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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Books of 2014

From my meager list of 79 books read in 2014 (my personal challenge was 73) - my favorites...

A Book ALL Educators Should Read:
     Choice Words by Peter Johnston
          This is, hands down, the BEST book I've read for my profession. I couldn't stop reading it once I started. Everyone who works with children should read this treasure. Ever since I found out about how teachers shame students (even without being conscious of it), I've been more aware of what words I use. This book will hopefully help me convey the message to students that they truly DO matter. Their actions, words, choices... all of it matters, and we are all on the same journey - together. If you work with children, and you care about them READ THIS BOOK. This coming year, I will try to use these ideas with adults, as well...! (Quick tip blog post on how to use this book when giving feedback on writing...)

Books My Seventh Graders Should Read:
     The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez
          Well, the girls should read this one, at least... I was hooked from the first two pages. I purchased this book thinking of high schoolers' 20% projects... The impact from this project was nationwide. The writing wasn't the very best, but it wasn't written by a writer - it was written by a young lady who wanted to change stereotypes, and help young teen females. I will recommend this to young ladies - I think any young lady could handle the message, as it is stated often and in various forms.

     The Hate List by Jennifer Brown
          Okay, maybe not in seventh grade, but eighth, and definitely in high school... Mature? Yes. So many issues were brought up from this story of a school shooting - I think the author covered most of them. Not in too much depth (or I'd be crying the entire time), but enough to make you think about every aspect of your behavior and the behavior of others. It's a great reminder that EVERY person has a story. Get to know it.

Reluctant Reader (7th grade):
     The Running Dream by Wendelin VanDraanen
          LOVED it! So glad a group of 7th grade girls recommended it to me. It's on our Rebecca Caudill list this year, and we used it for our all-school summer read. Everything in it is totally appropriated, and it has powerful messages. I'd recommend this to any sports freak and anyone who has difficulty with something in his/her life. It teaches the message of "one day at a time..."

     Memory Boy by Will Weaver
          I put this one off for a bit too long, I think. It grabbed me from the beginning, and since it was an easy read, I enjoyed breezing through the action mixed in with flashbacks of weeks before the volcano had erupted... I will suggest this to students who have fierce memories, and ones who liked Hatchet.

Graphic Novel:
     Page By Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
          I really enjoyed this quick read, and I understood it! (I'm not a big GN fan.) I have the perfect student for this book - one that doesn't know who she is, and is constantly battling herself inside her head. Things don't always go her way and either she thinks it's all her fault, or she blames her mom for everything. There are three instances of language (that really don't need to be in there to make it effective! UGH!) that make this book "young adult." A 7th grader might not catch what they mean and gloss over them (I hope).

Historical Fiction:
     Fallout by Todd Strasser
          What if? What if your family was the one to build the bomb shelter - with enough supplies for your family ONLY - and six other people decided to join you on the day the bomb was dropped? This story kept me reading. I didn't like the way every other chapter was from a different time (in the shelter, then three days prior), but it came together nicely. Some mature parts.

     The Perfect Shot by Elaine Marie Alphin
          I'm glad I read this sports mystery, even though I really don't care for sports or mystery books! this book has it all - the dangers of racism, justice, murder, policemen-gone-bad, court, prejudices, history... I liked how it had almost an adult book feel to it. (Our local library has it in the YA and adult sections.) I'm glad it ended how it did - sort of a happy ending, and sort of not. The very end was predictable, but not all that happened in between. Good thought-provoking book. I'll have to figure out who the right kind of person is who'll want to read this one... Favorite quote - "How you act on the court is how you'll act off the court."

     Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
          Thank you, Yvette, for this great gift for our classroom! I engulfed this one and it will have a place of honor on our shelves. (Some content may be too mature for 7th grade.)
          Page after page is decorated with humans - each one has a story. Do you know it, or do you pretend to know it? With seventh graders judging 1,000,000 ways to Sunday, this is the perfect book to share with them.

     Seraphina's Promise by Ann Burg
          I thought this book about Seraphina's promise to herself (and to her baby brother who had passed) was very sweet. Filled with Haitian Creole phrases and melodramatic rhythm, this book written in prose was the perfect companion to me on my snow/cold day off of school. I don't know if you can count it as historical fiction, but it does include the earthquake Haiti suffered in 2010. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes books in prose, quick reads, and who appreciates all they have. I have some very simple quotes from this book that say a ton about life.

