My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve our lives through research based on our interests. What will we learn? What message will we share? This blog is a log of our learning experiences, mine and the students'... HOME - SEE ALL POSTS . Check out the LiveBinder to see what other teachers are doing during their Genius Hour time! Want to have me speak with you or your staff? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Choose to Be Bothered

At BLC15, Jennie Magiera forced me, once again, to think of my peers in my own "school box."

She shared the Moonshot Thinking video to get us inspired. I've seen this particular video at least three times already, but I hadn't really dug into the words her students picked out of the video -

This soaked in... Most people I'm connected to on Twitter would think about their community or think globally. Heck, one of Jennie's peers and her students were bothered by the media's view of their part of Chicago, and they created this video (which really needs to go viral) to bring more positive awareness to their community! Me - I'm still pretty sadly self-centered. My brain still thinks of my own school situation, which, by the way, is really a dream. I have three 80-minute classes, a huge classroom library, room to breathe and try new things, support from my administration, air conditioning once they turn it on, good families, nice kids, fine pay... I only have "First-World Problems," at best. My life is beautiful, with my soulmate, happy & healthy parents, a sister and her family I need to get to know again, two working vehicles, a mortgage payment I can handle...


I do not often think globally, and that is my downfall. I have, however helped out close to home, volunteering to pack food, and creating care packages for the homeless. I try and do good on a day-to-day basis, in my own little circle. My circle isn't wide, like some other stellar human beings. Most of the sessions at BLC had me thinking of my own classroom. I now see "Choose to be bothered," and I think of daily team meetings with teachers.

Teachers, overall, have very tough days, mixed in with very good ones. Home and work contribute to our attitude, of course. On those tough days, our words and tone can change in a negative way, reflecting our stress and frustration. Since reading Choice Words by Peter Johnston, I've been more aware of every word that comes out of my mouth, especially at school. I know this - it is not up to me to patrol other teachers. Everyone is struggling in his or her life somehow, and I am not going to be bossy or a nag and tell people that what they're saying is "wrong." It bothers me when I hear complaints about students, and yet I'm sure even their parents are frustrated with these same children at home at times. I am, by nature an optimist (thank you, Mom & Dad, for the name), and I am aware not everyone else is.

However, I'm going to CHOOSE to be bothered now. It's time. I was an itinerant teacher for seven years, and then reading specialist for the next seven, and I didn't know what teams actually did during "team time." I know now that they are focused on the students - who is struggling, what are we doing about it, and how can we improve? I've been on a team since 2009, and I've seen the dynamics of having one teacher from each discipline in the same room, talking about the same students. You know how it goes - we end up talking more about the children that need more of our help than the ones that are the "model students." I've seen how other teachers can be dragged down by one negative comment that spirals. This is not healthy. It's not healthy for the team to think of their students in a negative light. It's not healthy for me to bite my tongue and suppress my anguish at hearing these things. For two years in a row now, I've had one student (two different students) tell me, "Mrs. Kirr, you're the only teacher that likes me." Even the kids feel the negative vibe, which I feel needs to stop.

More plans for this next school year...

  • Listen. Smile. Share the bright spots. Ask questions - "What was your favorite part of....?" "What did you get out of that last meeting?" "Where can we go from here?" "How can we make this better?" "What do we know about this child that can help us help him or her?" "How can we find out what truly motivates this child?"
  • Ask, "What's best for this child?" Remind teachers that these children are most likely someone else's entire world.
  • If there is one person in particular that is more negative than the others, I'm going to do what I have a very hard time doing. I'm going to be even nicer to that person. I'm not going to hide and pretend it isn't happening. I'm going to choose to be bothered, and try to connect in other ways so that I am better able to understand his or her frustrations. I'm going to try to communicate better, such as I alluded to three blog posts ago.

Sometimes I think not having my own children really has made me "adopt" these children that come into my life each year. Isn't that part of teaching, however? What are we doing this for? Why are we teaching? I find that, more and more, the children are teaching ME more than I'm teaching them. They ask questions all the time - I will try to do the same, especially during times when teachers are simply complaining, and not offering solutions. It's what all educators should strive to do... to make our schools better environments in which to learn.

Graphics created with Paper53 app.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In one sentence...

My husband is retired, so he lives vicariously through my school work, I believe... ;)

He asked me this earlier this week -
In one sentence, how would you sum up all this stuff you've been studying? Methods, Genius Hour, Teaching in General... What's the secret? What would make it perfect? What's the ultimate goal?
In one sentence?

Let's see... finding ways for peers and me to give LOTS of feedback so that one class of my students may grade themselves each quarter, and figuring out what ELSE (besides Genius Hour and what I'm already doing) I can do to help students learn how to learn on their own. That's really it, in a nutshell. It's a TON of work, but it's coming along slowly. He still wants ONE sentence...

I want my students and I to execute class in a way that helps them learn 7th grade ELA standards with and from each other, while simultaneously learning how to be caring human beings who communicate effectively so they become lifelong learners.

Leave in the comments or create your own blog post -
What's your ultimate goal for all the time you spend learning this summer?

Graphic created with Paper 53 & TextsPhoto apps

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Boston, Round Two!

I can't believe I went back to Boston.

Visiting in 2012 for BLC12 seems like yesterday!

Last August, I was asked to submit a proposal for a workshop or small sessions at BLC15 (Building Learning Communities in Boston). I put in for both, figuring one wouldn't be accepted. I was wrong. Here was my schedule this week:
Tuesday 7/14 - 8am to Noon - Genius Hour Master Class 
Wednesday 7/15 - 2:35-3:40
             and again   4:00-5:05 - Let It Go 
        (crowdsourcing to share ideas to let go of control) 
Thursday 7/16 - 1:10-2:15 - Genius Hour
I've been a nervous wreck. For weeks. Just look at these other speakers! And now it's all over.

