I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 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 my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Twitter - My first year...

Twitter. Hah. Justin Bieber is all I could think of. Who wants to know about him or the Kardashians? I don't have time for this. Our principal, Brian Kaye, encouraged us in August to join before the 2011-2012 school year started. I did, because I (usually) do as I'm told. Used it for the opening-day activities, then stopped.

Started up again in February of 2012.

        I don't know why.

         I'm so very glad I did.

Since I started creating a PLN...
* I have been challenged.
* I have become more reflective.
* I have been inspired.
* I have had conversations with educators from around the globe.
* I have read more professional literature than ever before.
* I have fallen back in love with photography.
* I found out about free professional development edcamps & attended on a Saturday in August.
* I began a blog and use it to reflect, and share.
* My classroom is transparent.
* My students now have one day a week to learn whatever they want to learn.
* We've Skyped with and learned from four classes this year.
* Participating in the Global Read Aloud, we shared ideas on a Weebly with students from Canada.
* We are a connected classroom, sharing our blog posts through #comments4kids.
* Our classes now have a student station instead of a teacher desk.
* My teaching has transformed... and I hope to keep growing professionally.

Questions I still ponder...
* Why are the number of followers and people I'm following significant? Or are they? Isn't it the connections you make that count? Isn't it the things you learn from others that count? Isn't it the conversation that counts?? I'm currently following __ and have __ followers. Really?! Does it matter?
* What will be the next big shift I make in my teaching that comes from these connections? This scares me, intrigues me, and makes me anxious and excited all at the same time!
* Who will be the next teacher that inspires me? I have a few that I thanked personally today on Twitter, because I truly think of them as mentors in my life. Why do I feel like I know them? Why can't they come work with me?
* How much more learning can I take? Every day I'm bombarded with blogs to read, statistics to absorb, comments to share, books to devour, conversations in which to partake... When will I learn the balance so I don't feel so overwhelmed with this constant flow of information? How can I learn to not feel bad if I don't read someone's post or comment on his or her question?
* How can I get more teachers at my school on Twitter? How can I show them the value I have gotten out of it? How can I help them see that learning from more people than the 5 they work with everyday is so valuable? Is it okay if I can't do this? Is it okay with ME?

I truly love my life. No, not as a result of Twitter... as a result of people. My husband is the epitome of enjoying the heck out of little things and showing me the value of time. My seventh graders make me laugh every day, and give me multiple reasons to smile. My PLN is the other huge positive force in my life. They challenge me, encourage me, and strengthen me. This is just after 11 months on Twitter... What does the next year hold in store?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Be the person you thought you would become.

It's time to be exactly who I want to be.

As I sit here with an aching back, I know where this post is going. I'll be 40 next month. Time to do what is right - EVERY day, not just when it suits me, or is convenient. Not just in my words, but in my actions.
I'm starting with a simple idea I got from Kris McGuire. I can't find the website she cited, or pinned or tweeted out, so I have to make my own blog post about it. I created two "care packages" a few months ago, but today I went to the store with that in mind - to create more. My husband and I (is this fortunate or unfortunate?) were able to give one of these out in Schaumburg the week before Christmas, and it felt so good, I had to make more. And more...

What is it? A homeless care package. Did you ever hear anyone saying, "Don't give them money. They'll just spend the money on something they don't need"? This solves that problem, and helps you to not ignore what's going on.

How much is it? It costs just $10 a package.

How difficult is it to make? It is very easy. All but one item (the wash rags) on the following list were purchased at Target.

What does it contain? Here's a list of what's in mine...
     Three Microfiber Wash Rags
     Soap and Container
     Toothbrush, Toothpaste, 
            Holder for Toothbrush, Floss
     Hand Sanitizer
     First Aid Kit
     Two Bags of Instant Oatmeal
     A List of Local Phone Numbers 
            & Address with Resources

Put the items in a large Ziplock bag, so the recipient can see exactly what you are giving. Keep the tags or wrappers on each item, so the recipient knows each is new.