Science Fiction:
     Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
          Woah. This book sucked me in from the first page. Being a teen of the 80s and a video gamer (alas, I've tamed that addiction), I loved the premise of this book. I know just what 8th graders need to read it, too! There was one sexually-mature page, and quite a bit of foul language, but I was able to overlook those and see the point of the story - get out and ENJOY this world!!

     Unbroken, by Laura Hillanbrand
          I started this book a couple of years ago, and loaned it out when I was at chapter five - about 30 pages in. I picked it up again and finished it in three days. I don't know what to say except that I doubt I will ever read another book like it. The fact that Louis Zamperini actually came away unbroken and lived with unbridled effervescence until this year is astounding. Stellar role model and inspiration... We're heading to see the movie for New Year's Eve tonight - I hope they do it justice.

I Can't Believe I Kept Reading It:
     Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov
           Actually, I didn't read this entire book this year... It took me two years to finish! As my ears got red and I felt I had to hide while reading this book, I can't believe I actually finished it! I don't know what to think about it, but I'm glad I read this book I've only heard whispered about! ("Didn't you have to read Lolita in college?" Nope!)

You're Next:
     What were your favorites of 2014? Please leave yours in the comments so we all have more great books to devour! Here's to 2015!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Questioning Using Padlet

At the start of our short unit on science fiction, we're focusing strongly on questioning. Here were our plans for our the first five days. Keep in mind that I have an 80-minute block, and we spent 10-15 min on grammar and three science fiction book trailers from this list at the beginning of each day.

Day 1

1. Discuss the goal of the lesson - to write as many questions as you can about this story. Make sure students have something with which to write, and on which to write.
2. Discuss WHY we're writing questions. What's the point?
3. Students read the story one time independently, writing down their questions.
4. Students share their questions with their table groups, and see which ones their friends can help them answer.
5. Teacher reads the story aloud, asking students to write down more questions, and/or cross out questions that were answered from this second reading.
6. Each table group gets a device, and is asked to go to a Padlet site and add the question(s) they consider important or interesting. Ask them to have only ONE question per box. I tried this with each student the first time, and it did NOT go well. Doing this in groups of three or four makes the Padlet questions much easier to manage.
7. Students return the device when they're finished (makes managing the rest of the Padlet easier).
8. Explain the three ways of thinking listed below. I convert this to types of questions - ONE at a time.

Taken from Whole Novels for the Whole Class by Ariel Sacks...
9. I introduced the "Literal" question idea, typed it on the Padlet on the left side, and asked students to find the questions that go under that "literal" label.
10. When I introduced "Inferential" and "Critical," I did the same.

This is how our Padlet ended up looking like for "Evil Robot Monkey"...

We noticed...
--> We're missing question marks!
--> We have some vague pronouns (which "he" do we mean?).
--> One didn't fit into any category from this class (Spencer's on the bottom right).
--> One we could not agree on. --> Spencer - "is this a school for animals"
--> One had two questions on one box, so we put it on the bottom in the middle - students decided that the first part was literal, and the second was critical.

On this night, #ELAchat was rockin' with ways to keep students engaged. One I tweeted about was Padlet today. I received this tweet from Karen Desjadon with a link to what a Padlet looks like EMBEDDED in a blog:

Days 2 & 3

1. Review WHY we are spending so much time asking questions.
2. Begin reading the story - students' job is to write questions as we read.
3. After a certain page, I handed out this reading check, and we did questions 1-4 together, discussing which type of question each one was. 
4. After the entire story was finished, students shared their questions about the story at their tables, and were able to get answers to some issues they did not understand.
5. We completed an "elements of science fiction" chart for this story, and gave evidence as to where the elements were in this particular story.
6. We revisited the questions from the reading check. Instead of answering the next five in class, we opened up the Padlet once more, and categorized them under "literal" and "inferential."
7. We discussed trends we noticed - 
          Why were there NO critical questions on this reading check?
          Why were there almost an equal number of literal and inferential questions?
          Why do teachers have literal questions on their work for students?
          Why do teachers have inferential questions? What do the answers show the teachers?
8. We circled our two (three in one class) inferential questions, and I let them know I'd be grading these, along with the other literal questions. I gave them two different grades, and redos ended up looking like this.

