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, October 27, 2013

EdCamp Chicago - Fall 2013

I've written about EdCamp before...
     My second - EdCamp Madison
     The International Phenomenon - EdCamp Home

But yesterday was the first time I'd ever helped plan an EdCamp, and I've learned so much more - I just have to reflect on how the day went from an insider's viewpoint...

Being Invited...
Ben Hartman (@bhartmanwd7) and Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz) each DMed me back in... July?? I don't remember. But they asked me if I could help organize the next EdCamp Chicago, set for the fall. OH, YES! I'd love to help organize! I was put on a list, and was ready to be told what to do - I'm a great go-fer! ;-)

Our GHOs...
Oh, why are these so nerve-wracking for me?! I kept my microphone muted until I really wanted to say something, but I really tried to be quiet. It was great to see others who were ready to help plan.
What was left of the crew before we went out...
Our great crew:
     Jenna Hacker @jennahacker
     Bernice Homel @BHomel1
     Joy Kirr @JoyKirr
     Ben Kuhlman @bkuhl2you
     Allison LaFalce @Allison_Lafalce
     Shawn McCusker @shawnmccusker
     Eric Patnoudes @NoApp4Pedagogy
     Jen Vincent @mentortexts
     Bob (My hubby jumped in a
        TON to help out the day of!)

During these Google Hangouts, I tried to take notes in a Google Doc about what was said, and what we needed to do next. What I was able to help with was (a pretty large) sponsorship, small raffle prizes & items for the goodie bags, but I didn't feel too useful. So I volunteered to keep up the blog. Luckily for me it was Blogger! I also created a "Meet the EdCampers" Google form for the registration. I gave up the responsibility of figuring out lunch, though - out of my league. Setting up the day-of document, I put myself down for explaining what an EdCamp is all about, and also the raffle - I thought that would be FUN!

The Walk-Through...
Ben asked if any of us could help out with a walk-through, to see where things would be, how we'd set it up, which rooms we'd use for sessions, etc. I loved seeing the easy layout and becoming familiar with the place.
Mrs. Hartman's Design

What Ben (or some magical fairy in the night) did...
Acquired the wonderful Wood Dale Junior High School as our venue...
     This included insurance, custodial help, logistics about collecting sponsorship money, etc.
Eventbrite registration
Name tags
EdCamp Chicago stickers (his wife designed them!)
Made BIG signs thanking sponsors
Bought sticky notes and pens for the proposals (Hey, Ben - I still have the sticky notes!)
Acquiring sponsors, goodie bag items, raffle prizes, sorting all the money, keeping everything straight, and keeping calm through all of it!

Bag Stuffing...
Need I say more? This happened on the Thursday before, and we just walked around the table of swag, stuffing and talking, talking and stuffing. We used the nice bags Bernice acquired from the Wood Dale Public library first, then used the smaller bags from Barnes and Noble for the late comers. This was a great time to learn more about our crew as we shared some stories.

The Night Before...
Kimberly Hurd (@khurdhorst) came into town from Minnesota and stayed with Bob and me! We first went to dinner at Uno's with Bernice, her husband, and Tasha (@tasquires). Went back home for a few minutes to figure out what I was going to say about EdCamps, then went out again to the Sponge Reef in Schaumburg for some karaoke! I was not nervous at all, but could only imagine what Ben was going through...

The Day of...
Up early, at the school at 7am, and helping set up. Coffee and donuts were put up, tables and chairs were scooched over a bit, registration tables and name tags set up, direction signs were set up, and raffle prizes just kept coming my way. Set up the extra free swag on the tables in the foyer, panicked as people started coming because I'd just remembered the raffle tickets, then calmed as we found them, got invigorated just seeing people start to arrive...

