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.

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.