Day 4
"Zero Hour" by Ray Bradbury

1. Review WHY we are spending so much time asking questions. How will these questions help us in "real life," as well as in school?
2. Begin reading the story - students' job is to write questions as we read.
3. After reading this one, students got into groups, shared their myriad questions, and came up with one or two to which they wanted to know the answers.
4. Each group received an iPad on which to put their questions. This time, the definitions for each type of question were already on the top of the Padlet. However, I did notice that they just put their questions any place, and we ended up moving them around again together.
5. Sort some of the questions, until you have at least SIX under "inferential."
6. Have students weed down the number to FOUR "great inferential questions." I explained a "great" question as one we THINK we know the answer to, but we'd have to find hints from the author in the text itself.

These are the four one class came up with - notice the two they rejected are crossed out. We moved them away from the list.

7. Quickly delete the other questions (hint: click the trash can on each first, then go back and click "OK, Remove" on all of them for a quick clearing).
8. Move each of the four remaining questions to a corner of the Padlet, signifying the corners where discussions will take place in the room.
9. Ask students to bring their text to a corner of the room and be ready to answer that question using support from the text. (5-10 min)
10. Have each group select a spokesperson to share the ideas of the group. (5-10 min)

We noticed...
--> One question from one class (I can't remember it!) they realized was NOT an inferential question, but a critical question, as they could not find any hints in the story to suggest an answer. They thought they had an answer, but realized they were relying on their background knowledge instead of the text.
--> It's fun answering our OWN questions, instead of the teacher's questions!

Day 5
Continue with "Zero Hour." This is not part of the Padlet activities, but I had to share this one!

1.  Ask the following question of the students - Who is responsible for the alien attack?
2.  Give them this sheet, asking them to be ready to defend their answer. 
      (This idea is from Michael W. Smith & Jeffrey D. Wilhelm's book, Fresh Takes on Teaching Literary Elements, 2010.)
3.  Ask students to go to the four corners of the room, depending on who they think is the MOST responsible, sharing text evidence.
4.  Students write in response to this question after the discussion.

The Following Days...
We cover these stories during our science fiction unit, and this will lead into great fishbowl discussions to answer questions that are more critical!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


I don't know what the Edublog awards are, except for the fact that on some blogs they have "badges" for being nominated or a finalist for their content. Makes sense, as it's from Edublogs.

What's this, then? What's this "Best Individual Tweeter" idea? Seymour Simon sent me a tweet to this today, and I am truly honored -  not to be nominated - but to be in such stellar company. I already follow more than half of these tweeters, and I love that their tweets are all about education. They are professional, kind, and generous. Thank you to those ... um ... who do I thank for this??  However I got on this list, I'm just very honored to be in such great company!

Check out the list to start following passionate educators. While you're at it, check out the years prior!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Quick Tip #4 - Student Choice

"Question of the Day" - I cut a sheet of magnet (that can go through the printer), ask students to write their names on them, and then have students answer the question each day...
**BONUS: This is also an easy check to see who's not in your class - which names haven't been moved?

2017 Update... I've since modified this SLIGHTLY... and here's the post where I share how I create quick magnet strips. Want to see more about the question of the day? Check out the Shift This blog posts about them here!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Quick Tip #1 - Reluctant Readers

I am starting a new vlog series - quick tips - that I want to remember in the future!

These will be ideas that have worked in my classroom, and ones I don't want to forget. I won't worry about extra noises in the background, what I wear, if my hairs are all in place, or what I sound like. I am doing these for my teaching. If they happen to benefit you, too - GREAT! I'll label/tag them "Quick Tips" and then what they relate to (reluctant reader, struggling writer, genius hour, ants in the pants, etc.).

So here's my first one - Using a Timer to Help a Reluctant Reader

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Passion-Driven Learning Presentations at the K12 Online Conference

I'd never heard of the K12 Online Conference, and yet I was asked to be the "keynote presenter" for the Passion-Driven Learning strand for this year's online conference. Humbled and anxious, I accepted, not knowing the work I'd have to put into it. I could criticize my own video until I'm blue in the face, but I am proud of the message, and stand by it. I am also very thankful to those teachers (Sheri Edwards, Denise Krebs, Oliver Schinkten, Paul Solarz, Gallit Zvi) who came through for me by sending me clips of their answers to questions I wanted to include.

