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.

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!


  1. I encourage students to think big--way beyond any test. (When teachers say, "This will be on a test," they shouldn't be surprised when students begin to think in terms of "Will this be on the test?")

    When big things happen serendipitously, we celebrate that and try to duplicate and build on it. When something crashes after all good intentions, we try to learn from the rubble with no academic penalties. When students are satisfied with "good enough," I let them they know they are capable of more and better.

    The best route to unrealized potential is through play, as your wise niece and nephew so kindly show us. I'm not an expert in all disciplines, but I know is exrtremely important in writing instruction.

    Thanks for this thoughtful blog post. Have a great year, Joy.

  2. I run into this thinking frequently when teaching math. Some children come in thinking that they just won't be able to get math. I point out to them how much math they already know, provide a classroom environment where it is okay to be "wrong", and celebrate each success, however small, they have. It is a tough nut to crack for most children who feel inadequate. Last year I had a student, who had not done particularly well grade-wise, thank me for a great year in math because it was the first time she did not feel stupid. I will always remember her comment.

    Wonderful story about your niece and nephew. Have a great school year.

    1. Gary and Frank,

      Thank you so much for your stories of encouragement for your students! With all the other things I've researched this summer (CCSS, tech resources, philosophies, etc.), I have to always come back to the students. Looking at your stories from time to time will help keep me focused!

      I hope you both have a wonderful year ahead as well!

  3. Hi!

    We are a Grade Seven English classes in South Africa. Our blog for homework looks just like yours! When we return to school in September, we will follow geniushour.blogspot.com to see your thinking. Our teacher follows Mrs Kirr on Twitter (principal_BV).