Posted on October 16, 2017
Filed Under Seventh Grade Behavior, toys | Leave a Comment

I have found many curbside treasures on my afternoon skate over the years. Examples include: sets of vintage TV trays, bicycles, a giant paper-mache rocket ship (7 feet high–wish I still had that thing), high-end patio furniture, a nice stained-glass lamp, the yellow dog-mascot of my classroom, a cast-iron clawfoot bathtub, a stage spotlight, a treadmill, and the Wheel of Doom (a large Wheel of Fortune type wheel that goes clack clack clack as it spins–I use it to choose which tests to rerun questions from).  And that’s just some of the groovy stuff I remember off the top of my head. But this latest acquisition is proving to be one of the most useful yet. Behold the Twist and Ski!

The usefulness and appeal in a seventh grade classroom should be obvious to anyone who has had experience with the animal that is a seventh grader.

  1. It’s weird and new to them. “What’s that? It looks weird. Why do you have it? Can I try it?” (Notice the progression.)
  2. It’s physical. They’re in junior high. They want to wiggle and move. They need to wiggle and move.  And the weirder the movement the better.
  3. I made it a challenge. “You guys probably can’t do it anyway without hurting yourselves. And then I’ll probably get sued, and then where would we be?” “Nuh uh!”

I call it the Excess Energy Dissipation Device  for seventh graders. And boy does it get used!

Now, before school, when I open my door early, and at break, there is a mad dash for the EEDD. They still haven’t really figured out how to do it smoothly, but they sure do love it. Sure enough, we’ve had a couple geniuses fall off, but they’re back in the rush the next day. One kid tried to do a 360 on the turntable, but he forgot about his giant backpack…


Here it is in action.

I Saw You! (Revisited)

Posted on September 25, 2017
Filed Under Rerun, Seventh Grade Behavior | Leave a Comment

One of the beauties of this job is that every day is different. There’s always something going on, or a crisis or silliness or whatever. However, in some ways, things around here never change. Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a post called “Masters of the Obvious, 10/27/10”:

Let’s begin with an example. The rule in my class for warm ups and other classwork is that they always have to write the title and the date every time they write in their notebooks. So if you, dear reader, were one of my seventh graders, your most likely response upon reading the above title would be:

“Is today’s title ‘Masters of the Obvious’?”

Then…wait for it…

“What’s the date?”

It is one of the hallmarks of the junior high species: the stating (usually in the form of a question) of a staring-you-in-the-face-obvious fact. (Other hallmarks include: the three-word phrase, the pack mentality, and the need for routine, but I digress…again.)

If you can’t handle the redundant question/statement thing, you wouldn’t last a week in this job. If you wear a new shirt, they tell you wore a new shirt. Or they ask if that’s a new shirt. If you ask them to take out their assignment books, they’ll ask if there’s any homework. Then there’s the ever popular, “I saw you.”

“Yes, I said hi to you, remember?”

“But I saw you.”

(After my semi-annual haircut…)

“Did you get a haircut?” or “You got a haircut.”

“No, I don’t discriminate; I got them all cut.”

(After my boy gets me some new pink reading specs from the dollar store…)

“Did you get new glasses? They’re pink.”

“What? No way!”

(Looking around at all the Simpsons kitsch I have in my classroom…)

“Do you like The Simpsons or something?”

“No. I just like bits of plastic from China.”

(Upon seeing the assembly schedule prominently displayed…)

“Do we have an assembly today?”

(Finally noticing my bike in the corner of the room…where it has been every day since day one…)

“Did you ride your bike to school?”



“Do we need to put our name on this?”
“Only if you want credit.”

“Do we have to do KBAR?”
“Only if you want to pass.”

“Do I need a pencil today?”

“Do we have to?”

“I’m kind of hyper today.”
“No way! Really?”

So now it’s almost seven years later, and I am still getting this:

“I saw you this weekend!”

“No Way! I exist outside this classroom?!”

“Yes! And I saw you.”


“You were riding your bike.”

“What?! You mean that bike over there?”

“Is that your bike?”










Posted on September 21, 2017
Filed Under Off-Topic, Seventh Grade Behavior | 1 Comment

Since we read The Outsiders aloud in class, it happens that some classes get out ahead of others in their progress through the book. Some classes are just faster with the vocab or they ask fewer questions about the instructions or whatever, but it means that in some periods we end up with more time to read. A little variation is ok, but I can’t let one or two classes to get too far out in front; I don’t want to have to make different tests and suchlike. So sometimes I have to stop them a little short of the end of the period, leaving a couple minutes empty. No I don’t do “sponge” activities. (If you’re a noob, go look it up.) What I do is the Off-Topic Q/A. The kids get to ask all the off-topic, non-sequitur questions they can cram into whatever time we have left. There’s no guarantee I will answer any particular question (more on that in a minute), but they can take their shot.

