A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Friday, November 22, 2013

People who dismiss Middle School kids don't spend much time with Middle School kids!

I love my job!

We are in the middle of the section on the Constitution and I am in hog heaven. We have spent the week looking at the Bill of Rights and the last couple of days on a Supreme Court decision from the 80s. The discussions yesterday and today are why I teach. They are engaged--they have been arguing the case in other classes as well! They are well versed on the Fourth Amendment and are asking great questions...

  • Student's Rights versus 'School Environment'
  • What happens when you search for one thing and find something worse?
  • When should parents be notified when  a student is suspected of violating a school policy? A crime?
  • Should students expect to have any privacy while at school?
  • Are teachers agents of the parents or agents of the states?

One of the beauties of these discussions is at this age is they still live in a state of idealism. What is right is what is fair and they don't tend to see a lot of 'gray'. I get to play devil's advocate and they get really frustrated with me when I change sides on a dime.

To invoke Thanksgiving--they are gobbling up the debate. They see how complicated it is to protect our rights and are up for the challenge! The want to understand and are more than capable of coming up with their own opinions.

Dismiss them at your own peril.

When people wax on about the state of education and young people, I smile. They don't see what I see. Wax on...just know that we are fine. There are issues to be sure, but there are always issues to deal with. How we deal with them is the better discussion. We look back nostalgically on our youth and forget something:

They aren't like us but, hell, we weren't like us either.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ok, watch this video at your own risk. I can't get it out of my brain.

I am not speaking ill of the work "Mr. Beats" does. Teaching is hard enough without teachers baggin' on each other. He uses the tools he has and goes above and beyond what most teachers do and so he is a rock star in my book.

If you go to Mr. Beat's channel, you will find a low tech Crash Course sort of presentation. The information is fine but its not as flashy as what John Green puts out. I was showing a documentary on Nicodemus to my 7th Grade History students and came across Mr. Beats channel. I gotta give it to him that he puts himself out there for his students and there is a sense of humor in the videos. We had a few minutes and so I pulled up the above video for Taft.

The video was a hit.

The original song is a hoot. The kids were singing, "Taft, Taft, Taft, ... Taft, Taft, Taft..." on their way out and learned he was the only president to be on the Supreme Court as well as a frienemy of Teddy Roosevelt. (Also that he got stuck in a bathtub but we won't speak of that. Us, husky guys gotta stick together!)

It was icing on a great day of teaching. We studied New Jersey versus TLO in American History and had some of the best discussions I have this year in all three classes.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address will just have to wait!!!!

This Day in History is killing me!

We are spending this week talking about the Bill of Rights in class. Anyone who knows me knows that is one of my favorite weeks as a teacher. We have wrestled with the Constitution and the ratifying conventions, which is fun. But...THE BILL OF RIGHTS!!!

The dilemma this year is that today is the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address. 150 years. A century and a half. I had a lesson plan worked out and was going to take a daytrip to the address from the Bill of Rights. And then the kids started asking question about search and seizure and speedy trial and why Kansas doesn't have Grand Juries and I realized that Lincoln was going to wait. I always spend a few days with the Address so it will get its day in the sun.

The videos above are similar to ones I'm using in class this week. They are put together by the Annenberg folks and the data is good and the people they are interviewing are top drawer. The part I am digging, however, are the graphics and videos they are using in the background. They have found every bad educational video we were forced to sit through and used them in a way that works. They are so unintentionally bad that they are perfect for the videos.

I like the one I'm using better than these but it didn't have a YouTube video. The one I'm using is The Story of the Bill of Rights. It has to be created by the same people who made Let Freedom Swing, which offers the thesis that Jazz and democracy share improvisation as a key attribute. I will use it in the spring as we go deeper in what it means to be a citizen.

BTW-Ken Burns has a new documentary on the Gettysburg Address and how it is used in a school in Vermont. One of the offshoots of the movie is Learn the Address. I love this idea! On the anniversary of the Address, I will leave you with one this 'mashup' from that website.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Doing our job by not doing our job...

A teacher friend whom I look up to posted are article on coaching teachers (Chad's Blog--Learning is Messy). In that post, he look at what one researcher states are the needs of adult learners. That list is posted below but with a little Chad-twist...he's replaced 'adult' with 'student'.
    • Students want to be the origin of their learning and want control over the what, who, how, why, and where of their learning. 
    • Students will commit to learning when they believe the objectives are realistic and important for their personal and professional needs. 
    • Students need to see that what they are learning is applicable to their day to day activities and problems.
    • Students  need to see very clearly the relevance of what they’re being asked to learn. 
    • Students need to have some say in what they’re doing.
    • Students  need direct, concrete ways to apply what they have learned to their work.
    • Students (like adults)  need to feel emotionally safe in order to be able to learn.
His argument is that while all of those are needs of adults, how are student's needs any different?

I agree.

Its their education. Our job is as a cheerleader and coach and placeholder for them as they figure out how to be their own learners. When we take over for them (either as a parent or teacher) we deny them a chance to guide themselves into maturity. When we as teachers look for the lowest common denominator as the standard to teach toward, we inadvertently say to our charges that mediocrity is the same thing as success.  My concern is that our fear that students experience anything other than success places them in a situation that we impair their ultimate ability to be successful.

Thought experiment: How many of us as adults look back at the events in our lives which made us stronger, smarter, more mature and better people and see events in which we were only marginally involved? We were sitting in a chair listening passively and shazookum... it happened. The magic eight ball says 'the odds are low'.

I won't speak for anyone else but I've had to work hard to be a better student, better teacher, better dad and husband, ... insert whatever role you'd like there. I've been forced to confront ideas and realities I thought were beyond my comprehension; to do things I was sure were beyond my abilities. Sometimes, in response to those challenges, I succeeded and learned I was more than I thought I was. Often I didn't succeed and I learned that taking that leap didn't kill me. Mistakes are the best lesson plans. There is a great line from a song,

Each game of chess means there's one less/
Variation left to be played
Each day got through means one or two/

Less mistakes remain to be made." 

I didn't do it alone; supportive adults abounded in my life. They challenged and encouraged and pissed me off on more than one occasion--they pushed me to learning at more than just a baby step pace. They expected more out of me than I did myself until I was ready to.

Why do we deny that to our students?