The title of this post is from a book I received at Christmas from Mom... 8,789 Words of Wisdom by Barbara Ann Kipfer. I just opened it up and saw them on pg. 279. The book costs as much as one of these care packages. Erin Olson's presentation from Boston (July, 2012) is always on my mind as well. I want to be like her. She lives what she preaches. I need to make an impact on someone, as she has made an impact on me. Step by step... one foot in front of the other. One small step at a time!

So what's next? I need to make more. I need to make one for every car in my family (my mom's, dad's, sister's, etc.). I need to make people aware of this great idea! I'm thinking this will be my gift next year for my friends, as well. Would they scoff at it? Maybe. Will that change my mind? No. I'm going to start doing what I believe is right, every day. I need to be the person I thought I would become, and I'm not her yet. I know I'll never reach my full potential, but I've got to start trying. Like Erin's laptop says, "Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct." - Mohammad Ali

What are YOU going to do today to become closer to the person you thought you'd become?
We saw this while walking in Boston, July 2012.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Who Owned the Learning Today?

Today I took a step back from curriculum, so students and I could focus on learning. Let me explain...

I've heard of "classroom conversations" from various teachers on Twitter, but the most memorable was this post written by a Canadian teacher friend of mine, Anne-Marie Middleton. I wanted to replicate it... some how.

So today, in each of my classes, we moved our tables to a boardroom-type set up, and focused on how we could learn more effectively in our classroom. I had an agenda, but was ready to veer off, depending upon student responses.
We began with a question that students answered on Today's Meet - What classroom issues would you like to discuss today?  After a quick reminder of keeping a positive digital footprint, students posted short answers to this question on the website, for all of us to view and respond to.  Fewer than a handful of students got off track, and had to step away from the laptop (still viewing classmate's answers, however) for a few minutes until they decided they could handle it and come back to the group. One student went looking for videos, and so had the laptop absconded until the second period. My priority was for quality classroom discussion, and I let them know I would not let off-track behaviors slide today.

The first question helped us come up with our agenda - I realized students knew that they were having issues with talking over each other, noise level, and paying attention. This was the number one issue in two of my classes, and the number two issue in the other.

Before delving into their concerns, I asked for a few more moments of their time for my agenda. I wanted to talk about democracy, and choice. Students voiced their opinions on what they thought democracy was, and then I showed this short video:
Next, I asked them if they were aware of who gave them this choice, and we came up with men and women of the armed services. I showed another short video, trying to appeal to their emotions....
We also discussed the men and women who do not come home.

This began the discussion about CHOICE.

The following discussions on Today's Meet and aloud made me smile. Students shared how they understood the choices they have in class - see their words here:

They also shared ideas about how to solve some of our issues - their ideas were the biggest portion of our decisions we made today. Students wanted to talk about talking, grades, seating choices (yoga balls), nap time, movies, rewards, extra credit... By the end of our first class, we came up with ideas to help students keep the privileges they already have, but also be rewarded as a class when they are listening to the best of their ability. Our second class really got into the idea that people have sacrificed many things so that we DO have choice, and also recognized that when one person decides to talk off-topic to friends, he or she is not only jeopardizing his or her own learning, but those around him or her as well. Our last class really got into a discussion about grades ("It's HARD to redo work!"), and brought up an issue I was not aware of - I have been "picking on" one student in particular, but not addressing other students that are a distraction to the class. My eyes were opened, and students have volunteered to help me in this matter.

I came in with an agenda, ready to take on the students' agenda, and I feel this was accomplished. There is more to do, and I will let students decide on another date to talk about unresolved issues they had, as well as be more aware of what I'm doing to provide choice and constant learning opportunities. What did students (our 7th grade geniuses) do today? They truly owned the learning.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Babies" for Life

Thanksgiving break - time to look at my notes about what inspires me, so I could write a bit. I came across this video, "Baby to 12," created by Frans Hofmeester. (You may have glimpsed 30 seconds of this on a recent Sprint commercial.)

