grades 4, 5 and 6. So we, we definitely try to steer away from those those doom and gloom type stories. We, we, we try to talk about Topics that we can route back to the Ohio learning standards both the, you know, the, the science standards or, or, or the social studies standards.

Very often we’ll have a lot of the standards sprinkled through the show. We also kind of think about. Thematically, what have we already talked about this year? What stories do we not want to be to death right over the past couple of years? I think we’ve gotten to the point with vaccines and covid and all of those weighty topics.

I think we’ve gotten to the point where you know, there’s there’s fatigue [00:13:00] with those stories. So we try to find other themes. We know that that The Children that that we’re producing the show for are very interested in topics like social justice and environmental justice and environmental issues.

So we try to steer in that direction. And then once each show is it’s kind of outlined from the perspective of the stories that we’re going to tell Friday is basically spent script writing. And then, you know, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday is all the editing process. But then layered on top of that, we also have have been very fortunate to have the privilege of working with approximately 15 teachers from across the state of Ohio that they tell us how we’re doing.

And that’s very important feedback. You know, we, we meet with this group of teachers quarterly and you know, we’ll ask them very pointed questions. You know, what are we doing too much of? What are we not doing enough of? What are your students saying? What do your students want to learn about? And, and, you know, very importantly, we also want to know what can we do to help you support [00:14:00] Learning in a way that standards aligned.

What can we do to increase our relevance in the classroom? Are there any learning standards that, that, you know, your students are struggling with and maybe a digital asset will help them? with and often that comes through in, in one of the segments on the show called spot on science. Spot on science is our attempt to, to, you know, push out science news.

I think very fondly to two segments from from the last two segments, two segments that I had a lot of fun with. Personally, you know, as the former science teacher one segment, we had the opportunity to talk to a mushroom farmer in Huron, Ohio, and it was really cool because the mushroom farmer totally geeked out on us on mushrooms and, and, and, and fungi and, and how they fit into the into the life cycle and into food change.

Food chains and food webs. And we really had the opportunity to dive deep into the idea of decomposers and [00:15:00] producers and consumers. And you know, we knew going into that conversation with with the farmer that this is something that. that students struggle with. So we’re able to really give them a tangible example, something that they see at their grocery store, something that they might see walking through, you know, their backyard.

You know, to give them that that real concrete hands on very visual. Piece to to explore this, this concept that we know students struggle with the, the, the other spot on science segment that really pops to, to, to mind is is a segment we did two years ago on carnivorous plants and right. And, and first, from my own perspective, I had no idea that there were carnivorous plants in Ohio.

But there are and but, but the neat thing about that particular show is we, at the time on staff, we had a very talented animator and he made this, he made these really cool graphics showing how the [00:16:00] the trigger hairs on the plant reacts to a It’s to an insect and how it, it causes the plant to close and you know, kind of the functionality of, of these particular adaptations that the plant had.

Mm-Hmm. . And again, we got to talk about, you know, the, the food chains and, and, and all of that good stuff. But we also got to talk about en environmental adaptations that these plants had made to to, to be successful, so to speak, in in, in their environment with the understanding that you know, the reason they have to eat.

Bugs is because they can’t pull the nutrients out of the soil that they’re in, just because the soil doesn’t have you know, the, the, the richness that, that, that they need to, to sustain life. Some other segments that really popped in mind that are kind of exciting, especially as we come into another election cycle is, is politics on point.

And the one thing that I want to. really drive home is politics on point is not a political segment, right? It doesn’t talk about Democrats and Republicans and, and who’s mad at who and, and, and all of that. What it talks about is functions of government. [00:17:00] And, you know, so, you know, a lot of the things that have come up over the past couple of years, the state of the union address the nomination process for Supreme court justices All of those things the way legislation moves through the chambers of Congress, we’re able to really shine a spotlight on this.

And it goes back to the idea of, of, you know, kind of empowering children to understand, you know, their role as, as engaged citizens. And that’s our goal for the show, right? We, we. We definitely want students to, to have that, that skill set and that set of tools to to know what to do with information and how to interpret that information and, and, and use it to inform their decisions.

