Everyday, thousands—if not millions—of posts make their way onto Reddit in hopes of achieving 15 minutes of Internet fame. With the domain’s user base exceeding seven figures, only the best of the best content makes its way to the site’s front page. A few months ago, James Mayne, a high school History teacher living in Paradise California, uploaded a collection of personal whiteboard illustrations to the popular site to much acclaim (a link to which can be found here). The Magnatag team was extremely impressed with James’ craftsmanship so we managed to get in touch with him for this week’s iteration of Whiteboards We Love. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: What made you start drawing pictures on the whiteboard?
A: Well, it was my first day of teaching and I was attempting to get my classroom situated for my first day of class. I just got finished segmenting the whiteboard into different portions and I realized I had an extra space I did not account for. Given that I had a few extra minutes before students would begin showing up, I just spontaneously began drawing and it evolved from there. My drawings only take on average anywhere from five to ten minutes, with the more elaborate portraits taking upwards of twenty. I had the spare time so I figured “why not?”
Q: Do you have a background in any form of professional artistry?
A: No I don’t. I’ve always liked drawing and it’s just a little something I like to use as a way to push my creative limits. I did take an industrial design class my freshman year of college, so perhaps that’s where some of the technical aspects of the drawings come from. I like to think that the physicality of drawing and using components of it, like spatial reasoning for example, are a good way for me to push my creative limits—especially in the early morning when I’m still trying to wake up and get in a rhythm.
Q: Is creativity something that is important in regards to how you conduct lesson planning?
A: I think creativity is crucial in any subject you are studying. You know, the prevalence of art is instrumental in the lower grades, and as levels increase and children begin to mature, kids aren’t creating with much. I definitely think it helps to bring art into the classroom.
Where does the inspiration come from?
A: To be honest, it basically depends on the day. If it’s a major day in history or we’re discussing an important figure in class, I may try to incorporate some of that into my drawings. In cases like that, I like to think of it as a way that I can help make students visually engaged; it’s just another way to prompt discussion. They can walk into the classroom and look up at the board and get an idea of what we’ll be discussing. There’s definitely an added value to have the ability to get students purposefully thinking before class is underway. Other days it’ll be a little less organic and I’ll have some fun with it. There have been times where students will come in and out of my classroom throughout the course of a day to write on the board, and since I like to reinforce the need for collaboration within the classroom, I’ll build my illustration for the next day in conjunction with what they have drawn.
Q: Is student engagement a big part of your teaching philosophy?
A: Yeah, it definitely is. I think collaboration—and these whiteboard drawings in particular—cultivate into a more immersive classroom. Collaboration is all about getting people involved; whether that be through the use of student involvement in my pictures, brainstorming sessions, or classroom games varies depending on the day. The real challenge with that comes from finding the need to disperse time properly. For instance, we’ll spend some time—either in class or at home—analyzing a chapter in a textbook and build upon that in the classroom. Often times I’ll try to incorporate a group discussion in the classroom; it’s a nice way for me to keep lectures from dominating the workload. A lot of teaching is about finding a healthy balance that works for your students. I think a lot of students are looking for a creative outlet for their work, so I try to provide that with my lessons. It’s so easy for to fall into a hole with the idea of History classes being ‘boring’, so any chance I can incorporate some sort of visual aid to heighten the student’s excitement is great for me.
Q: As you enter your fourth year of teaching, are the whiteboard drawings something you foresee as a staple of your classroom going forward?
A: If I were to stop doing them, I’d surely hear something from the students. I’ll sometimes hear that incoming freshmen refer to my room in particular as the “picture of the day classroom”, so I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I’ve already built up a collection of drawings over the past three years and it seems to have become something students really take to. I once had a student say to me: “you’ve been doing these drawings for three years, lets say you teach another 20: can you still draw something new every day?” I don’t know where I’ll be in 20 years, but I think the ideas will keep coming. I have a certain OCD-ness to my whiteboarding and I think that’ll continue to stick with me throughout the years.
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