Frans Hofmeester (@FransHofmeester on Twitter) filmed his daughter Lotte every week, from when she was a baby to age 12. He then created this amazing time lapse video that shows what growing up looks like, as much as it's possible to do so.

I wanted to keep this video, but I didn't know what I'd do with it. My husband asked me, "What struck you about this video? Why did you keep it?"

These were my thoughts...

The foresight the videographer had... 
What a creative idea, and what dedication to keep it up! 
I wonder what she thought of the videos as she grew up... 
She has the same eyes... from start to finish. 
She'll always be his baby... just as my mom often reminds me.
              This, then, reminded me of a country song - 
                                          The Baby, performed by Blake Shelton.

In case you are not aware, I don't have any of my own children, even though I do have two grandchildren (Gabe is 6, and Hannah is 2 1/2). If it is possible, I did get a glimpse (albeit tiny) of what it means to have children when I lived with my sister for six months. My niece and nephew were only three at the time, and when I could spend time alone with them, I could see how you need to take the bad times along with the good. I could see the preciousness, the purity, and the innocence.

Every one of my seventh graders is somebody's baby.
   This I know.
   My days revolve around how I can teach these "babies" to the best of my ability.
   Our first day of the week, our day for Genius Hour, is my time to see these growing children shine... to allow time for their passions and geniuses to blossom, to give them choice to become adults anyone would be proud of.
   May my choices in teaching help these young adults put their best foot forward.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Observations... Being observed by administration can be nerve-wracking for anybody. But when my assistant principal walked in the room and sat down, I looked at my class through her eyes. What did she see?

Yes, he ended up on the floor... still participating vocally, even if it's hard to see his hand raised!
No, she didn't see all of this - I took these pictures a few days later, when I could catch students unawares!

Of course, she did see the changes that have occurred in my teaching - I've never done a read-aloud. I've never had so many seating options. I've never had students "talk" with other students on a Weebly set up by a teacher out in British Columbia, Canada! After she left, I had my next lesson with the same students, and I felt things were more "normal." Students were doing what most teachers expected - me leading, students sitting up, following directions, writing quietly... But I've been doing it this way for years now. I should know how to teach in this fashion.

At home, I felt I needed to write a disclaimer for the outside of my door. Something like this...

I talked with her three days later, and she helped alleviate my fears. Even though she said when she first walked in she was "alarmed," (oh, how my stomach churned when she said this!) she stayed and observed the entire 40 minutes and kept taking factual notes. She assured me that I'd established an environment for learning. She reminded me that I gave students expectations.

I explained how during the first period she witnessed me teaching what I had never taught before, and how I'm still learning what is best for students in this regard. I admitted that I didn't know what percentage of students were actually able to multi-task (play games on iPads, doodle) while I read, and what students were not. She suggested a quick reflection for after the read-aloud, and I implemented this the next day. One of my hunches was right - one student only remembered the last bit of what I'd read...

The next few minutes of our discussion centered around Genius Hour. I told her we've got the routine down nicely, but I'd still like to see students follow their passions, and do something about it. I still have the goal for students to read, be inspired, and act on it. She then asked me such a simple question: "What do you need to do to make Genius Hour better?" The rest of the afternoon, this was my focus. My next step, I've decided, is to print out the pictures I took of the board during our first Genius Hour, and ask, during one-on-one conferences, which ideas were theirs. If they were bothered by bullying or animal abuse or racism or suicide etc... why aren't they trying to do something to help prevent it? Why aren't they reading up on the issues or reading books on the causes? Why won't they share what they've learned with us so we can help prevent these issues too?

Yes, I was nervous about being observed. I was nervous about the follow-up conversation. I still feel like I need to have a disclaimer on my door. I still question myself every day if this is the very best use of our time. I still reflect after each lesson to see where I could have done better. I'm still nervous when people come in to visit, as I don't know what they'll see and what they'll miss.  However... I still believe in what I'm doing. And I still need to be challenged, so I can keep figuring out if what I'm doing is right... or if I need to fine tune my ways once again.