Loved seeing NEW faces of the names I recognized from Twitter! Here's a list of SOME of them:
     Julie McGovern (@jamcgovern), Mary Jo Cline (@WDJHLMC), Susie Highley (@shighley), Adam Moreno (@USMDrama), Merri Beth Kudrna (@mbkudrna), Jason Hanrahan (@Teamhanrahan62), Brendan Murphy (@dendari), Matt Coaty (@Mcoaty), Brianne Koletsos (@B_KOL), Samara Silverman (@SamaraSilverman), Renee (@frnlrwme), Ed Casey (@ecasey77), Erin Jackle (@ErinJackle), Joy Olenick (@JoyOlenick), Christine Collins (@cmcollins13), Meg Van Dyke (@docV216), Mary Klepper (@MaryKlepper), Mary Yockey (@MaryYockey), Gail LeGrand (@GailLeGrand), Andrea WilsonVazquez (@wilsandrea), Jeff Zoul (@Jeff_Zoul), Steve Wick (@nvwick), Michelle Russell (@michellerussell), Jill Maraldo (@jmaraldo), Karen Gluskin (@kegluskin), Tricia Brawley (@GiVeAhOoT) who I haven't seen since she was a student at Thomas, Nancy Blair (@blairteach) from Georgia, and Rik Rowe (@WHSRowe) from Massachusetts! OH MY GOODNESS!

Phew! After seeing all these faces and shaking hands or hugging them, it was time to begin in the auditorium. My role was the explanation of EdCamp, and then getting people started coming down to propose sessions. Easy-peasy. I had everything I wanted to say written down, and I love a microphone. When the first session was started, I pulled 100 raffle tickets so we'd have those people with those tickets come down to the stage at 3pm and choose their small prize. The other 40 or so raffle prizes would be chosen with everyone in attendance after the Smackdown. I did take the time to put those in (what I thought was) order of value. I was sorta off on that...! Loved that I had previously met & had lunch with the person who won the Chromebook, too - Garnet Hillman (@garnet_hillman)!

I attended the second session, but was (literally) called out early by a phone call from my parents who were traveling - I wanted to make sure they were okay, so I had to answer it and quietly leave! Lunch was next - I ate with Bernice, Tasha, Meg, and Bob was back from helping pick up lunch and deliver the trays back to Mario's. He seemed to be having a great time, too - he even held onto Kristie Bleers's (@kbleers) tickets for her, because she had to leave! I needed to attend the third session, because a woman from Palatine told me she HAD to talk to me about her 5th graders and ask me all kinds of questions about assessments (bad taste in my mouth) during Genius Hour. Great people were there - Allison, Paul, Ben K., and Michael Matera (@mrmatera), among others I just can't remember right now.

Then it was back to the stage to set up the small raffle prizes and get ready for the larger ones. Allison helped me divvy them out and organize, but she had to leave early, so she couldn't stay to announce them. Jenna helped me out when it was time.

My Big "Take-Away..."
Everyone in your planning group needs to use his or her own gifts for a successful event.
This was a huge lesson for me. I got out of doing lunch duty, but felt guilty for doing so. I just didn't think I could do it right, thought I'd have lots of trouble, and just felt uneasy about it. Allison did a GREAT job of securing the deal. I helped where I could, however, and did the best I could with it. I could've been more timely getting the tweets out for "Meet the Camper," but many of the people I added the Thursday before didn't even show anyway. I could've added updates to the blog, but didn't feel it was necessary. I could've called more companies for sponsorship, but that wasn't my skill set either, I'd thought. Everyone had a part to play, and everyone played his or her part very well. I would list what they all did, but it's just WAY too much, and this post is WAY too long as it is, in my opinion.

I had to reflect on this day... I equate it to going to Disney World, really.

Thank you to everyone who made it happen - our inspired organizers, our stellar crew, the passionate teachers who came from near and far to learn from one another, the staff at Wood Dale District 7, and my biggest fan, Bob. I fed off of your passion this weekend, and you've invigorated me once again. I'll be heading to school with a huge smile on my face - THANK YOU.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

IATE - I'm over the hump...

I have learned my lesson fully this weekend at the IATE (Illinois Association of Teachers of English) conference.

I need to connect to people.
     It makes me happy, and I learn a ton!

If you knew me, you wouldn't think I was shy. I can be boisterous, loud, outlandish, and even (yes, it's true) annoying at times. But really, deep down, I am SHY.