So many ideas. So little time. Here are my take-aways...

From valuable meetings & presentations I attended...
   Dinner with Lesley Burnap
       We ate at Parish Cafe - Here the lesson to TRY SOMETHING NEW was enforced! The sandwich, that is... Although the food was great, the company was better. It's always sweet meeting people from your Twitter PLN face to face. We talked about Genius Hour and books! What better conversation?! I'm so grateful for the drive she took to meet us in downtown Boston!

   Tech Tool...
       Answer Garden - ask a question, have people answer, and can export to Wordle or other...

   Dylan Wiliam's Keynote
       "He that will be a leader, must be a bridge." Administration needs to give time for teachers to become better. Teachers are working harder than ever.
       Most often with PD - It's easy to change teachers in front of other teachers. It's more difficult to change when we get back in front of children.
       We already know what we're supposed to be doing, but we're not doing it.
       The greatest impact is minute-by-minute feedback. We don't do it because it's hard.
       Break up "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" into bite-sized pieces so they're easy to swallow.
       Start with bright spots - naysayers can't argue with what is working.
       Teachers need to engineer effective learning environments - to create engagement and develop habits of mind.
       If teachers don't think they can become a better teacher tomorrow, they should be fired.
       I need to read Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip & Dan Heath.

   Amy Burvall - "The Cloud is our Campfire"
       I am going to (or rather, ask my husband to) create a box. This box will be open on two sides. It will look much like a photo booth - maybe I can hang a curtain! An iPad will be secured somehow to the back of the box as you're looking at it. It will be positioned up on a wall or tall podium. Amy called hers a "Vox Box." Once students step toward, and put their head in the box, they will see a question posed above the iPad. They can then record their (short) response right on the iPad in the camera app. I can share these quips with parents during open house, and later on our class website. Here's my question now... What question should I ask students? I was thinking of, "What are you most looking forward to this year?" I don't think that's the one. Help?

   Lunch with Rik Rowe
       EdCamp fanatic, Rik Rowe, lives in the Boston area! He met Hubby and I for lunch on Wednesday! Ideas of communication and questioning were reinforced in our discussions. He did not help me relax at lunch - he pushed my thinking further.
   Erin Klein - Sharing the Student Voice and Personalize Learning
       Tell students, "This is going to be your best year ever! Now how can we make is so?"
       Learning needs to happen BY students, not FOR them.
       Every child in your classroom is someone else's whole world.
       I need to read Rafe Esquith's books...
       As for presentations? Add your personal stories - she had us hooked once she shared stories about her own children. Of course, I agreed with everything she said...!

   Lainie Rowell's Keynote
       When sharing great ideas with other teachers, invite them IN to your class. Share with them WHY you're trying something, have them watch it in person, then make sure you take the time to debrief with them. We all need to reflect in order to make things even better the next time.

   Darren Kuropatwa - The Fourth Screen
        I need him to come to our school, or I need to channel him somehow when I share his ideas with students. We need to make the social media experiences REAL for kids. You can tell them "fire is hot" for years, but they don't normally learn until they get burned. He shared stories of bullying, being negative in general, and reactions to bad decisions. He asked us to ask students, "What will you do with the power of the Internet?" He asked us to mention the terrible things, but then stress the positive actions.

   Walk with Dave Meyers to "Make Way for Ducklings" statues.
       Dave was the man who set me up with the iPad pilot I tried in the Fall of 2011... That was probably the start of my "aha" moments as a connected educator...
       My husband and I went for a walk with him after the sessions on this day, and we learned that colleges / universities were now going to have to report out how their educator graduates were doing in education. Because of this, Dave's new company is helping them figure things out AND will be connecting them to teacher mentors. Sounds like an interesting and valuable idea. It was nice to see him again!

   Jennie Magiera's Keynote
        Jennie is a Boston native, but lives in Chicago. I've never met her, and I should've said "Hello" and "Thank you!" in Boston. Her presentation was both hilarious and motivating. While most of the other presentations had me thinking of my students, hers had me thinking of the other teachers at my school and how I choose to interact (or hide) from them.
        Add three words to your conversation - "and... what if?"
        Choose to be bothered.
             Choose to be bothered.
                  Choose to be bothered.
        Don't be afraid to start over - even if you've invested a ton of time already.
        When you choose to be bothered, sometimes you have to do something nuts.
        Be vocal about your crazy. You can recruit friends and change the world together!
        Teacher question: How do we make kids stay in school?
        Student answer: Make school suck less.

From my own presentations...
    EVERYONE presenting is nervous. Know this. Then just do your best.
    I need to learn how to make my presentations on something other than Google Slides. I would love to go from one slide to the next, including videos, with one click of a remote button. Someone help, please?
    I think nine people in the workshop was a nice number. I would love a few more next time, but I think this group was cozy enough, but not too cozy. ;)
    I don't want to try something new in a big venue like this again - my "Let It Go" session went poorly the first time. Luckily I had a chance to try it again, and took the 20 min between the sessions to change things up!
    I will keep finding ways to INVOLVE the audience. I've sat through a few where I just sat and took notes, and looked at links. They were valuable, no doubt, but I saw a lot more sharing from the sessions that asked for audience participation and movement.
    Keep being humble. I don't pretend to know it all, and I hope I come across as making mistakes. I sat through one session where the presenter acted as if he was better than anyone else. I know I'll never know it all, and I hope my audience can see me as a constant learner.
    Time to infuse my presentations with photos and seamless transition of videos of kids.
    Keep the warm-up music prior to the presentation, and the last musical bit that everyone loves.
    Next time I'm nervous about traveling, I'll consider those that came to Boston from Hawaii, Australia, Russia, Taiwan, Istanbul, Finland.......
    Here's the one tweet (from my last presentation) that included a picture... I'm glad it's got Angela Maiers!