[Author's note, 1/19/13 - Of course, not all of these pictures were taken on the same day. Most (with the exception of the laptop) were, however, taken during a "read aloud," which is the portion of the lesson I wasn't quite sure about, as I've never done read alouds during class so often.]

Genius Hour Monday

Monday, in Genius Hour, we first watched a three-minute video, Matt Cutts - Try Something New for 30 Days, and some of us got some small ideas hatching in our heads... During 2/3, Francesco shared his Stickman Odyssey books by showing us a fort he made of popsicle sticks! In 5/6, at least three people shared books they'd read by giving tiny book talks. Josh even showed us the origami Yoda he created for The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. One-on-one conferences in 8/10 showed that many students were exceeding their goals - so we continued to make new ones for the next two weeks! Meanwhile, our photographer in 8/10 took these pictures and created this collage! Thanks, A.J.!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Genius Hour - Explained

WHY do we have Genius Hour in our classroom?

I was in my third year in the reading/writing classroom.

I needed something besides what had “always been done.”

I couldn’t keep giving students fabricated projects to turn in when they finished a book each quarter.

I needed students to read more than four books a year – if they were even reading that many! Many students can get by completing the project without reading the book, and both the student and I do more work when the true goal has been averted.

I have three people to thank for their influence on how I do Genius Hour today:

Ewan McIntosh (@ewanmcintosh) – Edinburgh, Scotland
Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher)– Iowa
Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) – Texas

I wanted to change the way I approached independent reading in my classroom. Discussions with peers during a workshop in Michigan led by Ewan McIntosh gave me the WHY – Students will learn more when it’s driven by their passions. Students can find problems, and work towards solving them. This learning needs to be individual – and I need to make sure I conference with students to find out where/how I can help them succeed.

While in Boston, learning Erin Olson’s story of her 11th grade literature students in Iowa, gave me more of the WHY – If students are inspired by what they read, they will act on what they feel. Erin had me tearing up, thinking of what students could do if inspired enough.

I then read The BookWhisperer, by Donalyn Miller, which helped me figure out more of the HOW. I now have a reading log that fits what I’m doing, my classroom library is organized by genre, and I truly believe students will be reading many more books this year!!! This year I have implemented a few simple motivation strategies that came from her book, and other ideas I’ve already been using were justified.

Two people gave me the name for what I have ended up doing:
Gallit Zvi (@Gallit_Z) – from Surrey, British Columbia
Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs) – from Iowa

I started building my Twitter PLN in February of 2012. These two innovative educators both taught 7th grade and started a Twitter chat the first Wednesday of each month - #geniushour. I didn’t know what it was, but I jumped in one night. Ahhh – I’d found the name for what I wanted to do! Thank you Gallit & Denise!

I have one more Twitter friend to thank…
Bec Spink (@MissB6_2) – Australia

It is Bec Spink who introduced me to KustomNote, which syncs with Evernote. Oh, has this been a time-saver! I was already familiar with Evernote, so I asked her for her conferencing template. She readily shared, then I modified it to fit my conferences with students. When I sit down with students now, I have something to lead me through the conference. I have changed the conference as the few weeks have gone by – I now have one template for our first and second conference, and another for subsequent conferences. I have used Denise Krebs’ idea of having students grade themselves, and found last week that they’re harder on themselves than I would be! The notes students and I type into KustomNote are immediately sent to my Evernote notebooks. The next time students and I meet, I have them pull up their stack of notes, and we can see how we’ve progressed.

HOW does Genius Hour look in our classroom in September?

Right now, Genius Hour looks like independent reading. Students are reading, and I’m conferencing with them one-on-one, each Monday (or first day of the week). Students read, log their books, and share them somehow. Sharing could be as simple as writing a book review on their blogs, giving a short book talk to the class. Sharing could also mean making something. (Billy tried to make a zip line in class, after reading a short book about gravity.)

My original goal: READ.  My ultimate goal is still this: Read. Be inspired. Act on it.