This weekend, however, I presented at the IATE conference in Bloomington, IL, with three people I HAD NEVER MET. We were connected by one person I had met once before - at EdCampChicago in the spring. The other three I'd only "talked to" on Twitter.

Here we are!
Amy (@AJ_Pine), Jaclyn (@JaclynDHan), me, Gary (@AndersonGL) & Russ (@RAndersonFHS)
I've met Gary before, but not the rest of this great gang.
The hashtag sent with this pic was #whyrwestillworkingonthis ?!

Here is our presentation on Empowering Student Literacy through Choice.

The presentation was fun to plan, fun to present, and I'm proud of what we did. However, I'm actually more happy with making connections this weekend. I sat in on Stephanie Gates's presentation on teaching argument, participated fully (there were only 5 of us), and then sat next to her during the social hour and through dinner. Also during this time, I struck up conversation with four other teachers who came to sit down (each leaving a seat between them and the others). Great to meet you, @michelinaM06 & @mrpiper76! (Here is Michelina's blog post about the weekend...) I made a point to ask each of them at least one question. My husband has taught me this - people love to talk about themselves. I also made sure these were not questions that could be answered with a "yes" or a "no." ;-) In this fashion, we shared some great stories.

During the first presentation I went to today (given by Tricia Campbell - @tlcampbell2002), I heard a teacher next to me say something about saving the flip class videos on Edline... I had to know more, as I thought Edline got rid of all we'd done the year prior - No! It's not true! She quickly explained to me where it was all stored. No more re-posting helpful links each year?! Ahhh... This one interaction with Jennifer Keith (@pi2nyc) was priceless. As I tweeted out ideas from this session, Patti Strukel (@PattiStrukel) tweeted back to try Movenote - and sent me an example she's done - WOAH! Put your Google Presentation in here, add your ideas and boom! You've got a flipped lesson with your face and voice, too! Some day I'd love to meet Patti in person...

I was also lucky to meet local Twitter peeps from Conant High School - Asra (@Ms_Syed_reads) & Jordan (@BuffEnglish), even learning WHY he's "Buff" English! I even went out to write a line of poetry (well, I wasn't sure if it WAS poetry) outside using sidewalk chalk, thanks to @MrSujak. It's the personal stories that have made this weekend for me.

Even if I am shy, I don't have to ACT shy. In fact, to make my life even better than it already is (it IS glorious, if I do say so myself), I have to talk to people I don't know, and ask them questions. I'll have to draw on the habitude of "courage," but this will be my new Genius Hour project...for quite a long time, I hope!

Special thanks to Russ, Gary, Jaclyn & Amy for inviting me to present at this cozy event, and thanks for making meeting new people painless. Thanks also to my administration for paying for my attendance and allowing me to go... I love that I can continue to learn. Next week... helping to make EdCamp Chicago work!! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I started our day today... juggling. Yup!

I was thinking of how to review and reflect upon our Caine's Arcade Cardboard Challenge without it being boring. Last year I required a student blog post on the day, and I graded it, of course. This year, since our blogs are authentic, I'll suggest a reflection post, but won't require one. So how to start a lively discussion...? Juggling! For each topic, I juggled as I spoke, and they were entranced - they were listening, at least!

After a quick talk about how ONE young boy started a chain reaction, I spoke in "threes."

Here are the three topics I wanted to cover:
     --> what I learned
     --> what students learned
     --> what we could change, add, or omit to make it better next year.

I started with what we could change.
     I had them brainstorm in pairs first, then one person from each pair would come up to the board to write their best suggestion. I took a picture to archive each class's suggestions, so I could add their ideas to this post, and actually remember to USE them next year.