Thank you to Alan November and BLC crew for making me feel welcome in Boston.

Thank you to all the "old" friends I was able to hug, and all the new friends I made in Boston.

Thank you to the presenters and attendees, who stressed that it's about the LEARNERS, not the content.

Thank you to my husband, for all of your support, wonderful company, the walk for a cannoli at Maria's (and then again a surprise cannoli from Modern!), the almost crying at the awesome-ness of the Boston Public Library, and for reminding me to put on some pants before I head down to breakfast.

Thursday, July 9, 2015



My translation? -->   SHARING

We learn so much from sharing - our own stories and other people's stories. In many aspects of my life, I need to practice this art called "communication" - knowing when to share, and when to listen.

At home...
   We've got it made. My love and I know how to communicate. It's integral to our relationship. We are vulnerable with each other, laying everything on the line. And it WORKS. We have the best line of communication we've ever had with anyone. Ever. With my parents, it's close to the same thing. With my sister and other relatives... I've got some work to do.

In my classroom...
   I teach "LA/LIT" or "English Language Arts" or "reading and writing" in 7th grade. I once saw a post from either David Theriault or Sean Ziebarth (OH how I'd LOVE to teach with these two!!) that said they'd like to call their class "Communications." THIS is what it's all about. This is the place where I feel the next strongest when it comes to sharing and getting my point across. Ever since I read Choice Words by Peter Johnston, I've measured every word that comes out of my mouth in front of children.
   My first day with students, we take the 15 (?) minutes (very shortened periods the first day!) we have to read The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. I encourage thoughts, and call on students who do not have hands raised. The whole hand-raising idea is nice if you want a quiet room of compliant children. I like to have discussions instead. In "the real world," there isn't a whole lot of hand raising when people want to talk. One of my goals during the school year is to break students of this habit. We practice discussions without hands in the air. We practice how to interrupt, contribute, disagree, and support our opinions - while taking turns. If a class seems to need more support than another, we will take out the sock monkey and toss her for awhile, but then we let go of that security blanket soon enough. I don't know any other situation in which people having a discussion pass around a stuffed toy...
   While reading The Important Book, I also encourage disagreement with authors, and ME, as well. Disagreeing is definitely part of communicating. I, myself, disagree with the author when she writes, "The important thing about an apple is that is is red." Students themselves, before I turn the page, mention the words, "juicy, healthy, crispy, tasty" etc, and then they don't say a peep when I read aloud that it is "red." This is where the learning could stop, if I simply continued to read. Instead, I put the book down, and look out at my new students. I gasp, as I "can't believe you agree with the author - I didn't hear any dissension!" You can imagine how the rest of these few minutes go. My only lesson for the first day is that this class will be about communicating - sharing ideas, asking questions, disagreeing respectfully, using evidence to support our ideas, discovering and mending our misconceptions, and adding to our thoughts.

With parents of my students...
I have learned to be very transparent, and to send home positive notes every so often about their child. Just do it! It makes all the difference. 

At my school with other teachers...
It's when the communication STOPS that my frustration rises.
   When someone on my team says something and then says "End of discussion"... I can feel the steam coming from my ears, so I get up and excuse myself. Both of us are in the wrong here.
   When one person drops the ball on a yearly school-wide tradition and then makes the decision him/herself when it comes down to the deadline and virtually no changes can be made... What good does it do to complain, if it's too late anyway? I tried to offer a solution for NEXT year instead.
   This is the area where I struggle with communication the most.
What are my options?
   - Hide. I have times when I do this. Just shut my trap, don't say anything, and get on with what I need to do - focus on my own students. I'm not sure if this is healthy or not.
   - Keep an open mind. Know when to let things go, and when to keep the discussion open.
   - Ask for help. This is my next step. This is what I need to do.
          "Can we continue this discussion?"
          "Can we keep talking about...?" Perhaps put it off until another day.
          "This makes me think. Can we come back to this discussion on ____?" Get it on the docket.
          "I need to think more about this. Can we each do our own research and get back to it?"

In my district with administration...
   I try not to "bother" our administration. I know they've got far more pressing issues than any I might have! I really only communicate with them to ask how things are going, and to share some ideas I might have. They are busy with student issues, so I deal with the small issues on my own or with other teachers. I was upset at one decision that came down the pike, so I spoke to students (who were also upset, as it impacted them the most), and we came up with reasons to change the decision. I thought including student voice would help. We did not "win" the battle, but we fought a clean fight together, and students' voices were heard in a positive manner.

With my PLN...
   There are quite a few teachers who use Twitter as a platform for learning - basically learning how to become a better teacher, or better yet - how to make our classrooms better places to learn how to learn. I follow many teachers with whom I agree. We help each other by sharing our ideas. One of us will share, another will tweak and try these ideas, and then we sharing them back - including "upgrades" to these ideas. Sometimes we share what we'd like to do, and others share what they've seen done or what they've tried themselves.