During one-on-one conferences, I ask students where they are in their reading (finished with one book… starting another… stuck choosing a book…etc.). I ask many questions – Did you like the last book? What type of book are you looking for? What do you want to learn about? I use the notes from the last few times we’ve met to guide my questions for each session. I also use the interest survey they filled out at the start of the year to guide them to certain book genres, topics, or titles, if students are having difficulty choosing a book. One-on-one conferences are vital – they will help me help students read books in various genres, and hopefully get to our ultimate goal – act on inspiration gleaned from a book!

It is at this time that students reflect on their last two weeks, and set a new two-week goal for the upcoming weeks. Each student is different, and needs to be challenged. They know what they can do in two weeks, and I encourage them to set the goal to something that is manageable, but also not too easy. I keep reminding myself of my first goal – READ. If they are reading at the very least 20 minutes a night, I’m happy!

What do I DREAM Genius Hour to be?

I believe Genius Hour can look similar to how it started to look towards the end of my first half-year… One student reads about bullying, and creates a presentation that should be made in front of the entire school. Two more read about the Warsaw camps in Poland, and tell the class about them. Another reads a book about magic tricks, and puts on a show for us. I also believe it can look like Erin’s class – one of her students read The LastLecture, by Randy Pausch, and it inspired her to make blankets for babies in the NICU.

I would love for students to read what is important to them, and then act on this. I will role model somewhat, of course! After having read EveryDay by David Levithan, I wrote to him, asking him to not write a sequel, as I think that this one book should stand alone, it is that good. I also share each book I finish with students, and read the books they suggest. I’ve shared with them how a fiction book, North of Beautiful, by Justina Chen, got me interested in geocaching. I dream that students will pursue their passions during Genius Hour… by reading books that appeal to them, not books I have chosen. My hope is that Genius Hour encourages students to become lifelong readers and learners… 

Here is a sneak peak at what geniuses we have already in our classroom (Kyle's contraption for the Cardboard Challenge)...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Yesterday in Genius Hour, we were forced to watch Caine's Arcade part 2!! Because of Caine's arcade there is a cardboard day and we discussed what we could do on cardboard day. Mrs. Kirr threatened to execute us if we left, guarded the door with an evil looking helmet on her head, and eyed us suspiciously. "Please Mrs. Kirr spare my life," We begged. The only good thing that happened is that we got iPads (5/6 only). We also watched a video about Dot Day in Mrs. Kirr's class and the activities we did. Submitted for your approval by Shane and Nick.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Our Second Genius Hour

The lucky kids who didn’t get interrogated had their turn on Monday.  Mrs. Kirr tied us to our chairs and forced us to watch a video about how fiction inspires people.  In 2/3 Billy presented his book about gravity and zip lining. He created a zip line in class, shown here. The last thing we did was have our bottoms glued to the cold metal chairs and we read.  ~Fondly submitted by Shane & Nicholas

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Yesterday, in Genius Hour we read books. Cici read The Host by: Stephenie Meyer. During reading, we had a 1 on 1 conference with Mrs. Kirr. She called us over 1 by 1 beckoning us with her pointy jagged finger. "Come here child!" she said in an ominous voice as the frightened and helpless child nervously staggered toward their doom! The "interrogation" was about where our reading level is and how much we read on a daily basis. It was also about our reading goals.

This dreadful message w as brought to you by Shane and Nicholas "Nick Nac".

                                                         SAVE YOURSELVES!!!!

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?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pictures ARE Worth a Thousand Words

I wanted to share with you one more thing I learned in Boston at the BLC12 conference...

I had so many theoretical ideas swirling around my brain, I needed to take a step back. I had introduced myself face to face with Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano (@Langwitches) the night before, and I decided to head to her session entitled "Presentation 21 Makeover." She'd told me she'd talk more about the impact pictures can have on an audience (or class) than the words projected.  Off I went. (See her slides from the presentation here.)

