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.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

#EdCampHOME Experience

I've been to four EdCamps in one year. I LOVE edcamps!

So when I saw tweets about an idea of an online edcamp, I was intrigued. Online would mean I could attend in my pajamas! Well, the dream of four pioneers - David Theriault (@davidtedu), Karl Lindgren-Streicher (@LS_Karl), Kelly Kermode (@coachk) and Shawn White (@swpax) - was realized today, with #EdCampHOME.

How many behind-the-scenes conversations were there between these four? Well, I follow each of them, so I see plenty of their conversations in my Twitter feed. They bounced ideas off of each other very often, and were in many Google Hangouts prior to today. Only they can tell you how many hours of planning and family time was sacrificed for this endeavor!

They only asked a few things of us beforehand - Register, sign in to the Google+ community, change our Google+ name to be an actual name, and if I remember correctly, fill in some quick form. Check, check, check, check. I thought I was ready for today.

Hah! Didn't everybody?!

The build up on the #edcampHome hash tag was tremendous - everybody was geeked! My husband said something I had to tweet out:
It got many retweets - teachers are so geeky at heart - myself included!

Finally, it was time...

What was next? We went to edcamphome.org and watched the livestream of David, Karl, Kelly, & Shawn. (If you ever think you'd like to try something like this, watch all three hours of this video - you'll learn of many obstacles they had to overcome!) They seemed excited and nervous, and ready to go! Of course Kelly had to start with technical difficulties, and we couldn't see her "live," but that was fixed by the end of the three hours. Who knew what other difficulties would arise? They showed their tenacity and their passion to make this work shone through!

Participants next put ideas on a LinoIt board:

Ideas started rolling in faster than the organizers could distribute and organize them. Kelly actually had to ask us to hold off on adding any more ideas, they were appearing so fast! She then (amazingly) took these ideas and had participants fill out a Google form. We chose three sessions we'd most like to see.

As they were discussing these items live, tweets were still flying - everybody was ready to jump in - even people who were not registered. They discussed having two sessions for (can you believe it?) Genius Hour, two for inquiry-based learning, and two for augmented reality. Now they just needed more moderators and they had to rope in some facilitators.

I thought this would be an easy day for me. I'd already declined an offer from Shawn and then an offer from David to moderate a session (I'm not THAT techie!). I'd told them a week or two ago that I was scared of messing it up. And today I was going to learn something NEW! I was going to get in on that augmented reality chat to see what that was all about. Alas, it was not meant to be. David asked if I'd facilitate a Genius Hour chat. How could I say no this time?!?! I promised to ask more questions than talk...

Then they opened the document where you put your Google+ name if you want to be invited - so chaotic, as so many people were trying to access it at once. It got sorted out (again - amazing!), and sessions got under way. I was not comfortable facilitating a discussion, but I knew I would get through it, and I knew I'd be better off for it... somehow! Little did I know what I'd read in Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) book, Classroom Habitudes, later that afternoon!


My computer started "ringing," and I answered the invite to my first EdCampHome Google Hang Out. 

This. Was. AWESOME.

Here is a recording of our discussion - Robyn (@RobynThiessen) and I were the only ones in ours who have tried Genius Hour, so I did talk more than I planned, but our group asked some stellar questions. I felt very fortunate. Thank you to Kevin Fairchild (@kfairchild6) from California for being our fearless moderator! (Note: This recording is not yet on the edcamphome.org site, but when it is, I'll put that link here, too.) Kind of crazy that I "met" two other Illinois teachers in this discussion, we had Robyn from British Columbia, Canada, and Sean Cole (@SeanHCole) from South Africa!


And here is the second session:


I really feel like I was part of history. 
Thus, the reason for this blog post!

I did my small portion to help the day along, but the four exceptional educators - 
David, Karl, Kelly and Shawn 
- they really hit it out of the park...

On this day in 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. 
On this day in 2013, hundreds of educators from around the world came to discuss ways of teaching...

It's as if you were there... Recorded discussions archived here:
     Session #1
     Session #2 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lose the Antlers

I live in Elk Grove Village.
That's right.
There are elk... in a grove.

I think the rack of antlers on their heads is magnificent - oh, how heavy they must be! Oh, what a burden! They use them to spar with other males, but did you know... they LOSE them every year?! They're massive! Look at the thickness of the base of those antlers!

We drive by the elk very often, and I often think of their antlers that they drop in the spring... small
animals use them for calcium, potassium, and protein. This is absolutely amazing to me. At the Detroit zoo one spring, my husband and I saw an elk who had lost one side of his antlers - he held his head crookedly. Poor guy - those antlers are heavy. He must've known he'd be getting a new set soon enough. Within days of dropping, new antlers start to grow.

Every summer, I "lose my antlers" when it comes to thinking about school. It happens around this time... mid July. I've thought about all the things I need to change next year, all the things I need to keep the same, and created brand new plans for one part of the curriculum or another! Oh, so much to do - some might think it a heavy burden... Then, I'm on a roll late June! Go! Go! Go!

Reflect! Plan! Purge! Create! I have no life!!
It's summer, for goodness sake - I don't have to work!!
Yet I'm reading research, blogs, young adult books... I can't stop learning MORE!!

Suddenly (it happened yesterday), I hit a wall.
I'm doing too much in the summer. I need some "me" time.
I shed my antlers.

I need to refocus. What do I really want out of this year to come?
Here is when I start to re-grow my antlers - only one day later.

I want my students to love reading and writing.
How can I promote this?
I want to encourage curiosity, which will lead to engagement.