My (@JoyKirr) K12 Online Learning Conference Keynote presentation from October 27th:

On the K12 Online blog, this presentation is here.

Here is the complete schedule of the 2014 K12 Online Conference presentations, and I've pulled out three here that are pretty specific to the group of teachers who follow this blog. See the complete listing for so many more fabulous presentations that make you contemplate all sorts of ideas and issues!

Bart Miller's (@BarMill) presentation (& resources) is one of my favorites from this strand. I need to watch it yet again, take notes, and then... take action.

Here is Bart's written transcription of his presentation.

Michelle L. Haiken's (@TeachingFactor) presentation & resources:

JoAnn Delaney's (@jdelaneyJoAnn) presentation & resources:

Again, see the complete listing for so many more fabulous presentations. I've learned so much watching them, knowing that the next time I'm asked to create a video, I've got to step it up a few notches!

Comments or questions on these videos? Please leave them below.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Third Annual Cardboard Challenge

Additions / Changes that made this year even better than last year...
     Give students a paper reminder for guidelines the Monday prior.
           Use only the supplies you bring - don't count on others for supplies, including adhesives.
           Have a title, your first name(s), and directions ready to display.
           Be nice to customers, and do not give up!
           (Only one group forgot their cardboard - but they created a game anyway!
           And not like last year, only ONE student came totally unprepared!!)
     Ask students the day prior to name who is bringing what for their group.
     Invite parents the weekend prior - and give them specific times. TWELVE parents came!
     Remind parents the night prior - letting them know it's still on.
     Create a "Welcome" sign.
           This year I added our article from the Imagination Foundation website, too!
     Set up part of the room for creating, and the front part of the room for final displays/games.
     Stop the class a FULL five minutes to help students decide who is bringing what home
           or use the time to recycle their project.
     Make cardboard strips to tape onto the wrists of students (great reminder!) who are
           bringing home their games after school.
     Have bandages ready for when you slice your finger with the box cutter...

With these changes, this was our best year yet! Many thanks to Caine's Arcade and the Imagination Foundation for starting this wonderful idea!

More articles and blog posts on why this day is so very valuable...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jury Duty Ramblings

I'd gotten the notice about a month ago - Jury Summons for October 8th at the Daley Center downtown. That's cutting it pretty close to the Cardboard Challenge date, isn't it? No worries - every time I call the night before, they don't need me. Well, I guess that was in my former life. I called last night - they "needed" me.

I wrote detailed sub plans for the new digital curriculum and shared them with colleagues I knew would get them to the sub and be able to explain the myriad nuances. I looked at the map as to how to catch the blue line from Rosemont, and tallied up the cost. Got money from my honey and my bag ready to go - including one professional book (and highlighter, of course), one juvenile book, my watch, phone, and iPad. I awoke at the same time as usual, but took my time in the morning. I was anxious. To the 10th power. I did NOT want to postpone the Cardboard Challenge tomorrow. This was my only true worry. It might just be my favorite day of the year. The question kept going through my mind - What if a STUDENT was absent Thursday? Would I postpone it for him? Was it fair to postpone it, or should I just let them enjoy the day without me? A generous coworker said she'd help with it if I couldn't make it - should I just let it go on? On, please don't let me be chosen for a jury!

Prayer came in to play. I usually only pray for God to keep me, my family, and my friends safe and healthy. Never to not be chosen for jury duty!! How trivial! I sometimes think that if I pray for trivial things, I won't be heard as much when it matters... So today my prayers were of gratitude, each time a different panel number besides mine was called.

I made the best of today, even though my nerves were on the fritz. On the "L" I read, and when I arrived early, I took in my surroundings. I scoped out the building and figured out how to get through the metal detectors and to the 17th floor. Once I received my sticker, I snuck over to the big window and took in the buildings.

As it turns out... 
I did not serve on a jury.  
I do not have to return tomorrow. 
The Cardboard Challenge is still ON.

I came away from today grateful & humbled. I came away from today with more questions than I've had time to think of lately. I thought I'd document them for myself - to return to when I'm worried about something such as missing the Cardboard Challenge. Most of these thoughts stem from the view from the Daley Center's 17th Floor...