Three Ways I Learn from Communicating with my PLN...
   1) There are some teachers with whom I disagree. I know to not respond with anger. I used to ignore these teachers, unfollow them, or just complain to Hubby about them. Now I either share what I've found that supports my side, organize and write my own ideas, or ask these teachers questions to instigate more communication about the issue. At times, I find that my thoughts need to be challenged in such a way so that I can either grow and adapt my thoughts, or find more support for what I believe. These interactions have made me much more feisty, and also more knowledgeable! They're not my favorite interactions, but I make sure I take away something from each one.
   2) Some interactions with my PLN help me by giving me more resources. I consider these resources "ammunition" for those times I need to support my beliefs. Just yesterday, I saw a tweet about Kate Baker not grading tons of papers at home - and she teaches high school English!! I listened to this short podcast from ISTE2015, and tweeted it out. Kate came back with MORE help, as I wondered how this really looks in her classroom. She then created a new blog post that same day to help others who were wondering the same thing! All of her resources are on her blog, and all free, of course. That's what we expect from passionate teachers on Twitter. Now it's up to ME to put these ideas into action.
   3) My favorite interactions that really show me what "communication" means are those that are positive in nature, and push me to learn. These teachers help me take that next step. They help me put ideas I'd like to implement into practice. They get me off my butt and ACTING. Just today, I received a tweet from Oliver Schinkten, asking a tough question.
He really got me thinking. I didn't have any answer to give him. I put this tweet out of my head as I read more while getting my AM "fix." A few minutes later, I saw a tweet from a teacher I'd never met on Twitter. I read Gerard Dawson's post titled, "The 1st Steps to a Connected Reading Classroom," and was awed at all the ideas he shared. I tweeted it out with the #elachat and #engchat community. Words that I had to read more than once... 
"a connected reading classroom means using communication, collaboration and connecting to let students share thinking"
It was the next tweet from him, however, that made my head spin, and became the catalyst for me to write this post...
He did not ask what I'm going to use from his post, which would've been a tough one for me to answer. All I really thought of using (so far - from the first read-through) was changing the name of my classes to "Communications," and how to communicate that to parents and students! He went a step further in asking, "What were you left wondering after reading?" Does he want the truth? I'm really wondering "HOW IN HECK can I do everything I want to do with students???"

The answer is always there. I can NOT do everything. I don't have the time, resources, or energy to do all I would like to do with my students. As a result of reading Gerard's blog post, listening to Kate's podcast, and knowing what I know about balance in the classroom, my take-away today is to keep the focus on communication. Center everything in the classroom around communication.

In all things I want us to try in ELA - reading, writing, grammar, speaking and listening, Genius Hour, feedback instead of grading... if we continue to practice communicating well, every aspect of ELA will flourish. Let's continue to give students more and more time to practice the art of communicating. Let's share our mistakes and successes, and listen as other people share theirs. Let's learn from each other by learning how to communicate effectively. Maybe that's the purpose of school - to learn how to communicate in order to become lifelong learners.

Please share your ideas as to how you practice communicating in your classrooms, or where it's most difficult for you to communicate - and what you do about it. Let's continue to learn from each other.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners

I just finished my first book about flipping - this one by Troy Cockrum.

Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners is a quick read. Troy begins with the WHY - why should anyone consider flipping (parts of, even) their English classes? My two favorite reasons - flipping helps your class become student-centered, and it helps you develop better relationships with your students. This is a result of more one-on-one conferencing with students, which is the reason I love Genius Hour and the reason I want to give more feedback, and fewer grades. I was sold before I even purchased the book because of these simple reasons.

What IS flipping? One simple way to put it - flipping is “moving the direct instruction from the public space to the private space.” (Bergmann, p10) The simple things you teach can be shared with students on their own time, and not take up time in class. These short lessons or ideas must be accessible to all students - at ANY time. This way, students can access the information whenever they like - especially great if they become confused and need a refresher.

Troy writes about WHY flipping works, and then goes into the different TYPES of flipping. Many people are familiar with the "watch the video at home and come back to school and do activities" type of flipping, but that's just not it. He explains the
Traditional Flip
Writing Workshop Flip
Peer Instruction Flip
...and because this book was published in 2014, there are probably different iterations of these out in the fast-paced teaching world now! (My next "flipping" book is Flipping 2.0.)

There are then four chapters of sample lessons, showing the different types of flips, and going through the different portions of ELA - writing, language (grammar and vocabulary), reading, speaking & listening. Here are lessons you can put into your curriculum easily - especially the ones that include links to actual videos used. I think half the battle of flipping is creating your own videos, because you just can't find the right ones on the Internet. (I went to the site Troy created for his students - - and it was not working for him. He now has a playlist of student-created videos here. YES!!) I am aware that the best videos probably come from our own, as we use our own voices at the very least, to make that personal connection with the students. However... if I want to try flipping without the stress, it will be nice to have some videos ready-made for beginners. Troy has let me know of a few others - Instructional Videos for Students and Teacher Instructional Videos are two more playlists he has put together! (Soon after I posted this, another tweet directed me to WatchKnowLearn... Free educational videos - organized!)

I did fold over the tabs on five specific lessons I would like to try. I'll have to search for the best videos first, however, and that takes some time. Three of these lessons come from the "Speaking & Listening" chapter. I have been thinking a ton about how we teach speaking and listening since Sandy Otto's presentation at USMSpark - she kept referencing Erik Palmer's book Well Spoken: Teaching speaking to all students, and she impressed upon us that we need to teach those small skills specifically - eye contact, gestures, etc. I do believe I could take some of Erik's ideas and flip them...

In chapter nine, I thought of an idea for giving feedback - what do you think? What if, while viewing a student's Google Doc, you highlighted a spot where you'd like to leave a "somewhat longer" comment than just a sentence or two? Highlight it, then go to Leave a 30-second voice message. Copy the url, and put THAT in the comment that goes along with the highlight!? That way, your comment stays with the document (a problem Troy had with using Explain Everything and Google forms), and students can hear your actual voice and intonation!

