This blog will be the center of all we do in room 239. Main posts will be by Mrs. Kirr, explaining what we're doing in class, blog posts will be done by each student, and students will help write the Genius Hour blog posts to share what we're learning and producing independently.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Our New Site

Our new classroom site is up and running - It's a Weebly, and seems much more conducive to parent and student use.

Please visit for all the fun!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Genius Hour Presentations

Update to previous post:

We are pioneers at Thomas Middle School! Our hope is that we have learned life skills - persistance, determination, and how to be a life-long learner through this Genius Hour time we've had.

Some presentations can be found for a limited time on YouTube. Type in "2013 Genius Hour" and then your LA block (2/3, 5/6, or 8/10) to see some of them again. Some of them did not get recorded, or were of such poor filming quality that they were too hard to hear or understand, and so were not posted.

If you haven't already, please fill out this survey so that next year can be an even better experience...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Frederick Douglass

For the rest of the school year, we'll be reading The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and working on our Genius Hour projects until we present them!

Although it may seem we are flying through Frederick Douglass, we are actually reading each chapter very closely, while annotating our text. Students are looking at specific sections and passages after reading each chapter. Determining what Douglass REALLY meant is tricky, but we are accepting the challenge! If your student says it's easy, it's because we were successful that day. If your student says it's difficult, believe him or her!

Note: ** ALL Frederick Douglass resources (including full text online) are on Edline.
          ** You are invited to see our Genius Hour presentations the week of May 28-31!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Author Skype!

Before Winter Break, Mrs. Kirr won a Skype visit with Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of One for the Murphys! She'd read the book (which came out in the spring of 2012) in the summer and thought it was perfect for middle school readers. So... she started rounding up readers, and had nine readers ready to join us today. We had Molly, Morgan, Maddy, Sammie, Hannah, Katherine, Elise, Mr. Hillmer, and Mrs. Lott in attendance, and enjoyed answers to our questions. We asked about what made her want to write a book, why it started in Vegas, what was her inspiration for the characters, why she made the ending the way she did, and what happens when they go back to Vegas... Suddenly, we were given a sneak peek into her next book! Oh, the girls were overjoyed!

Check out the interaction between Ms. Hunt and her audience of 7th graders...

And here are our tweets back and forth...

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Outsiders

We are beginning fourth quarter with The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton! This classic middle school novel will give students a chance to do some close reading (see the Common Core standards) with text that isn't too challenging. There will be a bit more homework for this quarter, and students are expected to bring their own copy of their book back and forth to class each day. These books are theirs to keep, and they are expected to write in them (favorite quotes, important events/quotes, "aha" moments, questions for clarification or wonderings, vocabulary, etc.), or put these ideas on sticky notes throughout the book.

Grades for this unit will be based on group discussions (students cannot participate in group discussions if they have not read the required chapter), comprehension questions, participation in paraphrasing activities and writing prompts. The final assessment will be a writing activity but will be graded on reading comprehension. Approximately one chapter will be assigned per night, with some time to begin each chapter during class time.

Here is the timeline for homework as it stands now (this site will be revised if we get off the schedule):

     4/3 - Chapter 1
     4/4 - Chapter 2
     4/5 - Chapter 3

     4/10 - Chapter 4
     4/11 - Chapter 5
     4/12 - Chapters 6 & 7

     4/16 - Chapter 8
     4/17 - Chapter 9
     4/18 - Chapter 10
     4/19 - Chapters 11 & 12

As for the first day of each week, we will be working on our Q4 Genius Hour projects - please see the letter home that your child should have showed you - there is also a copy on Edline. Students & parents may look at the LiveBinder for the explanation we'll have in class on 4/2/13. The LiveBinder is here - . Due dates, rubrics, and short examples of what students can do are on this site.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Give us the evidence!

Phew! ISATs finish this week, and our polished pieces for Phineas Gage are turned in and graded... Redos are due by Monday, 3/18 - please schedule a time to come in before school, during lunch, or after school if you'd like more guidance.

It's time to put what we've learned about providing relevant evidence to the test. We'll be in groups this week, debating issues of relevance to us. For a debate to be successful, students must come up with strong, convincing evidence that their claim is the one we should listen to. (If you'd like more reason as to why we are doing debates in middle school, see this "Debates in the Middle School Classroom" site.) Tuesday we'll be introducing the concept and dividing into groups. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be used for finding the most convincing argument, coming up with a hook and a conclusion, and figuring out logistics. (On Friday, we'll also be hearing about good books from Miss Jergens!)

