Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our First Genius Hour for 2012-2013

Today, we watched some videos to get inspiration for Genius Hour. We then brainstormed our passions and things in life that really bother us!

About what are you passionate?



What REALLY bothers you?



Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Robot & the Butterfly Catcher

When did we first "learn" that some things are impossible? This is a myth. But why is it that we think this is truth?

My six-year-old niece and nephew (twins) know that nothing is impossible. I was reminded of this the last time I saw them. My husband and I walked in the door, they hurriedly gave us hugs, then ran out the back door. A minute later, we were summoned into the garage to see what surprise they had for us.

Rosann created a butterfly catcher for Aunt Joy.


Robert created a robot for Uncle Bob.

They found materials in my dad's garage or outside, and decided to make things with them. Using glue, nails, and Grandpa supervision, they worked, step-by-step for TWO DAYS on these projects. After the "ooohs" and "ahhhs," we put the gifts on the front sidewalk, then came back inside.

Next, I was strongly encouraged to go upstairs with these two engineers. As we sat down and Robert said, "Now that we're all seated and comfortable, we need to talk," I worried. What were they planning? It turns out, they wanted to create a trophy for Grandma for her birthday. It was to say, "To the best grandma in IL." After taking out all the paper they thought they'd need, Rosann got to work on the face, curling paper hair and using copious amounts of tape. Robert tried to explain to me what the trophy should look like. I finally understood the accordion concept he was getting at, and showed him how it was done. He did it himself, but two of these just wouldn't hold up his next piece of paper.

I was giving up in my head, thinking it would just be topsy-turvy, and that would be okay. Robert wouldn't settle. "I know," he said, and left the room. Turns out, he retrieved Uncle Bob! He knew his mechanically-minded uncle could figure it out for him! The simple solution? Cut the two in half, and make four pillars, instead of just two.

I could go on and on, but it looks as if I already did! 

My first point - These kids don't know the word, "impossible." They just don't know the meaning. When will they "learn" that some things are just not possible? 

My second point - These children know that all they create is perfect. The pictures they draw could go in the Art Institute of Chicago. The sculptures they make could be auctioned off for high dollars. When do we learn to fear criticism? When do we think our product isn't "good enough" ? 

Do my seventh graders give up because "it's impossible" ? When did they learn that they "can't" draw or write or create?  Can I reverse these notions? Can I encourage them enough, give them enough resources, lead them in enough directions so that they think anything is possible once again, and that they DO make a difference?

As we start this school year, I've wondered what will be my focus. I've decided. It's the students. I will make sure they know I think they matter. They will know I believe in them. They will see it in my face, and hear it in my voice, because I will mean it.

How do you let your students know...?
     Anything is possible!
     You matter!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Who are Luddites Failing?

My husband is a history buff. It’s a good thing – it means I learn something every now and then! He recently read an article in BBC History Magazine (Vol. 13, No. 5 - May, 2012) titled, “Luddites.” Here’s some of what Charlotte Hodgman had to say (p78):


Luddism, a protest movement that arose from the textile trade in Britain 200 years ago, first emerged during 1811, in the Midlands, as a reaction to the replacement of skilled craftsmen with new labour-saving technology. A pattern of public petitioning quickly emerged, which was followed by machine breaking and violence across Britain’s main textile areas…

Richard Jones, a research student in economic and financial history at the University of Cambridge, says: “The Word Luddite has now entered everyday usage to describe those who dislike technology, oppose innovation or who are generally resistant to change…”

I read this, and I knew I was a Luddite not long ago. I remember when our new principal at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, asked us about BYOT, I was not excited. I just KNEW the kids would be texting each other, cheating by looking things up, and playing games.

Then I was the chosen one in the district to pilot the iPad writing program for four weeks. The white hairs came with this pilot, but I completed it the way I was asked. In this time, I noticed that my one student who is always playing with a pencil or a toy was now playing with the iPad – moving apps around! As our class had discussions, he busied himself moving the apps around. I saw it, and I thought – Doodler. That’s okay. I can handle doodling. It helps the brain think! (See this TED Talk about doodlers – you’ll be passing out paper and pencils! Doodlers Unite www.ted.com/talks/sunni_brown.html ) But students having their phones in class? For what purpose? Google? Not good enough for me.

Then I read the next line…

(More from Richard Jones…) “In my opinion, however, this is a misreading of the original Luddite motivation… Luddites were motivated by a desire to protect the status quo of their established skilled trades and their positions within those trades… When machinery displaced them, they naturally reacted very strongly.”

Well, then. I was NOT a Luddite, after all… right? I KNEW that technology would not displace me. I had tenure! I was set! I was in like Flynn! I could pass it all up and still teach. No issues. I would not protest the BYOT, I just wouldn’t buy into it.

But then I thought… If I were an administrator, I would not be looking for new teachers that didn’t know how to use technology. And the more I learned from my PLN on Twitter, the more I knew I would be changing the way I taught sooner, rather than later. And you know what else? Go ahead and let students search Google on their phones. What will they find? Not the answers to my tests. No. My tests (what tests??) were not going to have answers on it you COULD Google. They would feature critical thinking. They would have students applying what they knew, not just giving the ages of Ponyboy’s brothers. (Oh, I always despised that question!!)

