Category Archives: artofteaching

Dinosaurs still roam the earth…

… though as you can see, they are a lot smaller than they used to be.

This T-Rex was custom-made for me by a student today. She asked me in class what my favorite animal was. “Tyrannosaurus Rex”, of course! She made this T-Rex out of eraser material and then placed him in T-Rex Land.

As I told my students, I’ve been teaching a long time. And every time I think I’ve seen or heard it all, I get surprised. Again.

Thanks, Jenna!

Three things I learned in colonial Williamsburg

Last week, the 7th grade made its annual 3-day trek to Jamestown and colonial Williamsburg. As a 7th grade advisor, I get to go for free. There is the small matter of supervising 24/7, but hey… I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Here are the top three things I learned, in no particular order:

1. Our kids are awesome. I actually had a tour guide come up to me and shake my hand, saying “You’ve done a fantastic job with these kids. They are polite, respectful, and engaged”. It was kind of embarrassing, since I know I can’t claim sole credit! But unsolicited compliments like that from people who work every day with school groups is nice.

2. There is such a thing as a sugar high. I saw it in action. Normally normal 7th-graders were transformed before our eyes into crack  sugar addicts, thanks to the candy store in Merchant Square, and the cotton candy machine at the Golden Corral. Yow! Maybe a little bit of sugar in the diet would help lessen the effect of forbidden fruit.

3. Slavery doesn’t get mentioned much. Colonial Williamsburg is sometimes referred to as Colonial Disneyland for Adults, a land where everything is awesome and nothing unpleasant intrudes. I know they are working on correcting this, but I saw very little evidence of that in our tour. My eye-opening moment came a couple of years ago when I learned that the population of Williamsburg in 1774 was about 50% slave. Half the population wasn’t represented much.

Having said that, it’s always a great trip, and the students learned so much that that surely beats reading it out of a book.

Class Constitution #2

We the people of Mr. Irving’s class, in order to form a more perfect History class, establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility to ourselves and Mr. Irving to ordain, and establish this Constitution, the United Students of Mr. Irving’s B Block History class. These are our rules:

Everyone has a right to opinion and a vote

If Mr. Irving becomes destructive of these ends, we may complain to him and ask him to make changes to make our History class more enjoyable for the community at large

You can’t insult people or be annoying to them purposefully

Thou may not speak profanities

Mr. Irving chooses our tables and they must change once a month

Plagiarism and copying is illegal

Mr. Irving has the responsibility to foreshadow tests and put homework on Moodle and hand out study guides before the test

All devices shall be used for educational purposes only.

Every month, around the time when we get to change seats, we will be able to have a meeting to decide what rules need to be altered or changed. (This meeting can take a maximum of 1 class period).

If anyone does not follow these laws, Mr. Irving decides their consequence.

Why I still love teaching

I put the video below for several reasons. First, it’s Ted Greene, an amazing guitarist who is no longer with us. Second, he’s playing one of the loveliest melodies ever written. Third, he’s playing a telecaster (I own three)!

Even though Ted was basically a jazz guitarist, and that’s not my style, I can appreciate his artistry and skill. The truth is I’ll never be able to play a tenth as well as him.

But what really caught my eye was reading about his life here on his website. Even though he was an amazing guitarist, he devoted his life to teaching and sharing his knowledge. He had a stream of students, from rank beginners to accomplished jazzbos visiting him in his apartment. If you watch a video of one of his lessons, you can see the excitement he has in the material itself and the joy of trying to get it across to someone.

Which made me think about my career. And that joy is what keeps me going. I love teaching. All kinds of things. At this stage of my career, many teachers have moved into administration, or become consultants, or just retired. But I still love the classroom. It’s not too glamorous, but I’m happy to have an opportunity to affect lives by sharing my enthusiasm.

And now enjoy Ted Greene:



Class Constitution #1

As promised, here’s one of the two classes’ constitutions, presented with very minor editing  by me:

We the people of history class hereby declare that using electronic devices in class would be a good idea.

We agree upon that we would use these devices responsibly.

We will be responsible with our classroom materials.

We will ensure safety among ourselves, and our devices.

People shall not make annoying noises.

People shall keep their seats in their seats while learning.

We will strive to always do our homework.

People shall not be overly annoying and rude to others so you do not lower their self-esteem.

We should have a wider variety of activities types and topics.

People shall not bully.

We the students of room 140C all agree on these rules of classroom engagement and will always be respectful of
Mr. Irving.

Robert’s Rules of Order

I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again: kids always amaze me. I really believe that students will perform up, or down, to our expectations.
Case in point: we’re studying the US Constitution in my two 7th grade history sections. To give them a taste of how this all works, I tasked them both with coming up with a “constitution” for the class. They worked in 3-4 groups, developed a set of rules and guidelines in each group, and then dumped all the suggestions into a Moodle wiki.

Then I said they could choose 10 out of all of them. I walked out of the room and left them to it. I actually suggested using Robert’s Rules to see if they would pick up on the hint. They didn’t. Guess I should have been more direct!
One class (the bigger one) was loud. Really loud. They did accomplish some things. But there was also lots of grumbling, complaining about not being heard, some people monopolizing the discussion, etc. So I went over a very simplified version of Robert’s Rules of Order with them, and then left them to it again. What a difference!  It ran smoothly, much more quietly, and they finished on time. All seemed pretty happy with Robert and his Rules, as well as proud of their accomplishments. I told them I was proud of the work they had done, and the mature way they had done it.

So the takeaway? Sometimes we expect young people to act in a certain way without giving them the tools by which to do so. Once they “got” the Robert’s procedure, they went with it and did a fantastic job. And yes, we all signed the document and will post it in a prominent place in the classroom.

1876 cover of Robert's Rules of Order , a book...
1876 cover of Robert’s Rules of Order , a book containing rules of order intended to be adopted for use by a deliberative assembly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Celebrate Good Times!

Today was my first unit celebration for my 7th grade classes.

Previous students know that “celebration” is Mr Irving-speak for “test”. However, we are celebrating all of our new-found knowledge, in this case, of the causes of the American Revolution.  To make the atmosphere more festive, I played the Celebration song by Kool and the Gang. I also gave out pumpkin-shaped candies; it’s fall now, after all.

Photo of actual candy.


No outright positive reinforcement?

Just read this in an article over at MiddleSchoolWeb:  “Most people who do professional development these days tell you not to give outright positive feedback.” 

Really? I guess I’m at all the wrong PD conferences, or follow the wrong tweeps. Not only have I not heard this, but I completely disagree. Leaving aside the parsing of the word “outright” for the moment, I’m having a hard time understanding this approach. I do understand why some might say this. After a few decades of mainly empty “self-esteem” building, it seems the pendulum has now swung back. I get it. But not giving positive reinforcement is just as ludicrous at giving it to artificially build self-esteem.

I’m happy that I’m at the stage in my career when I can see “the middle way”.

And as for “outright”…. does that mean we should sneak the compliments in so that they don’t actually compliment the student, but compliment the work? Or the effort? Please. Kids aren’t that dumb. They know exactly what we’re doing and saying. I even have my 6th graders mocking the “everyone is a winner” line. They know it’s bogus. And they’ll see through the lack of “outright positive reinforcement.”