Here are their suggestions:
     - More time in class to prepare
     - Charge money for games to donate to fight cancer
     - Have more time to plan it out
     - Every game should raise money for a special/good cause
     - Compliment people's artwork
     - Put it on the announcements
     - Look on the bright side of things and go that extra step to help make others happy
     - Advertise it
     - Add prizes to motivate people to play
     - Use class-based currency
     - Show Caine's Arcade one more time
     - Make the challenge a competition
     - Supply more cardboard
     - Have a cardboard restaurant
     - Have a social network page to promote the event

Next I told them about what I learned (see prior post). Here's the recap:
     - I need to help students be more prepared for the day.
     - Students used the Genius "habitudes" the entire time. At this point, I asked them what habitudes they used, and when, and we threw one of the balls around to get responses - of course they ALL wanted to share then.
     - I can stand back, say "create," and students will create wonderful products.

And then it was their turn. I split up "what students learned" into three more categories:
     --> students who came unprepared (24% of students in my three classes)
     --> students who worked on their projects during class (the majority)
     --> students who came with their project already finished, or close to it (16%)
I made it a point to say that students in each group learned many things, but they may be very different from students in the other two groups.

Those students were then able to choose from three ways to share:
     --> written down bullet points transformed into individual blog posts
     --> written down bullet points transformed into a mini-paper of sorts
     --> written down bullet points transformed into a quickly-produced & recorded speech

Here is a sampling of what they said:
     Something I learned while doing the cardboard challenge was perseverance. Me and Erin were trying to make a Skeeball game, but that didn't work. But we didn't give up on it. We just made a "modified version." If we gave up, we wouldn't have made our game that Nick loved. Perseverance is important because you can't just give up on things in life, you have to keep working at them. 

     If we put our heads together and use our imagination then we can create things we never thought of doing before. We all brought materials to make our creation. We all supported each other by supporting others' ideas. We all helped out and it was fun. Other students played our game and when they figured out how to win at the game, a smile crossed their faces. 

     We learned how to recycle objects and use them for other things.

     We learned how to run our own mini-booth, or business.

     We learned that being prepared can be beneficial to our learning.

     If you are ever unprepared, you have to use what you can find or get help from friends. Also you have to make sure you have at least one idea.

     Including people who don't have supplies or a group will help get your work finished faster, it'll make the person feel happy and wanted, and it'll make you feel proud that you did something nice for someone else.

     People can be fun and creative.

     Building stuff with friends is more fun than by yourself.

     The first thing I learned from the Cardboard Challenge was that when working with other people, good teamwork and compromising are very important. Good teamwork is important because that way the whole group contributes and everyone works together to complete a good piece of work while in a group. Compromising is also very important while working because that way everyone's thought are contributed to the project and there is no arguing, just good suggestions. Another important thing I learned from the Cardboard Challenge was that you need to you creativity when creating something. If you're creative, your piece will be more unique and interesting. Something else I learned from the cardboard Challenge was never give up. If something doesn't work, try again. If it still doesn't work try something knew to accomplish the same meaning. One more thing I learned from the Cardboard Challenge was that you need to set a goal for yourself and come prepared. By setting a goal, you can strive for it and look forward to reaching for it. And if you come prepared, you have a better chance of reaching your goal. The last important thing I learned from the Cardboard Challenge was that you need to have fun and explore what you can achieve! Having fun means take risks and see what you can do! 

     ...we learned about passion, courage, curiosity, perseverance, etc. The most important one is imagination. We got to go out and explore other things. We also got to express our selfs. This is very important. 

     We did this to learn about expressing our genius and learning how to create using our resources.

I will add more to this post as they come in so I can keep a record of all the things students realized they learned.

Here is my presentation:

Deciding to juggle today was inspired by Dave Burgess's Teach Like a Pirate book. I put a teaser on the board the day before, letting students know we were going to have a "guest juggler" in class the next day! When I started juggling today, I said, "I never said the guest juggler was a SKILLED juggler...!" ;-)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Caine's Cardboard Challenge


Why is Joy doing the Cardboard Challenge again this year? She teaches ELA. What do cardboard creations have to do with ELA??!!

I never heard the words, but I imagined them. Was I feeling guilty for not teaching reading or writing this day? Maybe. Guilt is ingrained in me. It didn't matter if I didn't hear the words coming out of teachers' mouths. What I did NOT hear --> support for this endeavor from coworkers after I sent out the all-staff email inviting them and their students to come for a visit (I even sent them "fun passes"). What I did NOT see --> coworkers coming down to visit and play with us. That speaks volumes to me.