I was in on the hiring process this June, for we were seeking two new LA/LIT positions at our middle school. I was not looking for the teacher who had students in silent lines in the hallways, sitting in rows facing front, memorizing the school rules. I was looking for someone who could engage students as readers and writers. Technology or not, I was not looking for the “old-school” version of a school teacher.

Hodgman also states (p79),
The Luddites were always destined to fail.

I think Luddites may be destined to fail, but I think what’s most important is that we’ll fail students if we do not change with the times, and grab hold of what we can to enhance student learning. Technology will continue to grow leaps and bounds, just as it’s done in the past. I need to use the technology to help my students develop their creativity, their critical thinking, their collaboration…

Here’s someone I’ve quoted many times, C.F. Kettering…
            Nothing is constant but change.

Let’s be positive role models, and teach our students that we can change along with the times. Let’s help them with the technology as well. Knowing full well they’ll have digital footprint, let’s help them make it a positive one.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I want to do it all...

Looking at all that is ahead...
Have you heard the song? Terri Clark sings, "I wanna do it all - Visit Paris in the Fall, watch the Yankees play ball, I wanna take it all in..." Maybe watching the Olympics has brought on this post, but it's been simmering in my brain the last few weeks!

I went to my first EdCamp yesterday. I didn't know what an EdCamp was until June, and I was signed up to go a month later. I met a #sschat Twitter pal, Shawn McCusker (@ShawnMcCusker), and he says he's addicted to them. I think he's addicted to them because he loves to share, and share he did! He shared at four of the four sessions, I believe! I "voted with my feet" and went to what happened to be more lecture than I anticipated about YA lit in a H.S. reading classroom. Then I went to a session (led by Shawn) about Evernote, one of my favorite iPad apps. (I love it even more now!) Lunch was free pizza and socialization, then I went to a session on iPads in the classroom - started by Jeff See (@JeffreyASee), and then aided by Shawn. The last session I went to was regarding Live Binder, another free resource I need to check out. Another FULL DAY of learning. I crave it. I want to learn more. I want to DO more. I want this next school year to be the best. I always want each year to be the best.

I realized, once again, that I want to do it all.  I've always wanted the following...

I want...
...students to be happy, engaged, friendly, and welcoming.
...students to show perseverance, responsibility, respect, and confidence.
...students to work with peers, using technology, on real-world problems.
...students to remember what they read because they are engaging with the text.
...students to think deeper and get more out of text they read.
...to stimulate student thinking.
...to help students be life-long learners.
...to give students my individual, undivided attention when they speak to me.
...students to question, not just answer.
...students to be reading, and sharing good books they've read.
...students to become life-long readers because they love reading.
...students to see real value in what they write.

The following list includes what I've been inspired about this summer alone...

I want...
...my students to know how to leave a positive digital footprint.
...my students to have time to read (what they choose) independently each day.
...my students to act on what they've read - through many means. (Thanks, Erin Olson - @eolsonteach!)
...my classes to Skype with authors, like Shannon Miller (@ShannonMMiller) has done at her school!
...to have as many books in my room that Donalyn Miller (@DonalynBooks - The Book Whisperer) has, and have my kids read as much as hers!
...my students to use Evernote to collect, curate, and create notes, websites, ideas...
...to Skype with Greg Kulowiec (@GregKulowiec) during class so my students with iPads know HOW to use the tools on them.
...students to know about all the tools I've been exposed to this summer so they can explore in order to best present (or create) their ideas (but I don't want to teach them the tools!).
...to incorporate all I've learned from Ellin Oliver Keene (Talk About Understanding) about reading comprehension, and talking with, and listening to students.
...to slow down, choose my words carefully, and listen to students, asking for even more from them.
...to help my students realize their passions... their genius... thanks to Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers - Classroom Habitudes).
...my students to be connected to students around the globe, or at least across North America!
...to meet my favorite LA/LIT Twitter pals in person!! I've had actual (typed) conversations with so many people now, that I feel I know them. When I meet them, I will be able to call them friends. (I already feel like I work with them!)
...to be able to use (in blog posts or presentations) the beautiful pictures my husband took yesterday (exploring OshKosh!), and ones I have taken or will take. (Thanks for the ideas, Sylvia - @langwitches!)
...to give my all at school, but enjoy time with my husband after school each night and weekend.
...to spend time with my niece and nephew, while they're at such a fun age - 6!
...to be able to take breaks from all this learning, and not feel like I'm missing something I could be doing tomorrow with my students.

So... I need to remember...
    When students walk into room 239 on that first day, I may forget everything I've learned.
    I cannot do everything.
    I will be challenged in ways I can't even imagine today.
    My family comes first.
    I need to take things one step at a time.
    Something I was reminded of by Laura Coughlin (@CoughlinLaura) 2 minutes ago - the kids are scared on the first day, too.

You want to do it all, too, don't you...? Any more advice to give this greenhorn teacher in her 18th year of teaching? Please - what do you need to remind yourself of every day during the school year?