The questions usually fall into one of four categories:

Type 1: Basic Information. 

-Do you gave a dog?


– What’s his name?


-Do you have a wife?


-What’s her name?

Mrs. Coward.

-Do you even own a car?


And so on. Sigh. So little imagination.

Type 2: “What’s your favorite…?”

Gawd, these get old after awhile. Color? Yellow. Food? Pizza: the circle of life. Also burger: circle of life II. Band? Replacements. Who? Author? Too many, and you wouldn’t recognize them anyway. Superhero? Really? Animal? Really? Class? All my classes are so “special” I can’t choose. Shoe company? I actually get this more than you would think. I actually have an answer: Nike. They’re the only ones that fit my weird feet. Candy? Snickers or Butterfinger or Necco. Although I was just turned on to these things called Nerds Ropes. Mmmmm Nerds Rooooopes. Cookie? Peanut butter (pretty much verboten these days with all the peanut allergies) or snickerdoodles.

That last one is actually useful information because I always tell them that their excuses and pleas for mercy are much better heard when I am eating cookies.

Anyway, I would just like to see a little more creativity… Like the kid yesterday who asked about my favorite font and font size. That’s an off-topic question, Daddio!

Type 3: “Why…?”

These are classic seventh grade.

Why do you ride your bike?

Why do you carry a stick?

Why do you have all this stuff in your room?

Why do you say “Baby” all the time?

Why did you get a haircut?

Why does the Quiet Stick have chunks out of it?

Why do I have a bad grade?

Why don’t you like 8th graders?

Why don’t you drive?

In order: I like it. It’s fun. Why do you have stuff in your room? It’s fun, and you are. I got them all cut, not just one. Hmmm, I wonder. Hmmm, I wonder. They make me crabby. It makes me crabby.

Type 4: The Danny Partridge.

I know I am showing my age here, but one of my fave Partridge Family episodes was when Danny thought he needed to jazz up the act and add jokes. He goes to an old has-been/never-was comic and buys a bunch of old, lame jokes from him and tries to bust them on an unsuspecting crowd. We’re talking like, “I just flew in from LA and boy, my arms are tired,” or “Take my wife…Please” kind of stuff. It goes over big the first time because he’s cute, but…

Some kids think Off-Topic Question time is their Danny Partridge moment:

-Mr. Coward…What exactly would you do… for a Klondike Bar?

-Do you know how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a…?

-Who IS your daddy?

-Did you see that? (He actually thought I would fall for that.)

-Mr. Coward… do you… Got milk?




“Dear Mr. Coward, I just checked Einstein’s grade…”

Posted on September 14, 2017
Filed Under grades, parents, Seventh Grade Behavior | Leave a Comment

I was an early advocate for posting grades online. In fact, our site was the first school in the district to have a majority of the teachers posting grades and homework online, thank you very much. We were several years ahead of even the high school. I remember parents who were used to having easy access to that info, getting crabby when their kids hit the high school, and almost nobody on the staff had any web presence.

The gradebook program (another trailblazing effort at our site) our staff used in those days allowed for several ways to post the data online. One of the ways would display the whole class in one screen with six columns: student ID number, points earned/points possible, total percentage, letter grade, rank in class, number of zeros.

This is the way we rolled at our site. It was just enough information for everybody to stay informed without micromanaging. At Back to School Nights, I would tell parents,

“Your focus should be on the last column: number of zeros. We want that number to be ZERO. If it is, the rest should take care of itself. If that number is greater than zero, your student’s first step is to see me to find out what it is and if it can be made up. If your student has zero zeros AND the letter grade is still low, THEN we have something we need to talk about.”

I also liked the “rank in class” feature. There used to be sooooo much jockeying for position and trash-talking and… ummm… trying. It was a lot of fun to watch.

The downside was that many of the kids treated their grade like it was on the stock market:

“I’m up 3.5%! Yay!”

“Why did that happen?”

“I don’t know… but yay!”

But now my grade book is live on the net as soon as I hit the Save button. And the stupid software automatically puts a letter grade for every assignment, no matter how small. And I have no control over how it displays the information.

So now I get this:

“I see Baby Mozart has been getting B+’s on her Friday tests. What can we do about this?”

“Umm… she has a 97% in the class overall. I think she’s doing ok. The tests are only part of the class and grade.”

“We don’t accept B’s in this family. Also she got an F on that quiz on Wednesday. How can she make that up?”

“That was 5 points. She got 2. We will have more than 1000 points possible in the quarter alone. She still has a 97% in the class.”

“We certainly don’t accept F’s in this family. How can she make that up?”

And even worse, the kids STILL don’t take advantage of the information. Yesterday I got an e-mail from a kid with like five missing assignments out of about twenty. (The e-mail has been edited for spelling and clarity.)

