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Inspire: CV's Irvin says students must own their education
CV School District

Inspire: CV's Irvin says students must own their education

From the Inspire 2019: Teaching our youth in Cumberland County series
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In a way, Chris Irvin would rather have his students teach themselves.

The most rewarding part of his job is when a boy or girl takes ownership of their learning, allowing him to assume the role of facilitator of what happens next.

“Students need to be challenged and given the opportunity to do new things that are a bit out of their comfort zone,” said Irvin, a teacher at Eagle View Middle School. “Science is a good venue for that.

“I’ve had students come in at the beginning of the year and say, ‘I’m not good at science,’” Irvin said. “I never believe that. What I try to do as much as possible is to the build the student’s confidence in themselves.”

A Lemoyne native, Irvin said he had great teachers growing up. That interaction inspired him to pursue a career in public education.

“Their enthusiasm for the content,” Irvin said. “Their ability to build relationships with their students…I wanted to emulate them.”

For years, he has put that dream into practice especially in the role of coach of the Science Olympiad high school and middle school teams. “In that, I may have the most impact because those kids are taking a real deep dive into their science interest,” Irvin said. “It’s helping a lot of them make career decisions as they prep for college.”

As a group, Science Olympiad students tend to be self-teaching and self-motivated to the point where Irvin is mostly there to offer support and guidance. He lets them take charge of setting and meeting goals while recruiting juniors and seniors as mentors for the younger students.

“It’s nice to see them flourish,” Irvin said of the high school students. “They are getting this experience teaching and mentoring. It’s a unique experience for them to develop their leadership skills.”

As a classroom teacher, his goal of greater student confidence starts with reigniting in them a curiosity for science they may have lost but can find again.

Christopher Irvin

Cumberland Valley School District Age: 44

Family: Spouse, Carla Irvin and children, Zane and Everett

Profession: Eighth grade science teacher at Eagle View Middle School

Birth place: Lemoyne

Where you live now: Lower Allen Township

Q. What do you like best about what you do?

I love working problems with students. Whether it is through project-based learning in the classroom or in an after-school Science Olympiad work session, when a student is tackling content that is beyond my expertise, I love sharing in the learning experience. This provides me an opportunity to model a growth mindset, build a partnership with the learners in my classroom, and expand beyond my own perceived limitations. For example, one Science Olympiad event involves building rubber band powered airplanes from balsa wood and Mylar sheets. I did not know how to build or fly an indoor flyer. My Science Olympiad team and I learned together, made mistakes together, and persevered together. The wide range of experiences I have gathered while coaching Science Olympiad has been incorporated into my classroom.

Q. What is the toughest challenge you face?

The toughest challenge is in knowing and meeting the needs of each learner in a limited time. Differentiation of instruction is always the goal. I try to deliver my instruction in a way that allows the learners to take control in the process. Through incorporating a hybrid rotational model and the use of the Schoology learning management system, students are often able to control the pace of a lesson and make decisions about how they will learn the content.

In our after-school work sessions for Science Olympiad, I work with students in grades 6 through 12 who compete in 46 events. Time constraints do not allow me to teach each event. Instead, the participants are encouraged to take full ownership of the learning process. They form collaborative groups. They teach and test each other. I try to act as a facilitator, overseeing the process and helping to remove any barriers that may limit student growth.

Q. What do you like best about working in your school district?

This is my twentieth year of teaching 8th grade science at Eagle View Middle School. I have the pleasure of working with wonderful colleagues and supportive administrators. We have always had autonomy within our classrooms and we are encouraged to innovate.

Q. What are the key elements you see in effective teachers?

An effective teacher models a growth mindset for the students. Everything a teacher says and does in front of students can be used reinforce the development of a growth-mindset.

Q. What work is left to do?

There is always lesson planning. Every year, new resources become available that must be incorporated to improve the way the students experience the curriculum. My lessons from two years ago are obsolete, not because the content has changed, but because the way students interact with the wealth of digital material has changed. Textbooks are a thing of the past and we are moving on. Something new will emerge within the next year or two and, as a result, new lessons will be planned to maximize the experience.

“Students need to be challenged and given the opportunity to do new things that are a bit out of their comfort zone. Science is a good venue for that.” — Chris Irvin

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

"Students need to be challenged and given the opportunity to do new things that are a bit out of their comfort zone. Science is a good venue for that."

— Chris Irvin

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