And, you know, the politics on point is really going to be, heavy over, over the next two years for, for two reasons. Number one, you know, our nation is going to be celebrating its 250th birthday and I’m not even going to get into the sesquicentennial, whatever. I, I, I simply can’t articulate that word.[00:18:00]

It’s way easier to say, but also, you know, we’re, we’re going into another presidential election. So it’s going to give us the opportunity to talk about the caucuses and the primaries and the the delegates and what all of their votes mean. We’re going to be able to get into the electoral college and what that is and where it came from, why it’s a thing and why it’s so meaningful.

But again, all of that is to, to, to help children understand how their government works and what role they play in the government.

so I’m curious. Where do teachers [00:19:00] find all of these

Michael J Edelman: resources? Yeah. So that, that can all be found at ideastream. org slash news depth. It’s, it’s also, it also has a very robust presence on, on, on YouTube and PBS learning media.

But I, I, I would argue that your, your best place to get it is ideastream. org slash news depth. And the reason I say that is because at that particular website, obviously we have the library and the historical catalog of, of, of all previous shows. But on top of that, and this is where the real value add is from my perspective that’s where you can find.

Each shows episode guide and the episode guide is a planning tool for, for, for classroom teachers. It gives a rundown of the show. It shares what learning standards each story could potentially support. You know, we’re, we’re, we’re never we’re never directive with that. We, we, we try to. be as broad as possible with the understanding that every classroom is different and every classroom has a a different [00:20:00] approach to, to teach, to teaching and learning.

So we never want to tell a teacher that you have to use this to do this. But it’s just a suggestion. On that episode guide, you’ll also have the what we call the word highlights. So throughout the show any vocabulary word that’s used, that’s, that’s considered a tier three vocabulary word, those content specific words.

We’ll call attention to those words and we outline those on the episode guide. Again, that’s a planning tool. And, and, and those particular pieces of vocabulary. Generally, they’re coming out of the Ohio learning standards with the understanding that if it is a specific vocabulary word that is present in the Ohio learning standards, the expectation is students will know that word come assessment time, right?

You know, there’s that accountability to, to those standards. You And other helpful piece on the on the episode guide is a list of discussion questions that we provide to the teacher. These are questions that typically are you know, the penthouse of Bloom’s taxonomy, if you will, [00:21:00] right? These are questions that are going to require a little more analysis and application and critical thought.

From from the students. And again, these are just suggestions that a teacher could use to kind of engage those students. You know, kind of in that thinking in their classroom. Then. With every episode, we also create a comprehension quiz that comprehension quiz is generally five questions. It’s multiple choice.

Again, thinking about bloom, this isn’t the penthouse. This is more of the basement, right? These, these are generally questions very comprehension based. And our thought here is we want to hold children accountable. To any video asset that they’re watching in the classroom, right? In my days in the principalship, nothing gave me more heartburn than when I’d walk by a a classroom and I’d see a video playing day after day after day.

I’d often wonder, what’s going on with this video? What are the students taking away from the video? How are the students accountable to the video? Or is it just, you know, reward time? Which, you know, that’s fine but, you know, we, we have to be [00:22:00] mindful of, of instructional time and holding children accountable to, to, to, to the learning.

But, but that’s our thought process there. And then, you know, along with every episode, there’s also a newsletter that, that that the teachers can sign up for. And that newsletter generally goes out a day or two before the episode posts online. I post online at, thursday mornings at 3 a. m. for you early risers.

It’s usually on learning media at that time, and then it’s ready for broadcast. It’s broadcast on many Ohio PBS stations generally on Fridays or Saturdays. And it’s also carried on the Ohio channel. But at any rate. That newsletter we’ll, we’ll give teachers a preview, an overview of each episode for, for planning purposes.

It gives a preview of the discussion questions and the the, the key vocabulary from the from the episode, but then some of the built in functionality too on the website is Each episode is chaptered, right? And, and the reason we do [00:23:00] that is we understand that every episode isn’t going to be appropriate for every classroom, start to finish.

So that gives teachers the the instructional flexibility to choose segments of the show, skip segments of the show, things of that nature. And, and that’s very intentional on our part. Yeah, we understand it. Yeah. That every classroom in every community is different across the state of Ohio, and we want to give teachers that flexibility to kind of respond to the needs of the students in front of them and to the to the needs and values of the communities in which they serve.

Well, that’s

Kara: really great. And now I want to go check it all out because I kind of want to be a mushroom farmer.