A useful chapter is chapter ten - tips on how to make engaging videos. I had thought of many of these tips, but never all at once. It's good to have these on hand when you're planning your videos. Have a checklist and go through to see which of these 13 you can include. (Doing this reminds me - I need to do the same for Dave Burgess's tips in Teach Like a Pirate on "pimping" lessons!)

After reading his tips, I went straight to my class website to check out the ONE video I made last year regarding Genius Hour. I created it because I had four students absent the day I introduced Genius Hour, and I needed to get the information to them. I thought I was doing a great job - getting a 40-minute lesson into one 16-minute video. One of Troy's tips stuck with me, though - try to make your video only as long as the grade of your students... I have 7th graders. My videos need to be 7 minutes or shorter in order to keep their attention. I know this is just a guideline, but even I was getting antsy watching my own video again! I took the time - right at that moment - to create a shorter video. I took the portion explaining the Habitudes, and created this video using MoveNote. (Thank you, Patti Strukel! I will forever be grateful for that tidbit!) I also included a survey for students when they are finished! This video does not have a lot of the interaction, and no pictures, but it is "done," which right now is better than "perfect." It has my photo, my gestures, my voice. It is for my students, so it doesn't matter if anyone else enjoys it or not (it would be nice, but it's not a concern of mine). My message is there, my energy is there, and it is in the seven-minute range! ;)

Ideas regarding flipped classroom get me excited and anxious. I am excited because I have the tools (I even have Camtasia - I won it at an EdCamp!) and the "how to," but I'm anxious because, knowing me, I will think of the lessons AFTER I teach them in the classroom. Sigh.

The last chapter gives answers to FAQs and more resources for all of us - thank you, Troy - This will be another of those resources that will stick in my head while I plan during the year...

Want to know more about flipping your classroom? Troy also has a playlist of videos/podcasts ABOUT flipping! Flipping is just another piece of the classroom puzzle. I love having so many tools in the toolbox to fit the needs of our learners!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Marble Theory

I finished Paul Solarz's Learn Like a Pirate: Empower your students to collaborate, lead and succeed over a month ago, I believe. It's time to blog about one idea on pages 63-64 that I MUST implement next year within the first week... The Marble Theory.

We've all got these students...
     ...those who do well in our class...
          ...and those who don't do so well in our class.

And the students notice, too. Some egos become more inflated, and others more deflated as the year goes on. I hope, that the more time I spend on Genius Hour-type activities, the more students see that ALL students are skilled, and in many different ways. How do I share this idea with something tangible? How can I embed this idea in the minds of 12-13 year olds? Paul shares this great idea...
"Some students come into my classroom with very low self-esteem, due to low grades or poor performance in school. Others believe they are better than their peers because of past success in school. My goal with Marble Theory is to level the playing field. I want my students to realize that we are all equals with amazing gifts, talents, and interests. No one is better than anyone else. No one is worse. Once they understand we are all equals, increased respect leads to improved collaboration.
The Marble Theory states that we are all born with the same number of marbles in our brains. When we are born, these marbles are just in a big pile, but over time we allocate these marbles into cups. The cups represent our skills, talents, and abilities. We can have as many cups as we need and these cups are extremely specialized. For example, we don't have a cup for reading abilities. Instead, we have several cups for reading: one dedicated to decoding, one for literal comprehension, one for inferential comprehension, one for oral reading fluency, etc. But we also have cups dedicated to dribbling a basketball, drawing horses, telling jokes, and playing the flute.
In school, teachers usually spend time evaluating how many marbles students have in their academic cups, causing children to falsely assume that grades determine how intelligent they are. Kids who have many marbles in their cups dedicated to math, reading, writing, spelling, science, and social studies become known as the "smart kids." Children who have fewer marbles in those cups but more in their musical, athletic, interpersonal, or creative cups are not given the same accolades.
Quote used w/permission
I contend that we are all equal in terms of intelligence and that intelligence needs to be measured differently. Because of grades and report cards, students learn to think of themselves as smart or dumb. Low grades do little more than disappoint and discourage students. High grades often create perfectionists and cause children to become extrinsically motivated. ... "
I would love for students to recognize just where their talents lie. In what "cups" do they believe they have the most and the fewest skills? I will ask students to figure this out in some way. My dream would be to try this with actual Dixie cups and marbles. I don't believe I can afford as many as I'd like, and I'm not really THAT ambitious, so I'll resort to a blank sheet of paper, circle templates (lids off milk cartons) and hole punches - 100 "holes" for each of my 70 students. (I wonder - is there a spray glue students can use to just stick it all on when they're done placing them? Or... should this one be an activity they work on at home??) If the holes don't get punched (a lunch bunch project??), we can resort to dots using markers. These charts can be the start of our "Resident Expert Wall of Fame," where we recognize each other's talents/skills/genius. Heck, this activity can even be part of Dot Day around September 15th!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Genius Hour - Year 3 Reflection

Was this really only the third full year I've experimented with Genius Hour in 7th grade ELA?

Well, I'll just say it up front - this was my toughest year when it comes to Genius Hour. This post will not have the depth the last two year's posts have had (year one part one, year one part two, year two), as I am EXHAUSTED. This focus will be primarily on the presentations, as that is where most of the change occurred. Note: Mrs. Rehberger is my co-teacher for one class, and Mr. Slowinski is the other ELA teacher on our team.

