Spartan Historians earn Illinois School of the Year

I talk a LOT about how awesome my kids are. About how hard they work for a school project and about how many hoops they jump through in the name of excellence and doing it right. Their collective hard work was recognized on a state level when Illinois History Day recognized us as the NHD School of the Year. Not all students can earn the honors they deserve, but this award is meaningful as it captures the excellence of ALL of our students, including students who have helped develop this program and build the excitement which now surrounds it.

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In addition to this school honor, 8 students (EIGHT!) earned a Superior rating at State. This is the highest number Lakeview has had. They are:

  • Brenna Humprhis & Ryan Rosignal (Exhibit)
  • Bella Chlada, Anna Bastuga, & Katie Bastuga (Exhibit)
  • Cassie Repole (Performance)
  • Hajira Choudry, Emily Reyes & Adriana Loconti (Website)
  • Michael Joseph (Website)
  • Ysabel Pakowski & Nathan Nowak (Website)
  • Allison Ford (Research Paper)

Lakeview was also invited to visit our State Senator from the 41st District, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. She and her Legislative Assistant Mary Lou Frank secured a tour of the Capitol as well. An already special day was enhanced by the generosity of our Senator.

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Last but CERTAINLY not least are Lakeview’s very own 2017 NATIONAL HISTORY DAY QUALIFIERS: Brenna Humprhis & Ryan Rosignal! Ryan and Brenna will take their show on the road to College Park, Maryland June 11-15 to take part in an INTERNATIONAL celebration of student historians. Only 2 group exhibits from the state get to advance, so this is an unbelievable honor and accomplishment. I couldn’t be prouder of these kids!



Bringing 20% Projects to Lakeview 7th Graders

7th graders have begun a new project in ELA, Science, and Social Studies. This interdisciplinary project serves as a capstone for 7th grade, combining the skills students have practiced and learned and putting them to use collaboratively. The 20% Project is modeled after Google’s philosophy of giving employees 20% of their time to pursue projects they are passionate about. This freedom has lead to the development of ideas such as the autonomous car. While we don’t expect students to be inventing anything, it’s empowering for students to have the opportunity to use the design process along with their research skills, resourcefulness, and empathy to pursue a passion of theirs. Schools around the country have begun to adopt this project as a way to develop the 21st-century skills our students need.
Kevin Brookhouser is credited as a pioneer on this topic. Here are his students sharing what they’ve done with his support and guidance. Our students don’t have the time to do the same (yet), but here’s a sample of what’s possible when students are empowered to use their skills:
While we expected this project to be embraced by students (as the “WOW Day” was in 2011), I think we’re all surprised how quickly students took ownership of this project and took off with the planning. Here are some examples of student projects:
  • Create a YouTube channel to make videos on how to fix computer and software problems
  • Create a book for incoming 6th graders or new students to help with their transition to Lakeview
  • Create care packages for active duty military overseas to let them know people care about them. Use extra toiletries from hotels
  • Have a book drive to give underprivileged kids an opportunity to have books to read
  • Would like to learn Serbian so he can communicate with family and build better bonds with them. Would like to dub a tv in Serbian as his product.
Students will be given all of ELA/Science/SS, every Friday, to develop these plans. Mrs. Screenshot 2017-05-03 at 9.03.26 AMGemmell has designed a document students are using to organize their ideas. A critical part of this project is the “Design Thinking” component, in which students reflect to understand how their project can be improved. This includes realizing the plan won’t work, being rejected, and/or failing. That “failing forward” mentality a crucial 21st-century skill, which is why we’re supporting students through this process.
The final product could look like one of three things:
  • A successfully completed product, project or creation.
  • A successfully planned or constructed project which will be completed at a later date.
  • A project or idea which failed, with reflection on what could be improved in the next iteration.
This project will conclude on June 1st and 2nd – the last two days of school – with students sharing their projects and reflecting on the process. It’s exciting to see the students so electric about school and using the skills they’ve learned all year.

Thirteen Reasons Why: Helping Vulnerable Children Navigate Difficult Topics

downloadI’m stepping out of my comfort zone and writing about a TV show many of our students are watching: Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix). Jay Asher’s book has been popular for several years, but the Netflix series is controversial for its depiction of real, awful events. Knowing that many of our students are watching and that some schools have advised parents not to allow their children to watch, my wife and I took the weekend to watch the series and educate ourselves. I can’t help but share my reaction as a parent and teacher of students at a very vulnerable age.

I have not read the book. The series, though, isimages a painful emotional tour of the events
which lead a girl to commit suicide. Its visual nature makes the content of the book even more real. Hannah Baker is an intelligent and creative girl, and the show’s slow march towards her death is heartbreaking. It’s hard to watch the show and not think of the students who are watching this show and processing what it all means.

I don’t suggest middle schoolers watch this show due to the scenes depicting sexual harassment of Hannah and other girls, two scenes which show graphic rape, and the very real and visceral scene in which Hannah kills herself. All this overshadows other concerning calls for help – Tyler is building an arsenal of automatic weapons and a deep resentment of his peers, Alex contemplates suicide, and Justin has an abusive mother and is growing violent himself. Heavy stuff. However, many Lakeview students have watched this show, and a conversation with them is important to help them process what they’ve seen. Many of our kids identify with the characters in the show, but they don’t yet have the intellectual or neurological ability to process it properly.