So I'm laying it on the line here. If you don't agree with me - that's fine. I'm not writing for your approval.  I'm writing to reflect on the day and why I spend one class from my students' year asking them to design cardboard creations. Really, what is eighty minutes in the scheme of things?

What I noticed:
     - Eleven students (17%) had prepared and finished their project at home, and were ready to play today!
     - Students worked hard for 80 minutes - without any grade incentive.
     - The library was alive with noise and action.
     - Nobody was sitting down (unless it was on the floor to plan or create).
     - There was constant movement.
     - There were no arguments.
     - Students learned to use what they have in the time allotted, & change as necessary.
     - Students shared space & loaned or shared supplies.
     - They suffered natural consequences when they were not prepared.
     - Discussions about engineering & design were abundant.
     - Students were able to bounce around from one activity to another.
     - A very lively atmosphere, with smiles, laughter, shouts of excitement...
     - I was going to make a list of "What I heard," but it got too long for this blog post!

The genius "habitudes" students experienced today:
     - Imagination - Need I explain?
     - Curiosity - What is everyone else doing? How did they DO that? How can I change my own?
     - Self Awareness - Students KNEW what skills they had and what they didn't, and called on friends for help.
     - Perseverance - oh, so much trial and error! So much failing happening today!
     - Courage to display their work - completed or not.
     - Passion - Oh, the exclamations shouted today! They were INTO their creations!
     - Adaptability - When one thing wouldn't work, they readily changed the process.

We talk about these habitudes weekly during Genius Hour (thank you, Angela Maiers!), and throughout the week when I commend students for demonstrating these habitudes during guided lessons.

This ties right in with lessons I'm trying to teach this year regarding the Four Cs of 21st Century Learning:  creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication & collaboration. Do we not need these to thrive in life? Do we not need these when we attack a complex text or a challenging writing prompt? Will students not need these skills when they are figuring out their genius hour project for fourth quarter? Today's lessons will help us make those connections.

What I learned:
     - Seventh graders are C-R-E-A-T-I-V-E! Was I ever that creative??
     - Next year, the sign I make for the outside should say, "Come in and design, create, and PLAY," because students did a lot more planning and creating than they did actually playing.
     - Because sixteen students (24% = way too many!!) were not prepared, I'll need to have some activities I choose for them to do. These students did not bring ANY materials. I felt as if they'd been sleeping under a ROCK. I'll also prepare them better - instead of asking them to write the "homework" of bringing materials to class, I'm going to give them colorful reminder slips, with a checklist on it for them to bring WITH their materials. Is this spoon-feeding? Maybe. But 24% is just too many for me. Those 16 students didn't learn all that the rest of the students did. They didn't just sit around doing nothing, but they didn't all create, either. Seven of these (still 10.5%) wandered around, playing other people's games, and then chatting until I chased them off to do something else... Suggestions?
     - Gosh darn it - at what other time in the school year is learning so ultimately open and FREE in seventh grade? At what other time in your plans do you give students the direction, "Create," and then step back entirely? I don't think they're given this direction at home, and there are many distractions from this type of learning - their afternoons and weekends are already planned for them, and if they're not, how many of them revert to the old standby of television or video games?
     - Sometimes I feel like I'm on the "lunatic fringe" at my school (thanks for the great phrase, Karl!). But you know what?! I'm not at school to please (or appease) other teachers. I teach because of children.  Lessons learned today, whether consciously or unconsciously, will help these children with the rest of our lessons throughout the year - in any teacher's class.

Here is a 15 minute glimpse into our day of learning...

After reading all this, are you going to tell me you don't know what the Cardboard Challenge is? I didn't provide background, but take eleven minutes to learn about Caine Monroy if you haven't yet...

Many thanks to the two teachers and three administrators who showed their support, and to Mr. Todd Hillmer for letting us make a mess in the LMC! The students noticed it, and we had room to breathe, share and flex our creative muscles...