What I think went well...
   * Mrs. Rehberger stuck with us through it all. It was tough for her, as it was her first experience in the classroom with Genius Hour.
   * One class had a Skype visit with Julie Haden's kiddos, and certain students shared their projects.
   * One class had Grammie visit the last two months on a consistent basis.
   * All classes worked harder when Jen Vincent and Drew Gollias visited and asked questions.
   * Students appreciated being able to change projects when theirs wasn't working out for them.
My student's first concert!
   * I really got to know one of my students and attend her first concert! I was also put in charge of staying the entire time to video record and take photos, since her mom could not stay...
   * Vimily was a great tool to use for students to advertise their presentations - thank you for your examples and guidance, Paul Bogush!
   * Mr. Slowinski and I did not need to sit through (or put the kids through) four straight days of presentations. Instead, we had a full day of presentations throughout the school on the third-to-last day - again, thanks to Paul Bogush.
   * I have great plans for if we ever want to present in this manner again. (I actually have plans for a substitute, should we need one again!)
   * Two parents thanked me for doing this type of activity in ELA class. One even asked who brought this idea to the school. I was very proud to say it was ME! I am prouder yet that we now have our five 7th grade ELA teachers doing this, and one 8th grade science teacher! We are able to share our struggles and celebrations with each other.
   * We had a variety of projects once again, ranging from drawing to making a business.
   * We even had dogs visit (outside) and show the tricks they were taught!

What still bothers me...
   * I still had that one student who did nothing. This is one too many. Even with two teachers in the room, he fooled us all, up until the last moment. I asked him to present to me only, and then tried to explain the importance of effort and honesty and making the most of your time in life. I begged, cried, put on my "teacher face," and tried to get my message across. Kudos to him for keeping eye contact with me the entire time.
   * One of our team teachers took the day off when students were presenting. (This made me sad that this teacher did not want to see our students share their ideas.) This means the substitute had a group of boys at one point who walked all over her and the presenters. (This angered me - I would think they would know how to act.) I only know this because of a parent email sent to our principal.
   * Sadly, Mr. Slowinski and I needed to prep the students better for what type of questions (as an audience member) are appropriate and which are not.
   * I never got to see _______'s (insert MANY of my students' names here) presentation.
   * I never got to see the "Packages for Patients" presentation that five of Mr. Slowinski's students put together.
   * It took me 3.5 hours to set up the original schedule, and I had help from my sister-in-law.
   * It took me over twelve hours to schedule the rest of the students as audience members.
   * It took too, too long to set up this one day and help teachers feel comfortable with it.

Changes I'm considering for next year...
   * Mr. Slowinski and I have discussed separating each quarter into something different. First quarter, I'd like for students to MAKE something, culminating with the Cardboard Challenge. We can then have a "teach your talent" quarter, where students share their "genius," and work on presentation skills. Third quarter can have more of a research focus.
   * More photos. More sharing between classes. More posting on the bulletin board what we are doing. I feel like I need a publicist for Mondays! It may just be a new job I create for students...
   * As for presentations, I think we should have them in our classes, during the last four weeks or so of Genius Hour. The presentations that students think are "worthy of the world" will go on and present at the end of the year in some fashion. It would be great if we could have an hour or so on one of the last days to share these amazing presentations, while inviting the community.
   * Getting more parents involved. Having visitors really helped students step up their game. They also loved the one-on-one attention.

Celebration tweets from @KirrClass for our presentations: 
(Nobody else tweeted or took photos, so these are only from the presentations I saw in the LMC.)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

University School of Milwaukee - Summer Spark 2015

The inaugural Summer Spark Conference - what a BLAST!

I consider myself very very fortunate to be asked to present at University School of Milwaukee's Summer Spark this week on June 15-16.

I was fortunate because...

  • I was able to hear from the pirate himself - Dave Burgess! I just don't know how he kept up that stamina for TWO HOURS STRAIGHT! 
  • I am FUELED up for another year of teaching already! Being in the same room as Dave Burgess when he speaks from his SOUL will do that to a person!
    Yes, I brought my own sword to Milwaukee... Didn't need to get it through security, since we drove!
  • I was able to meet passionate educators such as Heidi Jones, Sandy Otto, Chuck Taft, Tom Mussoline, Pam Nosbusch, Kenny Bosch, Matt Miller, William Piper, Sarah Simac, and Josh Gauthier. Heidi was the ABSOLUTE most excited & effervescent teacher I met!
  • I was able to reconnect (however briefly) with Brian Durst, Adam Moreno, Michael Matera, Pernille Ripp, Andrea Payan, Brad Dunning, Jason Bretzmann, Jay Posick, Andrea Kornowski, Ben Brazeau, and Tom Whitford.
  • I was able to meet COUNTLESS other passionate educators, who sometimes lurk on Twitter, are pretty new to Twitter, or not yet on Twitter. Connections ABOUND! I can't find my list of my new connections today, but I have already added them to my "met face-to-face" list so I can continue sharing ideas and learning from them.
  • I was able to present on Genius Hour - nudging those who are not sold on the idea (yet). It just so happened that the ladies attending were already sold on the idea, so we just troubleshooted issues that could arise.
  • Heidi, Me, and Sandy
  • I absolutely loved the "panel discussion" we had regarding Genius Hour - the four of us (April, Tyler, Tom and I) were asked some pretty tough questions that I loved helping to answer.
I attended some pretty amazing sessions, as well!