The biggest lesson I learned - Forget bullet points. The photograph is the most important part. The photograph is what the audience will remember. You have to figure out - what is your message?

Sylvia had some stunning photographs - some she'd taken from other sites (and given credit, of course!), and others she had taken herself.  One question everyone was thinking was raised - where do you get your photographs? Sylvia had a slide with sites to search, but what my brain heard, from all she was describing... "I've been taking my own." When I got home, I went to the library to check out a book, and found this...

I love my camera, but I only had the iPad with me with my list of books to check out. Also, I had to take the pictures from up above, or else I'd get the frame from the painting that was behind this cute pair in my picture. (It was right above her head - I've named her Emma...)

I posted one of my many pics on our Flickr T365Project group, and Sylvia responded, "The bronze book screams to have a quote on it!" Yes. I noticed that as well when I got home and uploaded them. I looked through my pictures, and noticed this one might be more conducive to "writing" on the book...

Alas. I knew I had to go back to the library, use my Canon Rebel XTi, and get a different perspective. (Is my passion for photography one of my geniuses?) I suddenly absolutely needed this picture for my parent night slides. I'd reviewed them after Sylvia's presentation, and knew I didn't have a ton of bullet points, but knew I still had too many. I wanted ONE idea on each picture. And I needed my own pictures, not pictures I had Googled! For shame! (I really was astounded at all the pictures I'd just plopped right into the Keynote! I did have the resources on each page, but were they really available for my use??? See Bloggers Beware!)

So I went back today, and captured this shot:

Now, you've seen the other two pictures, and you know that it's a boy and girl on a bench reading a book. But without the previous pictures to aid you, can you still figure it out from this picture? And just WHAT could I write on that book?

Here's where you could help - please join this conversation and put your thoughts on the comments. Do you think this picture could work? What quote would YOU put on the book? I won't write back, as I just want to know what you think, but I thank you ahead of time for your two cents!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Questions Answered...

I have a lot of questions in my notes about Genius Hour for the 2012-2013 school year. Since my Genius Hour is a replacement for my independent reading projects (and not a TRUE Genius Hour of learning whatever you'd like), my questions revolved around reading.
     1. Should it be ONLY nonfiction?
     2. Should I REQUIRE students to read any nonfiction?
     3. How often should I require presentations?
     4. What will grading look like?

I think I've got a good handle on most of these, and so I needed to write to reflect and see if I am on the right track.

1. Should my Genius Hour / independent reading be ONLY nonfiction?
     I've decided - No.  After hearing Erin Olson's (@eolsonteacher) presentation at the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston (#BLC12), I've realized that students can be inspired by anything they read. She gave her students an assignment with three parts: Read. Be inspired by what you read. Act on it / Respond to it.
     I've read many fiction books where I've been inspired. Acting on it? That's another matter. But Genius Hour can give my students that opportunity, as Erin's students have proved. Yes, her high schoolers are reading books such as The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, or Please Stop Laughing at Me, by Jodee Blanco. She even gave us ideas such as Books that Changed the World. My students might not be at that level yet, and I really want them to LOVE reading - anything. More on that in the next answer...

2. Should I REQUIRE students to read any nonfiction?
     I've decided - No. HOWEVER, I will have one-on-one conferences with my students, and will encourage them to read nonfiction at this point. I will use what they're reading and their interests to suggest, and if need be, bring in, books that each student might enjoy.
     I've been reading Donalyn Miller's (@DonalynMiller) The Book Whisperer, and I've taken her reading log suggestion and tweaked it so it is in sync with Genius Hour for me. This leads me to my next answer, and the two go hand-in-hand.