“Mr. Coward, I just looked at my grade, and it is really low. I am confused about why it’s so low because I’m really trying hard. What can I do to get my grade up? Hope you are having a great day.”


500th Post! And a Couple of Firsts.

Posted on September 6, 2017
Filed Under Seventh Grade Behavior, Teaching | Leave a Comment

Waitaminnit! I just went and looked, and the first posts on this here blog were all the way back in 2008. Nine years?! 500 posts?!

Ok, some are reruns (mebbe 10-15%), but still… 270,000+ words!

But enough looking backward… Although today’s post does have a bunch of links to some old classics from over the years.

One of the great things about this job is the fact that even though on the surface, it looks like the same same all the time, there is always SOMETHING new/different/what the…? Even after 25 years at the same school…

This year already has a couple of examples.

Earliest detention-giving ever. Usually on the first day of school, they sit and stare at me like I’m speaking Mandarin Chinese to their dog. They are all scared to death of me and my stick (more on that in a minute) and half of them still can’t open their lockers, and they freeze up when I ask how to pronounce their names. But this year… I had a kid in the FIRST PERIOD OF THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL who obviously didn’t read the memo about how this place works. (Hint: It’s not a democracy.)  This one needed a few rides around the arena, so to speak, and he still wasn’t getting it; he thought this was his show, not mine. When I told him to stay in at break for detention… well obviously he wasn’t used to that. Hmmm. A little personal heart to heart, and we’re BFFs now. Most of the time.

Earliest You’re-So-Scary. Only one week in, I get an e-mail from my AP with the header, “Be You…but.” First of all, what’s that mean? But? But what? Don’t be you? Be not so much you? Be you, but pretend not to? Then I read this: “Got a kiddo that is scared. .. Fear/anxiety is a great motivator, but I want you to be sure that the kiddos feel, and say, that their teacher is caring and sensitive too.”

First of all, I love the part about public relations: “and say.” What the kids say is just as important as what they feel. Hmmm, Interesting. Secondly, hahahahahahahahahahaha. Caring and sensitive? Has he met me? Third, back in the day in teacher school, “raising thier level of anxiety” was a supposedly proven technique. Fourth, he must have forgotten that it is all part of the shtick. I even warn parents of that at Back to School Night, saying that the first six weeks are like boot camp, and I am the Drill Instructor. But by the sixth week or sooner, they will think this class is the best thing since Sponge Bob.

Sho’ ’nuff, by the end of the week, the “kiddo” was saying this was one of her fave classes, and that Mr. Coward is funny.

Luckily, looks aren’t everything.


OMG! Twenty Five Years! Plus Ca Change…

Posted on August 20, 2017
Filed Under First Day | 1 Comment

Tomorrow begins my 25th year at Laguna Middle School. It was Laguna Junior High when I started. That ain’t the only thing that’s changed around here.

We used to have the oldest staff in the district. Now it’s all young uns and noobs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld used to say. In fact, yours truly excepted, we are a much less crabby staff than when I started. So much enthusiasm and noobness! It brings a tear to the eye of this jaded old veteran. Seven new staff this year, and everybody is just so excited!

I fought upper management for years just to get teacher web pages and access to a (relatively) unfiltered internet. Now we take it for granted that the kids all have Chromebooks, teachers all have a web presence of some kind and everybody and his mom has a new educational app they want to foist on you. Our head of curriculum and instruction wouldn’t have a clue what to do without the internet.

Clickers are now old school.

If I hear the word data one more time I will lose it.

As recently as eight years ago, we had five sections of band, five sections of choir, and five sections of drama. We now have two sections of band, one section of choir, and fewer than 20 kids per quarter taking drama on the elective wheel.

I am on my sixth principal here. A good year this year, and he would move to #1 in the rankings. He has finally learned that food at meetings is essential. Plus, he is just so “up” all the time. I am impressed. It really is “all good.”

On a sad note, one of our fave veterans, Mrs. G, died a week after school got out. She had been teaching at our district for 51 years and at our school for 45.


But as the French saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” ANd nowhere is that more true than junior high… excuse me, middle school.

Despite the name change, we are still 7th/8th  grade only, and always will be. NO sixth graders here in the foreseeable future.

Despite the age change, the vibe around here is still very Disneyland. Everybody just looooves it here.

The kids are the same. Rambunctious, hilarious, frustrating puppies who just want an alpha to show them the way.

This first day is shaping up to be a bit different though. We will have over 100 more kids than we did last year. The eclipse will be occurring right while we are taking 7th graders on a tour of the school…

“Don’t look up at the sun, use the glasses or the…”

“Woah! That’s cool… and it don’t hurt at all to look up!”


Also the main road into the school will have several lanes closed for construction tomorrow.

Just another first day.

PS: I started noobing around on Instagram this summer. Check out what I did on my summer vacation: @mrcinslo.






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