  • Jason Bretzmann shared some amazing tools for connecting with students. I think I wanted to go to his other session on flipped /personalizing the learning, but signing up for the wrong one helped me win his book! (Next time, Jason... next time!) He also gave me a great idea to use the next time I present (which was today at my own district!) - Give the audience the link to the "handout," so they can copy and edit their own notes easily - with all the links provided! That way you won't have to worry about someone "borrowing" your slides without your permission...
  • Sandy Otto shared very practical ways to help students speak in front of one another. Because of this session, I'm already planning on activities that help students practice the skills needed, instead of just expecting them to know!
  • Adam Moreno's session on purpose-driven learning was his "swan song" at USM - and it was one I need to hear (again). 
  • Michael Matera & Jason Strains shared their Super Google Forms they use to connect to parents and group students. W-O-W. I really felt we should have passed around the hat for tip money for the work those two have done and so readily shared. This is what Lucy Gray called "professional generosity." Because of their generosity, I'm ready to plug in new students' names and get rolling connecting to parents right away!
  • Michael Matera's mini games session was full of energy. Look out, kids - we've got some fun review games for when we have a few minutes left in the period!
An "aha moment..."
I was able to realize something through a discussion during the "ELA pow-wow" session... We have teachers at our schools not on Twitter because they just don't know. They just can't know what we know about how it has changed our teaching lives. I had an "aha moment" while talking with Sandy Otto - she was just as frustrated as I am for working with teachers who are set in their ways and not open to new ideas.  I used to say that teachers will join Twitter "when they're ready," just like WE did. Something else dawned on me - they just don't know otherwise. Their eyes have not been opened - yet. I compared it to my first marriage: I didn't know how a marriage - or love - could be. If I could have seen what it could be - what I have now - it would not have lasted the eleven years it did. AND... and I would not be the same person I am today. I needed those eleven years so I could grow, learn, and see now what love really is - what it CAN be. Driving home with Hubby (MAJOR kudos to him for coming with on this trip, even though it was his BIRTHDAY!), he let me know that even if Dave Burgess did come to our district, some teachers would think that what he's talking about can't apply to them. Again... they're not ready for it. My next questions are - when WILL they be ready? How many students will go through how many classes of teachers who are okay with mediocrity?

That's not for me to figure out. I will focus on what I can do. I want to be the PURPLE COW! (Dave Burgess channeling Seth Godin...) It's not okay to be mediocre anymore - I need to be remarkable!
What can I do to help children love coming to school?
What can I do to help children get the most out of my lessons - about life and about the content?

I'll be starting the school year off with a bang once again this next year.
I'll be IMMERSED in the lesson - the LIFE lesson along with the lesson for the curriculum.

Thank you, USM Summer Spark - you have once again ignited the fire in this girl!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

2014-2015 Year in Review

My 20th year of teaching!

- The week after school got out, I instigated a Google Hang Out as a result of this reflection:
     -- Here are our notes - HUGE thank you to Gallit Zvi, Joel Pardalis, Denise Krebs, Hugh McDonald, Charlene Doland, and Elizabeth Monroe!
- Finished the books DRIVE by Daniel Pink & Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman & Kate Roberts
     -- This summer I took notes with other members of my PLN on these books! Thanks Paul Stolt and Jessica Lifshitz for the conversations and insights!
- 7/10 - EdCampHome 3.0! I was able to facilitate a session on Genius Hour. Find all sessions here.
- Genius Hour workshop at my school - 14 enthusiastic participants!
- Tech Academy at my school - I ran a Twitter 2.0 session and one on using Doctopus & Goobric.
- Was nominated for a BAMMY Award
- I can't believe I started my TWENTIETH year of teaching.
- Met sweet, sweet students for this year
- Started sending home "Saturday Sunshine" notes to parents each weekend. This is a win-win-win!
- Nominated for the Global Teacher Prize by a coworker- Turns out Paul Solarz was one of the top 50 finalists!!
- Was told "no" to presenting with Nancy Wahl at ASCD in Houston, TX during Spring Break :( Turns out Don Wettrick presented on Genius Hour, and Nancy was able to get me to Houston to meet one-on-one with teachers and present for her school!! (See February!)
- Survived my first ever jury duty!
- Read Pure Genius by Don Wettrick
- Hosted our third annual Cardboard Challenge!
- Presented "PD in Your PJs" at IATE on October 18, 2014
- Honored to present the Keynote (video) for the Passion-Based Learning strand at the K12Online Conference on October 27, 2014
- Helped out with #EdCampChicago once again at Buffalo Grove High School
- I started "vlogging" about quick tips I don't want to forget - see them here: Quick Tips
- BOSTON IS HAPPENING!! My Genius Hour Workshop is scheduled for July 14, from 8-noon!
- Connected a student with College by Kids - she'll be sending them her DIY blog posts!
- Connected a student with Coach Doug Bruno - she's "going to be in the Olympics for basketball some day, then go on to become a lawyer." -->
- Finished & reviewed Eight Myths of Student Disengagement by Jennifer A. Fredricks
- Our homeroom raised over $600 for Adopt-A-Family, "purchasing" items and putting them on our painted-over windows.
- Our homeroom introduced the "glasses cleaning station," which one of our Spanish teachers helped name "Buena Vista Avenue." This self-serve station is put out on Mondays during homeroom.
- Honored to be one of Edublogs "Best Individual Tweeters" of 2014
- Surpassed my goal of reading 73 books this year - I read 79! This does not include picture books.
- We had our first individual parent visitors, thanks to Sign Up Genius! During January, we had two parents come in for book talks, and two to read us picture books!
- Bought one of the "cool/smart" phones... This led to joining FaceBook (for FAMILY!) and Instagram (learning along with students).
- Students started tweeting questions and observations!
- Students "joined" our class when absent - calling in on FaceTime!
- Able to present and attend my second SAMRi Camp in Downers Grove on 1/17.
- Created Survey Central - where teachers can add their students' surveys, and they can be located all with one link - !
- Attended #EdCamp302 - their first! Great job, Laura Bright & crew!
- Was asked to present at the Summer Spark Symposium in June
- Received an email from Stenhouse Publishers...
- Volunteered at the S.I.T. Conference again
- Received and read The 20time Project by Kevin Brookhouser
- We had three more parent visitors to room 239!
- Southern Baptist School in Houston, Texas had me visit to consult regarding Genius Hour! BEST February EVER! It's so great to meet a long-distance friend you met on that wonderful tool they call Twitter! Thank you to Nancy Wahl and Justin Smith for getting me down to talk with your teachers!