So many people. So many stories. No one the same. People struggling, physically, mentally, financially... Others rushing by on the phone, some speaking another language. Pigeons surround Garrett's popcorn shop, while customers line up outside the door. Workers on scaffolds in the street, cranes lifting huge items onto roofs, police with bullet-proof vests watching walkers. Tourists heading into Macy's (Marshall Fields!) while locals sell StreetWise newspapers. Wind whipping around corners and the sun warming faces.

Who am I to think I can make a difference? Some people went into education thinking they could. I fell into teaching - I didn't even think kids liked me. Some days I feel I can make a difference, but days like today make me feel so very tiny.

I read a book today - Don Wettrick's Pure Genius: Building a culture of innovation and taking 20% time to the next level. He wrote of change. Of spreading the message of your one class, or your one idea you tried. Of using social media to get the message heard. He included words from a prior student, who wrote about sawdust. Yes, sawdust. It used to be considered useless, until someone decided to make particle board out of it. I look around this massive, busy city, and all I can think of is "Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind." What if... What if I started thinking of ideas as sawdust? What if I took this time I had today and wrote down my rambling thoughts and shared them with others? Would it inspire others to share? If I kept it up, would I be able to make something out of this dust I'm made from? What are all these people in Chicago doing today? Are they sharing ideas? Are they making new connections, or making previous connections stronger? Are they spending time with family, letting them know how much they are loved?

This city overwhelms me with its diversity. With its myriad stories. Sometimes life overwhelms me. So many decisions each day. What's my priority supposed to be? Can I really call the Cardboard Challenge a priority? What's the litmus test here? It's engaging to 90% of my students. It's something they'll always remember (hopefully). It's something the parents can enjoy as well. It's something for us to remember throughout the year when we talk of perseverance, creativity, collaboration, and failures. It's a time for past and future students to join, and teachers as well. It's a community-building experience. I think it passes the test. I think it's okay for me to want to be there tomorrow, even if I am only a speck of dust on this big, beautiful world.

I have soaked up this day. I said hello to strangers on the street, smiled at vendors, given a dollar to a musician, taken photos and videos to share with my love, and gotten my fingers orange with Garrett's cheese popcorn (yes, I brought some home to share, as well). I am grateful I do not have to serve on a jury tomorrow, and therefore not feel guilt at postponing the Cardboard Challenge. I also know, however, that my world would not have ended should I have needed to head back downtown tomorrow. I would hope my students would understand how much I wanted to be with them on this special day. I know that others have so many more worries than I do, and I have nothing to complain about. This makes me even more grateful for all I have. This, too, I think we need to spread. Even though we are just a speck of dust, our smile or compliment or "Have a great day" can make someone else's day a bit brighter. I wonder what they're going through today. All these people out here in this huge city...  All these stories... Not one the same as another.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Process for Genius Hour

How do I hold my students accountable when I'm not grading them?

I see myriad blog posts about pitch proposals, planning sheets, deadlines, reflections... the list goes on.  I have had certain parts in the year when I'm as open as any teacher as to what students can learn or create for Genius Hour. And yet, I find that some students need a scaffold to see how the process works.

So I put many ideas together, added a quote for each (I love quality quotes!), used a magnet sheet and had students write their names on small slips of magnet, and this is now on the back chalkboard. I'm aware that this is just one more step to helping students succeed with Genius Hour. Some students will thrive without this guide, but for others, it will be a good scaffold to encourage them to plan and follow through.
Via Joy Kirr
     I'm reading...
     I may have an idea...
     I'm brainstorming ideas.
     I'm seeking feedback from peers.
     I'm finding a mentor - to guide me on the journey.
     I'm researching and documenting.
     I'm putting a plan together.
     I'm ready to share with the class.
     I'm ready to share with the world.

See the document I created here, if you'd like to copy and create your own. I took a screen shot of each full page, then put four on one sheet of cardstock paper, so these steps are only 4 1/4" X 5 1/2". The circle is supposed to represent a web of sorts, with the title card in the middle connecting the threads. I wanted to make sure students knew they can jump around in the process. Knowing where each magnet name is will also help me when it comes to one-on-one conferencing. (I'm debating taking out the "I may have an idea" stage, but it looks like a couple of students are on that stage right now! I'll keep it this year...)