If I can do this - inspire curiosity about all we read and write (in class and out), my hope is that students will become life-long learners, because they will be engaged with the curriculum. They will want to come to school. They will want to continue being curious. And if they are continuously curious, they will read and write even more, learning as they go.
Want to know more about this Geocache in Elk Grove? Be curious!
It's time to regroup. Lose the antlers.
Figure out what's really important for you and your students next year, and go from there.
After you shed the burden, please share here the ideas that are sprouting anew...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Interest-Driven Learning

Once again, the power of being connected to other teachers just amazes me.

My head is spinning again today. Less than a week ago, a tweet went out with the following page from Connected Learning: What Does "Interest-Driven" Look Like? The question posed: How can educators - in school and out - support youth to pursue and document the ideas that matter to them, while simultaneously helping them to use a critical lens?

Here is the Google HangOut, if you'd like to listen during your lunch hour, like I did...

Watch live streaming video from connectedlearningtv at livestream.com

I didn't know the contributors before it started. See the link above for their full descriptions, but here are their names:
   Paul Oh
   Mimi Ito
   Nicole Mirra
   Paul Allison
   Stephanie West-Puckett

I cannot put my thoughts into cohesive sentences like they can. I loved listening to them describe the difference between interests and passions. I loved how they shared stories of how students can flourish in an environment where they know their ideas matter. One of them (Stephanie?) talked about a book she was reading again, and she mentioned these four things that will aid interest-driven learning:

I believe we all need to keep these in mind, whether we are trying Genius Hour / Passion Projects / Inquiry-Based Learning / or just trying to give students more ownership in their learning.

Of course, how can you make this day of learning any better? Have a chat on Twitter about this very thing! They wanted to continue the discussion, so I followed #literacies at noon today. I am fortunate to have been able to participate. If you missed it, here is the transcript of the #literacies session, moderated by Emily Pendergrass:


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Genius Hour "Year 1" Reflection - Part 2

It's been almost a month since school's been out. Time to put the whirling thoughts about Genius Hour in writing.

What I had trouble with in Genius Hour this year...
   * Meeting with half of the students every week.
   * Shifting students' mindsets.
   * One student did the bare minimum and express dislike of Genius Hour.
   * One student ended up not presenting.
   * Students not citing where they accessed their information or their photos.
   * Students on YouTube videos that had nothing to do with their projects.

What I loved about this year...
   * I had (dare I say it - WAY) more engagement than in my "regular" lessons.
   * Students and I were able to have it the first day of the week - and I never missed it!
   * I'm convinced that students read more than ever during this school year, since they had a full sixty minutes every week.
   * I was allowing students to have more choice than ever - not just on Mondays.
   * Students didn't balk at not being graded on their presentations the last week of school - I only had one student ask me what his grade was! No one else even asked!!
   * Students graded themselves after reflecting on what how hard they worked in and out of class, what they learned, how they cooperated... YES!

What I want to do or change for next year...

   * Set up a LiveBinder of my Genius Hour plans - week by week. (If you happen to go to this link, know that it will be in a constant state of flux & I have a lot to add!) This will have videos in it, ready to go, in the order in which I want to expose the class to them. I'm starting a Google Doc as well, with week by week plans written out. One of the teachers I've connected with on Twitter, Amy Straus (@Amy_Teaches) was asking about lesson plans. One of her concerns for Genius Hour is that she needs to turn in lesson plans to her administration each week. What would she put on them for this time period? Hopefully this Google Doc will help her and others.

   * Meet with a third of the students every week, then role model reading and taking notes on what I read. I will keep my notebook accessible to students, and they can see it as one way of keeping track of what motivates me, inspires me, bothers me, etc. I have modified these goal sheets a few times, and know I will again, or even as I sit in a one-on-one conference with students. I am not sure if these reflections will go in as a grade, or if I will have students grade themselves at the end of each quarter, using these reflection sheets for reference. I'm thinking that first and second quarter I will put each of these grade in the grade book, then give students gradual autonomy depending on how comfortable they are giving themselves this grade. I really despise grading independent reading, but I think at this age, setting goals for themselves is asking a lot of them, and they may need the grade to motivate them to read at home each night. I still struggle with this, however.

   * I am going to stick to my original goal, thanks to Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher) - Read. Be inspired. Act on it. (She explains this concept in a podcast here and an article here.) I believe this will give students and I the structure we were looking for last year, and keep us on task. I also believe this may help to make my seventh graders life-long learners, which is my ultimate dream. When fourth quarter comes around, students will have copious notes from all they've read, be it fiction or nonfiction, and can work from there to pursue an action... I will continually ask them if what they are thinking of can inspire others, or help others in some fashion.

   * I will have examples to share with students. This summer I have begun to document my learning on another blog. I know it is true of reading and writing: we need to do what we expect our students to do. So I'm trying it for Genius Hour. My TRUE Genius Hour project was to give students time to read what they choose, and not have a fabricated project for them to complete each quarter. Now students have this time in class. Have I documented this proces? YES! It is this blog. If you start back in February you've got the entire timeline there of all I've done... you've got my ramblings. (I didn't even know why people would tag their posts back then! Maybe some day I'll go back and do this...) But I'm starting fresh with this new blog, so I can show students my thought processes for different types of projects. This new blog has also helped me see what's wrong with the rubric I used last year, and how a person really has to follow his or her true passion in order to make this project worthwhile.

A few students and I created this video to inform other teachers about what we do for Genius Hour in our 7th grade ELA classes...

If you've tried Genius Hour for the first time this year, please be sure to share your reflections under the #geniushour hash tag on Twitter. I will be on the lookout for them so I can add them to the LiveBinder. You could leave a comment here, as well, so others know where to go to see what you've done, and what you'll be changing up. The more we share, the more other students and teachers can benefit from what we've learned.