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.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Don't Blink

As we write this (June 20), we are at a KOA in Poudre Canyon, CO, just north of Fort Collins. We've taken daily drives, alternating between town tours and landscape tours. We took our travel trailer on this 1,000 mile trip west, and Bob drove the entire way (with two-night stops in Omaha and Ogallala, NE) through all the wind and hills on our way here. (We did get somewhat of a friendly wind heading east...)

Today (Day 11??) was the ride up route 14 - the Cache la Poudre (hide the powder) Canyon. It goes right from our campground up and over the Rockies. The Cache la Poudre River is Colorado's first nationally designated "Wild and Scenic River." We decided to make it up a ways, eat our packed lunch, then head back down.

The canyon doesn't disappoint.

We've been in awe this entire trip. We've used myriad ways of saying the same thing - marvelous, miraculous, awesome, breath-taking, beautiful, gorgeous, amazing, unbelievable - all for something, to us, is indescribable. At one point today, Joy said, "At every turn, there's something new." Bob responded with, "Don't blink."

There's so much to see that looking to the right, you miss everything to the left. If you look down, you miss everything that's up. It's hard to take it all in. There's no way to take it all in, as long as you're moving.

We took "slow-vehicle turn offs" and drives that led to parking lots, and then we tried to take in more. As long as we were driving, however, there was no way to take it all in. If you've ever driven on a mountain road, you know it is required to keep moving along most of the road.

Last week (Days 1-3 of our first vacation this summer), Joy was feeling like a slacker when it came to learning with her PLN. You can only do so much without a laptop! This trip has reminded her that time with loved ones is an "all-in" gig. There's a time for work, and a time for play, and when we are together, it should be OUR time.

Joy is reminded of Dave Burgess's Teach Like a Pirate lesson on "immersion." Bob knows she is "all-in" when it comes to teaching. She has learned the lesson (again!) to be "all-in" when AWAY from school. Today's ride was another reminder of the reasons WHY you should immerse yourself where you are. Sure, we'll miss some things to the left or above if we keep moving, but if we STOP... stop and take it in when we have places to "pull over"... we'll have more fulfilling experiences.

For all of you who are #NotAtISTE, soak in where you actually ARE. Immerse yourself with the people around you. Yes, you will miss some ISTE lessons, but if they are good, teachers will share them and they'll come back around to you.

Just because we're on vacation does not mean we stop learning. What are lessons you are learning (or being reminded of) this summer?

~Co-authored by Bob and Joy Kirr

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

2015-2016 Year in Review

My 21st year of teaching...

June
I started the summer off with a BANG! Headed to University School of Milwaukee's Summer Spark conference and watched, enthralled, as Dave Burgess was on FIRE for two hours! More about the conference in this post...


I hosted the AHSD25 Genius Hour Workshop on 6/18 - only six people came, but I gave it my all, and my wish is they will incorporate student-driven learning into their days.

July
BOSTON! BLC15 Conference led by Alan November's great team. Presenting and attending, and enjoying the town! I held a "Master Session" on Genius Hour, and three hour-long sessions for the next three days!
I put my blood, sweat & tears into creating the "FaR" tabs of our class Weebly.

August
I was invited BACK to Boston for BLC16!
I was able to create and implement our first QR Code Scavenger Hunt!

September
Survived Parent Night - parents in my last class are on board with students grading themselves!

October
Attended and facilitated sessions at EdCampIL in Northbrook
Helped organize, then attended and facilitated sessions at EdCampChicago in Libertyville
My last class of the day graded themselves for the very first time! Wrote a portion of what I learned from these students and this experience in this post.
Sally Doulton was inspired by my scholars and wrote about it here.

November
The Best Lesson Series: Literature was published! Yes, I bought one for my mom for Christmas!
Gallit and Denise had their Genius Hour book published! And I was honored to write the Afterward!

December
Nothing spectacular happened. I am grateful for the consistency in my life!

January
Enjoyed another birthday. I like my 40s!
Received another signed copy of Teach Like a Pirate from a parent of a previous student! (She told me, "I was listening to him, and I thought - 'This is Joy! This is Joy!'" What a compliment.)

February 
Presented a 50-minute session regarding Genius Hour in LaGrange
Presented a 3-hour workshop on Genius Hour at ICE
Attended my third EdCamp Madison (#edcampmadwi) and created my first memes!
Parents Enjoying Presentations

March
Enjoyed actual REST during Spring Break.
Finalized my NBCT renewal submissions!

April
Was spotlighted in the Daily Herald
Enjoyed helping to organize and then attend EdCamp Chicago in Elmhurst
Enjoyed the half day of EdCamp DuPage at Wheaton North H.S.

May
Enjoyed attending and facilitating sessions at EdCampIL in my own district
Celebrated when ten parents came to Genius Hour presentations
According to student and parent feedback (blog post to come), I successfully (?!) had one class of students give themselves their final quarter grades for a full year.
Ended the year sending out 266 good notes home to parents. (130 last year!)

This upcoming year...
I've got nothing but VACATIONS scheduled for the summer, a couple of edcamps to attend in the fall, and my focus for the next school year will be on making those student connections once again.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Genius Hour - Year 4 Reflection

I am going to begin with this: I was not as focused on Genius Hour this year as I had been in previous years. My focus was on students grading themselves. Since I just can't do it all, I believe our time in Genius Hour suffered because of this. I will add, however, that at least two other seventh grade teachers also said that this year was tougher on them and their students, as well.