Two more I really like - AJ Juliani'sBeginner's Guide to 20% Time
                                       Gallit Zvi's - Genius Hour Broken Down Into Steps

Below are more versions that other teachers have graciously shared with me:

Another version (much cuter!) is here, courtesy of Chantel Sebastian (@SebastiansClass):
Used with permission from Miss Sebastian
     Teacher Conference
     Expert Work
     Final Product
     Ready to Showcase

Here is a similar version from Jeremy Collins (@kwalityejukatar):
Used with permission from Jeremy Collins

In sixth grade, Peter Cameron (@cherandpete) digs into this process he created:

And here is Peter's idea in Brenda Valencia's 6th grade classes. Her students decided how to post it!

In fifth grade, Julieanne Harmatz (@jarhartz) shares this process with her students:
Used with permission from Julieanne Harmatz
Here's another from fifth grade - from Rebecca Brink's (@RebeccaBrink1Passion Projects site:

Here's what Paul Solarz used in 5th grade when following Google's design thinking process:

A bit younger version, grades 3-5 from Matt Coaty (@Mcoaty):
Used with Permission from Matt Coaty

Grade 3 version - Andi McNair (@mcnairan3) shares this photo, and has the QR codes in this post. She also shares the 6 Ps in this older post.
Used with permission from Andi McNair

Would you like a younger version? Check out Laura Bright's (@lbrightedu) blog post about her Genius Hour "map" for first grade!
Used with permission from Laura Bright

Turns out, Laura had seen a tweet from Mark White (@mwhitedg), who currently teaches 2nd grade. It looked something like this:
Used with permission from Mark White

Another gem comes from Candace Marcotte (@canmarcotte) & Elena DeFilippis (@MissDeFilippis) for 6th grade:
Used with permission from Candace Marcotte
This is a game board, where students move their piece as they go. They've generously shared their game board here, AND (BONUS!) their color-coded sheets for the spaces HERE!

Nigel Coutts, from Sydney, wrote about the IB Design Cycle in this blog post, explaining the process for planning for Genius Hour.

This one from Jeromie Heath (@TeachHeath) shows their process in two different ways...

Used with permission from @teachheath

Yet another - from Dawn Zamora (@DawnZamora11) - In her third grade class, students will use post-its with their name, and add a question, etc. as they go.
Used with permission from @DawnZamora11

Take the above chart one step further, and solely focus on the research aspect with this flow chart from Tobie Taylor Jones (@tobiemichele), 6th grade:

Another basic structure is seen here, in what Jeff Peterson (@petersonjeffrey) shared for his MS science classes...
Used with permission from @petersonjeffrey

Here's more general one from a tweet by @Gary_S_ King regarding the Inquiry Process (please let me know if you know the original source):

A.J. Juliani wrote about the LAUNCH cycle in this post (with sketch from John Spencer)

Troy Cockrum was inspired by the Imagination Foundation when he created this graphic:

Here is the old one I used to use - I still like it, though - it's very simple, and fits 7th grade ELA!
Via Joy Kirr

Here is another - in Pictograph form - from Evie O'Dor (@evieodor) -
       The Life Cycle of a PAT Project

What does your Genius Hour process look like? Let me know in the comments and let me know if I have permission to add it to this post. Thank you for sharing!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Finally Realizing My Own Passion

I finally get it.

After hearing Angela Maiers in person at BLC12 (Better Learning Communities, Boston, 2012), reading both Classroom Habitudes and The Passion-Driven Classroom, seeing her work regarding Choose2Matter with high school students, following all the tweets and retweets of her words and work, and watching her podcasts, Google HangOuts, Skype sessions and now my favorite - "Passion-Based Learning with Angela Maiers".......

I finally get it.

I think I listened to this visit with Angela about 15 times now. She explains "passion," as she does whenever I listen to her words. After listening to her so many times and actually thinking about my own life and how I'm motivated by my own passion, I finally get it. Here are the words that have resonated with me this past month, and the message I will be sharing with my students this year.

"Many people think passion is doing what you like to do. And that projects should be wrapped around what kids like to do... But the root word of passion is 'to suffer; to endure.' So, passion isn't doing something that you LIKE to do - that's called a 'hobby,' or a 'project.' It's not even doing something that you're good at doing. That could turn into a job or a career or a project again. Passion is discovering what you MUST do.