Michael J Edelman: Well, you know what, that would be a ton of fun. You know, another thing that I would invite the two of you to do, you know, if you’ll indulge me, if, if you know of any students in your communities or, you know, in any of the schools that you’re working with that are doing something remarkable, either in the community or in the classroom, Put them on my radar, because every single [00:24:00] episode of the show has something called the A plus award.

And the A plus award is our opportunity to shine a spotlight on students across Ohio who are doing remarkable things, remarkable things in the classroom, remarkable things in the community. A few examples that popped to mind. You know, there, there was a young lady last year who was very inspired by episode one of last season, because episode one had a long block That that was highlighting some efforts that a community was making to clean up some local waterways.

And this young lady was was inspired by that and went to a local stream in her community and cleaned up all the litter in the stream there. Right? Impressive. Yeah. A young lady in fifth grade. There was another student actually in Dayton who felt very, very motivated to to make a difference in his community.

And he set up a a food collection stand in front of his local Kroger during the holidays. And [00:25:00] you know, he was able to collect about 500 pounds of food and he donated to a local. A local food pantry oh, nice. Or week at Christmas. Mm-Hmm. . So, yeah, I mean, it, it, it’s great. Yeah. Learning about the, the wonderful things that these students are doing and, and I love the, the opportunity and the privilege to, to show our audiences you know, what their peers are doing across the across the state and you know, how they’re engaging with their community and some of the great things that they’re doing in the classroom, you know.

Another example pops to mind. There was a classroom in Maple Heights. Maple Heights is here in the Cleveland area. They were studying maps of their community and you know, they’re learning all about maps, cardinal direction, how to read maps and all of that. But they noticed that on a map of their community, there was an error.

And you know, they, they wanted to get the error changed. So they wrote a letter to the the maps publisher and the maps publisher put them in contact with the cartographer that, that did the map. The cartographer reached out to the classroom [00:26:00] and over the course of a couple of weeks, they made corrections to the map and the map’s going to be published, I believe this year in the updated version of the of the atlases that the map was in.

The cartographer reached out to the class, the class showed them the error. The cartographer walked them through how to correct the error and explained how the error could have occurred. And I know it was, it was a really neat thing to learn about. And the students that were involved really walked away with a sense of not only civic pride because, you know, they were representing their, their hometown and, and, and they, they corrected a map of, of their community.

But also knowing that they made a difference, right? I mean, this is something that’s published. This is something that’s going to be used in classrooms. It’s going to be something that’s used by a community members. And it was all because they noticed an error and they reached out. Yeah. Well, and

Kara: exposure to like careers too, right?

I mean, you know, because oftentimes you don’t realize that. Making maps or drawing maps is an actual [00:27:00] field or

Michael J Edelman: a job. And I’m glad you brought up the idea of, of, of career because what we know is what we know about the Department of Education is you know, in, in their strategic plan, they put a heavy emphasis on, on career development and career education.

And you know, we’ve kind of used that framework to explore STEM careers through the show as well. And in the first two or three episodes last year, and we’re going to do it again this year, we will pose a question to the students and they’ll respond via email asking them what STEM careers they want to learn about.

And what we’ll do then on that, on our end is we will tabulate the votes, identify practicing STEM professionals in in Ohio. And we will have the students write us the questions for an interview and. We’ll ask the, the, the student generator questions of these STEM professionals and we’ll, we’ll create a segment out of it.

Career Spotlight. How [00:28:00] cool. Oh, I’m sorry. Career, career Callouts. Career callouts. Yeah. That’s cool. But, but the neat thing is, it, it’s, it’s all driven by the students. They’re asking the questions that they want to know. Yeah. They’re asking of STEM practitioners. You know. That are currently in the field and the show’s producer, Natalia Garcia, she’s done a great job of finding what we’ll generally or loosely call near peers, right?

She’s not finding the 60 year old biochemist. She’s finding the 23 year old woman who just graduated from you know, Ohio State and is early in her career, and she’s talking about her pathway and things of that nature. But it’s been a lot of fun to highlight and to put a spotlight on these STEM professionals.

And it’s neat, because we know that the questions that we’re asking of these people are coming from the students. Last year, we focused on an environmental scientist. We focused on a a computer [00:29:00] coder, an astronomer and a commercial airline pilot, which was really cool. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s

Kara: really cool.

Thank you so much for talking to us today, Mike.

Michael J Edelman: It’s been my pleasure. I had a lot of fun. Thank you for having me.