What I wish I had done:
  • had more one-on-one conversations... Students were so independent this year, I left many of them alone. It showed when they presented.
  • posted more of students' learning in the room
  • asked students to share their findings and ideas more often with others
  • given more examples of presentations and ways to present
    Some presentations were very interactive!
Changes we made this year:
  • We slowed down when it came to introducing Genius Hour. We did not have a project the first quarter, except for the Cardboard Challenge.
  • We added "Teach Me Your Talent," which went well. It could have gone better, of course. Sadly, I did not write a blog post reflection on this event. We WILL be doing this again.
  • We added a week's worth of speaking practice to prepare for "Teach Me Your Talent" and their final presentations.
  • We asked students to present during ELA class once again (having them all on one day last year was demanding, and I missed many of my students' presentations). We had many complaints about it, but felt it was great speaking practice. 
I gave students a three-page survey this year. I received 43 responses. Included in this survey were these five questions. (Thank you to Adam Schoenbart for many of these questions!)

I think Genius Hour was valuable.
     Strongly Disagree   O     O     O     O     O   Strongly Agree
                                     1      2      9     14     17     <-- The results (out of 43)

Students were asked on this survey - "What value did you find in Genius Hour?"
  • Getting to do things you usually do at home in class.
  • Learning and perfecting new skills and ideas.
  • Time to find out what you like.
  • It taught me to stay on task.
  • It let us learn about ourselves.
  • I learned a lot about myself.
  • I learned to not give up.
  • Creativity.
  • None.
  • You got to learn exactly what you want to.
  • It helped me learn to be more responsible.
  • It was time for me to do what I like.
  • I became a better reader.
  • I found a talent that I didn't know I had.
  • I found it valuable researching a topic that I enjoyed.
  • I researched something I've always wanted to know.
  • I found I was able to be creative and happy doing something in school.
  • I learned more about a topic I liked.
  • It showed us what we want to learn and what we've learned.
  • It was a good opportunity to work on personal projects.
  • I got to choose what I wanted to learn about.
  • I learned about time management.
  • We could show people what we did.
  • It helped me challenge myself.
I enjoyed Genius Hour.
     Strongly Disagree   O     O     O     O     O   Strongly Agree
                                     1      3      6     13     20     <-- The results (out of 43)

Students were also asked, "What advice do you have for teachers who are giving students time for Genius Hour in the classroom?"
  • Keep them busy and don't let them not work.
  • Make sure you check up on them and give suggestions.
  • Let them free.
  • Make sure they do Genius Hour, not homework.
  • Give them some ideas about what to do.
  • Give them a checklist, checking off stages of accomplishment.
  • Give them more outlines for what to do.
  • Make sure kids are focused on their work.
  • Maybe give more time.
  • Give them full periods. (We used 60 of our 80-minute block.)
  • Start earlier than we did.
  • Maybe allow 10 minutes of free time.
  • Leave the students to work at their own pace and let them learn.
  • No grading.
  • Present in your own classroom.
Students were also asked, "What advice do you have for STUDENTS who are given time for Genius Hour in the classroom?"
  • Use it to your advantage.
  • Make sure you use the time given.
  • Use your time wisely. x 6
  • Think hard about your project.
  • Don't just play games when you actually have work to do.
  • Focus and pick a topic that will really help you.
  • Work as hard as you can.
  • Do what you actually enjoy.
  • Always work on your project. Procrastinate AFTER you finish.
  • Brainstorm ideas that you are good at doing or want to be good at doing.
  • Take this time seriously. It's really fun if you do it correctly instead of goofing off.
  • Choose something that means a lot to you.
  • Really commit and pick something you actually want to do.
  • Don't play games. Mrs. Kirr will catch you.
A few successes I want to document:
  • We had our first rocket launch during a presentation - nobody even came CLOSE to getting hurt!
  • TEN parents showed up to watch presentations.
  • More actual products were shown during presentations. 
Changes I'm considering for next year:
  • After four full days of presentations and then reading Tony Klein's reflection on his year of Genius Hour, I'm going to try a gallery walk of some sort for presentations at the end of the year. I'd like to include the other teacher on my team, and maybe even the other TEAM of 150 more students! As long as we have more time in class for students to present short bits, I'm not too worried about losing the aspect of students speaking in front of many other students. We'll still focus on the message and how it's communicated.
  • Also because of Tony's post, I'd like to add a couple of categories for awards! Most interesting topic, most informative...... what else?! I think we'll see some themes develop once they start their final projects.
  • Because I'm implementing students grading themselves with all of my classes next year, I'm going to need time during the last week of each quarter to have conferences with my students about their grades. This means I'm thinking of four days of Genius Hour-type learning in a ROW, at the end of each quarter. I can also include three to four more days prior to these days, spread throughout the quarter (or the last 3-4 weeks before the end of the quarter). It would still be about eight days per quarter, just at different spots.
  • The first quarter I'd like to focus on creativity and collaboration. We'll end it with the Cardboard Challenge.
  • The second quarter we'll focus on ourselves. We'll begin with "Teach Me Your Talent," and end with a 20-day challenge (inspired by Matt Cutts). We will work on speaking skills this quarter.
  • The third quarter can focus on research. We'll work on the "how to," and end with our own research question that we can use for fourth quarter.
This is the plan for now. Of course, I need to talk with my cohorts, and two of the four of us will be new to 7th grade next year.  What always rings true with Genius Hour-type learning is that there is NO ONE WAY. My motto when it comes to Genius Hour is still, "Just keep tweaking, just keep tweaking..." It will be a challenging and fun year, and I'm looking forward to it!