"If you were asked to not do _____, what would your life be like? When you talk to individuals who are passion-driven, there is no event, there is no project, there is no beginning and end, and there's certainly no mastery... You're never finished. Passion becomes your energy, it becomes your fuel, your soul, when you think you can't rely on anything else and then passion whispers in your ear and says, 'What choice do you have?' because quitting is not an option...

"This is where the word 'suffering' becomes important... When something gets hard, or when something becomes high risk... when you start feeling the pressure of it... it's at that moment when you decide to cross the line, when something stops being fun, when something becomes incredibly, absolutely, almost sometimes almost excruciatingly difficult, if you stay with it, you are driven by passion. If you give it up...it just isn't true passion."

Just this month, I have realized what my passion is. It is giving students time to pursue their own passions. It was my 40th birthday, in January of 2013. On this date, I crossed "the line." I felt the pressure, and Genius Hour stopped being fun...

There was a parent that had been angry with me throughout the first half of the school year - for various reasons. I remember three specific reasons - Her child did not do as well on the ISAT as the year prior, and nothing I was doing in class seemed to be helping her to do better on the next one coming up in April. I was not giving enough homework, her child didn't have any grammar or vocabulary or root word work to study at home, and class was "too easy." On this date in January, she wanted to meet with me and the principal so she could explain her concerns more. On this date in January, in front of the principal, I also heard the criticism, "Genius Hour is crazy. All the parents think so. You should do more PR for it."
Nope. I can cut through the yard!
Although I had my principal's support, it felt like I'd been punched in the gut. Although I knew that Genius Hour was the only day of the week I saw her child smile in class, I felt defeated. I wanted to go home and cry. It was the first time any parent had stepped on my toes about Genius Hour. I left the meeting, and left my principal to talk more with the parent. I went home and had my birthday meal. I don't remember if I cried or not, but I do know my husband and I talked long and hard about it. One thing he asked me, "Do you think you're doing the right thing?" Yes. "Why do you think so?"

I slept that night. (I'm blessed that I can sleep most nights without trouble!) I woke the next day and wrote this blog post about the changes I'd be making. And then I acted. Out of suffering. I endured. Quitting was not an option. She wanted PR for parents? OKAY! I took the notes I'd been keeping to myself in an Evernote folder, and I put them into an online binder - for all to see.

The LiveBinder was created out of pain. It started because Genius Hour had become something I MUST do with my students. I needed to defend it. I needed to find the stories that motivated others to try it. I needed to let parents know just WHY I was using this time in class on a weekly basis.

It grew. During the #GeniusHour chat once a month, teachers had always been asking - How do I start? How do your hold your students accountable? How does this prepare them for standardized tests? What can I use to inspire my students? What do you do about students who have a hard time with this type of learning? I started making the LiveBinder helpful to teachers, as well. I began collecting, every day, posts and ideas that people were tweeting out about their own trials and tribulations, creativity, innovation, engagement, passion......

There are now OVER 400 teachers who have made the Genius Hour LiveBinder what it is today. Call it what you will - Genius Hour, 20% Time, Passion Projects, Innovation Days... All of these days are incorporated into precious school hours because of teachers who are passionate. These teachers know that their students need time to follow their own passions, or be turned off by the institution we call "school." Who to thank for this LiveBinder? A parent who didn't understand Genius Hour - because I didn't explain it. Who else? YOU. We should thank all the teachers who have made the LiveBinder what it is, and all the teachers who will help it grow further.

I received an email from Sherri Stokes this past week. She wanted me to put six different resources on the LiveBinder. These resources are in FRENCH! World language teachers will be so happy to see them. In addition to the resources, she shared with me a lengthly story from a parent who was giving her blessing to Genius Hour, because it had helped her daughter and their family. This is more fuel for me. This feeds my passion in ways I can't describe.

What's next for me? I will continue to be PROactive with parents, and let them know what we're doing right from the starting gate. I will continue to curate resources found on the #geniushour and #20time hash tags. I cannot stop. This I MUST do. I've heard of too many success stories to stop now.

What's next for YOU? Please...
     Keep writing about what you're trying in class, and WHY you're trying it.
     Keep sharing this writing online, and tweet it out for the world to see.
          (Use the hashtags so more teachers see your tweets!)
     Keep trying, tweaking, and trying again.
     Keep doing what you know is right.
     Keep asking others for help. We can figure this out together.

You do your share, and I'll do mine.
Let's keep passion-driven learning alive during school hours.