3. How often should I require presentations?
     This question has changed - It should be, "Should I require presentations?" This was my first question when I started Genius Hour, then I decided YES! But now, I'm back to NO.  Here is my main reason: CHOICE. Who owns the learning? My students. Yes, I am asking them to read. But they will have choice (even with my suggestions!) about what they are reading, and how they will share it out.
     I had to go back to my goals. What do I want students to do? Read. And what 21st Century goal should accompany this? Share. As Erin said, "When we read something, we don't want to go out and make a diorama. We want to share it. We want to have a discussion." If we move this further, we could ACT on it. Respond to it.
     So I've decided again (oh, but everyone knows I'll probably change it AGAIN later!)... Here is a shapshot of the reading log I'm going to use with students:

Notice the "Share" column. I will ask students to share all they read - but they will have the choice as to how. If it's a book they abandoned, I'd suggest they just compose a blog post about what it was that pushed them to abandon it. But they can choose to give a book talk, create a poster, make an advertisement, create a PSA, put their book review on the announcements... I'm sure students will come up with more ideas that fit their books.  If students tackle one issue and read multiple sources, they may choose to put these all together in a presentation. [My next blog post will explain what I learned from Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano's (@Langwitches) Presentation 2.0 session at BLC.] If multiple students want to join together, there is plenty of room for this as well.
     So how often should I require presentations? I'm not requiring presentations. I'm requiring students to share what they read, but leaving the choice in their hands. We will have time for other forms of presentation in class, so it will not be ignored, but presenting may not be their strong suit, and I want to capitalize on their genius, whatever it may be.
     I think this leaves options open - in many directions. This could be a true Genius Hour with the focus on reading and sharing. I can do this. All of this will be related to the standards, and very individualized.

4. What will grading look like?
     Ah. Here is the question that swirls around my brain, but there is no answer yet. Our district is working its way towards Standards-Based Grading, so I'll be looking for resources to help me on that front, but I feel that if students are reading and sharing, they've made the grade. Yes, I'll have to report out to parents, and I'll use the reading log for this. I think I'll add a column to it today where students can write the number of pages of each book or website, so we can use this to see how much they've read this year. This will also help when I'm wondering, "When will (student) be finished with that book already?!"
     If you have ANY ideas for an answer to this question, PLEASE leave me a comment! Teachers and parents and students alike! 
     Whatever we decide, I'm confident that these few changes to Genius Hour in our class will be appealing to students. Along with all the books I feel I need to purchase for the classroom still, these changes will inspire and get kids reading and acting on what they read!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The view in Boston...

Some background...

My district admin. asked me to attend the Building Learning Communities Conference (#BLC12) in Boston this week.  Even though it falls on the same week as the Michigander bike ride, I was not riding it this year. Even though I thought I've learned SO MUCH from Twitter in the past 6 months, I went anyway - it was a priviledge to be asked, for sure.  I live in Illnois.  Never been to Boston.  Not a history buff.  Not a big fan of airport security, or of being away from my husband, either.

A bit more background...
I follow Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher) on Twitter.  I don't know how I found her, but she is a pretty recent (last month?) follow. I love her tweets. She tweets about things that matter, not about the miles she ran today or the weather she's having. (Don't get me wrong - I still follow many of those people!) She's just what I call one of my professional Twitter friends.  I could go on and on about Twitter, but that's a long story.

This week...
I knew I'd meet Erin in the session she was presenting - Reading and Writing Aware. I didn't look too hard at the synopsis, as I knew I wanted to hear her, and I knew it had to do with my subject area.  I had no clue what to expect, but I knew I'd enjoy it. I stood outside the door to the session, and I hear, "Joy?" And I see her - and she's like she looks in her profile picture!!  I immediately thought, "Oh, no. I bet I don't look like my picture anymore - I got my hair chopped, and..." but we hugged, and I was happy to FINALLY meet one of the people from across the globe from whom I learn so much!!  My next thought... do I get her picture?  Everyone at the ISTE conference tweeted out pics of their PLN!  Well, I have a "dumb" phone, so I didn't. I really don't need a picture to remember our hour anyway. Check out her Lino here: Reading & Writing Aware

The picture I've included here is from my hotel room.  I have a CORNER ROOM!  I don't know how that happened, but I'm enjoying reflecting from here. I skipped the session after Erin's, because I wanted to sit here and reflect on all she said, and my mindset as it stands right now.