Next week Monday we will have our debates in class. The audience will participate as well as the debate members for each group. We'll wrap up the short week before Spring Break with Genius Hour on Tuesday and Career Day on Wednesday. Enjoy your two weeks and then your break!!

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Since we will be doing more of this particular close-reading activity throughout the year, it was time to blog about it, as it has "success" written all over it...

This week, we read a NewYorkTimes article about the teenage brain to accompany Phineas Gage and get us ready for The Outsiders. We read it aloud first, discussed any questions students had, and then tried a couple of close-reading activities. One of the activities we completed was a seemingly simple paraphrase of one sentence. We took the following sentence:

     "These (studies) show that the brain systems providing for impulse control are still maturing during adolescence."

Students looked at this sentence for a minute, then they were asked to put this sentence into their own words.  After a few minutes, I collected a few samples, and put them on the board, under the original sentence.

One class looked like this:

1                                             2                                              3                                         4
closest to the 
author's meaning

     "These (studies) show that the brain systems providing for impulse control are still maturing during adolescence."

A = During adolescence, your brain is still maturing and the way 
       you react during adolescence will not be the same reaction 
       as an adult.
B = During maturing of the brain, impulse control isn't developed.
C = Teens aren't fully developed when it comes to making social 
D = These studies show why teenagers are impulsive.

What did we do with these? Looking at one answer at a time, students took turns discussing where they would place it on the line and explain why. Students listened to each other, commented on each other's comments, along with adding their own, and we came up with a number range for each one that they were satisfied with. By the time we reached the fourth response, "D", students were demonstrating deep understanding of the original sentence. They knew which parts were the most important ("impulse control," and "still maturing during adolescence"), and they had strong discussions about the true meaning of the words "impulse" and "adolescence." Some expressed that their brains hurt when we were finished. Mission accomplished...

We did this as a class today, and will be doing this again as a class, in small groups, and students will also rate their own words on a similar scale.

This activity was adapted from Wireless Generation's lessons on The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. We use Wireless Generation / Writers' Express as a writing curriculum, which closely aligns with the Common Core Standards.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


This week, we are transitioning from our nonfiction reading of Outliers, to responding to nonfiction using Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science, by John Fleischman.
This book is the third book in the WEX curriculum, and yet we are not just writing in response to what we read, but we will continue to take notes in our reading journal AS we read, and also partake in close-reading activities that are in direct correlation to the Common Core Standards. This book will likely take us into the first week of March, as we dissect portions and really look closely at the author's choice of vocabulary, structure, and purpose.

This blog will not be updated until we transition out of Phineas Gage, but writing prompts and activities that can be completed at home will be posted on Edline. Be sure to check the Posterous page for activities that vary from our classroom "norm." Any questions? Please don't hesitate to ask!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Short Week

Due to Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and a S.I.P. day (where LA teachers will be learning how to apply Common Core Standards to our WEX reading materials and "core" books), we have a very short week of school.

Wednesday we will start by re-fueling discussions about our passions, so students who need more guidance choosing a path for their independent projects can hopefully get their passions reignited. We will also continue with our projects and one-on-one conferences regarding individual goals. Thursday and Friday we will complete our close-reading of Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell. Grammar and Root Word study this week will be a review of what we've learned so far. (We hope to begin Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science next week.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Outliers & a visitor!

Last week, and the week coming up, our LA classes are taking a glimpse into the book Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell. We are doing some close-reading exercises, which align with the Common Core State Standards, along with writing about what we read. Last week we read chapter one, and this coming week into next week, we'll be reading and responding to chapter two.

We will have a visitor on Tuesday, 1/15 - Miss Julie Jergens from AHML will be coming and giving book talks to our classes and Mr. Slowinski's classes! Miss Jergens could entice a BEAR to read the books of which she speaks!!

Other points of interest coming up... Our MAP LA test was on 1/11. This is used primarily as a screener for advanced LA. Our winter MAP Reading test will be on 1/17. This is used as a check-point. It is the shortened version of the full MAP test (only 20 questions), and is not one teachers tend to look at when we're looking at data points, as it is so short. Our full 40 question test will, again, be in the spring. Please note that LA teachers do not "teach to the test." This is just another number we can use when looking at the whole picture of your child's progress. In fact, Mrs. Bingaman let me know a few weeks ago, that the high schools in the area have found that test scores do not indicate success in high school - student grades do.