- Parent visitor, Mrs. Mc., read us Goodnight Moon, Goodnight iPad, & "Sick" by Shel Silverstein!
- One parent (Mrs. M.) hooked us up with an AUTHOR for a Skype visit!
- Visited Paul Solarz (yes, he's in my district, but I never see him outside of EdCamps & bowling).
- Received my first rejection email from a woman who contacted me in February... I didn't even want to write a book, but now that I've started...?? This happened the week before I received Paul's new book - Learn Like a Pirate!
- One class was able to Skype with Julie Hayden's 1st graders to explain their genius hour projects!

- Received this email from a student... verifying that we practice the growth mindset!
- We bought robotic fish for class pets! (They died soon after...)

- Jen Vincent and Drew Gollias (from District U46) visited our Genius Hour in April! What I noticed: I have veered from my original goal for Genius Hour, and I think I'm okay with that. I'll review it - again - of course! My co-teacher and I also noticed that the students worked much harder with other teachers walking around interviewing them!

- Grammie came to visit again! She read us The Right Word this time. We love Ben's Grammie. She then decided to come every Genius Hour - to help out - for the rest of the year!

- Mrs. O. made a repeat visit, as well! She read us More Parts, and shared her love of idioms!
- Mr. Kirr made us whisper phones which the students use to revise their writing & practice their Genius Hour presentations!!
- Finished Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes, and started to actually plan to pilot a class where students decide their own grades... This led me to begin a new LiveBinder regarding feedback.
- #ELAchat - nominated for a Bammy Award
- Our Poet Tree blossomed once again!

- On the first day of the month, another parent came to read us a picture book - the first parent to visit our first block! (This was also the day prior to our outdoor ed. trip, which was perfect timing!)
- I was fortunate to help plan and be able to attend EdCamp Chicago once again - this time, in Oswego.
- We had our first dad come in to read to our 8/9 block. The kids taught Mr. Z. how to hold the book so everyone could see the pictures. It's something I take for granted that everyone knows, but he learned something today!
- Read Learning by Choice by A.J. Juliani
- Read Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz
- Mrs. M. came in AGAIN - this time to read us a story she and her child had written for us! She included students' names, and their faces lit up! I could just imagine their minds... wondering what their character in the story would do next!

- We read The Outsiders (of course!) - trying the "Whole Novels" style once again. What wonderful discussions we had on the last day! Here's one great "aha" moment from per 5/6... One question students came up with was "Who will be the leader of the Socs now that Dally has died?" They discussed for awhile, listening and waiting their turns... Finally, at the bell, Colin said, "I don't know why they need a leader now when they never really had a leader before. They all help each other out." We also had some Greasers and Socs show up to school!
- Visited Garfield Elementary in Elgin, IL to provide examples of Genius Hour.
- Our 5/6 block gave Grammie a gift for all of her visits and help during Genius Hour.
- Ended the year with a total of 130 "Saturday Sunshine" emails to parents.
- We changed things up for our Genius Hour presentations this year... Used Vimily (thanks to Paul Bogush) to advertise our session, took 3.5 hours to create the schedule (organizing students mostly by topic, making sure to not schedule them during PE class), and then using a Google form to ask students which sessions they'd like to attend. Most of the work for me came after that - at least ten hours of figuring out how many students could / would fit in each session, and creating schedules for them and for the teachers, as well. A big shout out to Paul Bogush for putting the idea in my head last year, and to my team for going with the flow for a day! I've got another post coming - reflecting once more on our year in Genius Hour - the good, bad, and ugly. Always tweaking!!

Overall, this was my most favorite year yet. I have plans to add something different again next year - one class will pilot giving themselves grades at midterm and the end of each quarter... More work for me, but I think it will be more valuable for the students! I'm excited to make next year even BETTER!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Everybody's Grammie

This post is reposted from "The Power of Appreciation" blog...

"Is Grammie coming today?" This asked by multiple students in my 5/6 block every Monday.

Grammie is one student's grandmother. She came to read us a picture book back in January of this year. She didn't know which to choose, so I asked if she could read The Sweetest Fig by Chris van Allsburg. She loved the story and she loved coming in to read it, and we clicked immediately. She then came again, to read another, and said she'd love to come by more often. I asked if she'd come in to help us with our Genius Hour projects, and her face glowed.

When you see Chris Avelle, a.k.a. Grammie, with this group of 7th graders, you immediately know she used to teach. She's a natural with children. She had "little ones," and has transferred all of her knowledge about how to work with them to this new age level. She loves to work one-on-one with students, and is very grateful for the time in the classroom and with children once again.

I don't think Grammie realizes that I feel just as grateful to her for coming to join us. She has been able to give all of her attention to one child at a time, and I am free to tackle short bursts with the rest of our students who don't need as much guidance.

I don't think Grammie realizes how much the students feel grateful having her presence in our class. They see her visits as a very special treat, and they want to show her what they're doing and all of their progress.

I don't think Grammie realizes what an impact she's had on the culture of our class and how these students will never forget that Grammie came in to visit with them for many weeks in a row.

I'm writing this as a public thank you to Grammie. I've made her a gift - sharing my passions for art and words, and students have signed their autographs and messages that we attached to the back of it. Her presence in room 239 has reinforced the idea that everyone is welcome in our classroom as a teacher, and we all have our gifts to share.

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
~Jackie Robinson