Teachers have a charge.
Teachers have such power.
Teachers have a limited amount of time in a child's life.

 I love quotes that get people thinking.
      "Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Ghandi
      "Attitude is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." - Swindol
A new one I saw today on Erin Olson's laptop cover...
      "Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct." - Mohammad Ali

Before she began speaking, I typed out that quote and pondered it. I knew that I had to model this more. I needed to be more active towards things I truly believe. She then began speaking, and she looked like a teacher - she spoke slowly, clearly, and waited us out when she wanted our responses.

She spoke of literacy, of what it means to be a literate person (I remember answering her query on Twitter), and of ACTION.

She spoke of making a difference.
She spoke of the power of words.
She spoke of what we can do with the time we are given in a child's life.

I am a dreamer. Everyone knows it - I'm very transparent. Her words, what her kids are doing in her classes, the brutal honesty she showed us... made me want to change the world once again.

She asked me how the presentation was. Tears welled up, because I knew that what she said was possible in my classes as well. (It's crazy that she thought she might not have done well at presenting! Aren't we all our worst judge?!) So this is what I want from our Genius Hour...  This is what I want in lieu of book projects (and anything else that makes students' eyes gloss over)...

I want...
      ...students who read
      ...students who are inspired by what they read
      ...students who feel empathy when they read
      ...students who want to act, based on what they've read

As Erin pointed out, "When we finish a book, we don't want to run out and make a diorama of it. We want to share it. We want to discuss it."  This is what makes us literate people. This is what changes things that are not right in this world. (Update to this post - Erin wrote about her idea here.)

If this is the only thing I take away from Boston, it's worth it. Thank you, Erin.

I wish school started tomorrow. We could work on changing the world one day sooner...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Everyone's posting... What I learned!

Yesterday came a flood of blogs for me to read - about what everyone's learned this past year. Someone from #kinderchat put it out as a blog challenge, and many took them up on it!  Yes, I too learned about the importance of blogging, Genius Hour, and Twitter, but I'll putting a twist on my post - I'm just going to write about what I learned YESTERDAY!  Let's try a list, to make it easier to follow...

1. Flickr - Two great educators in my PLN, Denise Krebs and Laura Coughlin put me up to this. Denise has been on at least two "groups" in Flickr for awhile now - #365project and #JJAProject - where teachers go to post a picture they've taken that day. I LOVE my Canon. I love my long-range lens. But I hardly every upload pictures until the week-long trip is over, or it's time to print some out. So, I just looked at their pictures when they posted them on Twitter, and then moved on. But a tweet from Laura finally pushed me over the edge - she encouraged, "JOIN the group!" with the website attached. Okay, okay!  I had nothing else to do... I read the older posts Denise had about the group, and then jumped in, knowing I'd learn as I went. I uploaded my Detroit Zoo pics first, from Spring Break 2011 - just because I loved them so! 

2. Diptic - On the #365project group, themes were listed - and one of them was collages. This led me to my iPad, on which I'd downloaded Diptic. It was another tweet from Steve's blog - Teaching with iPad, that led me to download this app. I'd downloaded it, then left it. But it has a way to easily create collages, or combine multiple images onto one image, so it was finally opened and explored today. And this is what I downloaded to Flickr.

3. Dvolver - I then explored what was already on a growing list of tech to try during my summer - I started a GoogleDoc at the start of summer, and thought I'd better start playing at what I put on it! After all, it is 102 degrees outside... Just by stopping by the website, this is what I created. It's not the most versatile tool, but it's quick and simple. How would YOU use it?

4. Incredibox - More from my GoogleDoc... This was FUN! And so EASY! Check out the song I created! You can use this in your slideshows, or as background music for anything. I don't know how long your song can be, but it's great music - now I just have to learn how to record it so I can use it.

What I've learned this past year? To TRY NEW THINGS. Just experiment. The computer won't break. Explore what others say is valuable, and it may just work for you, too! Enjoy the journey, as always!