If your children have watched this, it begs a conversation with them. Difficult, yes, but I can’t imagine a 13-year-old watching this and processing its content alone. Or with google, social media, or any other path to misinformation. If you don’t know how to approach topics like suicide and rape, I’ll leave some sources below. Professional advice or guidance from me would not be appropriate, but I recommend you reach out to our leaders at school (such as Mrs. Horeni) if you need help talking to your children. Watch the series, educate yourself, and prepare if necessary, but don’t let your children tony-13-reasons-whynavigate this alone. If anything positive is to be gleaned from this series, it’s the power of friendships and positive thinking. Be cool to people… you have no idea what’s going on between the ears.


Sources from experts about the topics in Thirteen Reasons Why:


Studying Perspectives of Pre-Civil War Disunion w/Student-made Time Capsules

Friday marked the culmination of our study about what caused the Civil War. After a brief quiz, students were able to explore the time capsules which their classmates curated. Well this was largely designed to address learning styles (kinesthetic, interpersonal, naturalistic), we also hit some important learning targets:

  1. SS.H.2.6-8.MC. Analyze how people’s perspectives influenced what information is available in the historical sources they created.
  2. Research skills such as corroboration, validation, and interpretation.
  3. Collaboration and Social Work skills.
  4. SS.IS.1.6-8. Create essential questions to help guide inquiry about a topic.

Essential to this lesson is being able to understand how a nation become frayed over its political disagreements. Conflict like this can be avoided when students learn to listen. The Civil War was far more complicated than slave owners vs. abolitionists. Diverse perspectives and the inability to compromise led to disunion. Being able to explore these perspectives goes a long way to building students’ capacity to empathize and problem solve. This is a crucial element to social studies and one we’ll build upon as we choose the “next” President in 1860. Who can save a country with such diverse and polarizing opinions on how to shape the country’s future?

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Growth Mindset at Work: Spartan Historians @ 2017 Chicago History Fair


2017 Lakeview Spartan Historians – photo credit to Mrs. Gasmen. Mr. Little grumpy face courtesy of slow Potbelly delivery. 


Students will find out next week which projects advance to be 2017 Illinois History Day competition next month in Springfield. But today was a special day, one to celebrate the success of these student historians. Of the 125 students which display their work at the Spartan Showcase, these 24 projects advanced to our regional NHD competition, the Chicago History Fair. Lakeview students are creating increasingly complex and competitive projects, so advancing to this fair is impressive accomplishments of its own.

Every year our students raise the bar. Nearly all of our students revised their projects. All three exhibits completely rebuilt their boards. Both performances rewrote their scripts entirely. Our documentary added four minutes. Two websites excellent website even combined to create an exceptional one. These kids spent their lunch breaks working in my room, sought constant feedback on their own, and independently signed up for sessions to work with me and improve. Parents, though, had to put up with the constant runs to the library and Michael’s, the tears when students are frustrated and confused, and the tons of time the students work on this. I appreciate their support as much as I appreciate the student’s enthusiasm. Can’t happen without them.

Whatever happens with judging is an afterthought – our students created some remarkable memories and raised the bar for our next group of student historians. Glad to have these kids represent Lakeview on behalf of the superb students who couldn’t be here.

Curating Civil War Time Capsules

Our objective today was two-fold:

  1. Ensure students that we heard them with a lesson design which reflects their current needs: collaborative, hands-on, research, and to get out of their seats.
  2. Continue developing an understanding of how disagreements between different social, political, economic and cultural groups festered into Disunion, then Civil War

Our instructional activity was to design a Civil War Time Capsule. Students are broken into groups representing different interests at the peak of Disunion:

  1. Slaves
  2. Slave Owners
  3. Southern Poor
  4. Midwestern Working Class
  5. Wealthy New Yorkers
  6. Native Americans

Each interest group represents a critical component of the Civil War and its causes. Students work together to research and learn about these groups and identify 5-8 different artifacts they need for their time capsule. This chart documents our progress:

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Students did a nice job with this activity today. Sustaining our positive mindsets and embracing hard work, together, is the next challenge. Excited to see what students bring to their groups tomorrow, and even more impressed with their continued use of quality research skills. Good start to re-engaging our student historians.

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Stressed Out 7th Graders: Adjusting Instruction and Support


The weeks following History Fair have been tumultuous and jam-packed. While I think my classroom has been well-suited to engaged learning, the reality of a PARCC testing schedule, spring sports, cabin fever and high expectations have masked some important clues we need to read. Our kids are stressed. Even our social worker says she hasn’t seen this many kids seek her services. I think the lessons I design are standards-based and rigorous, but that probably doesn’t matter. At a time when we should be starting to reflect and celebrate a successful year, “school” is too stressful and too difficult; our kids want nothing to do with it. Combine this with a growing sense of student anxiety everywhere around us, and it’s clear we need to do something drastic.

On Friday I asked students to honestly share their thoughts. My colleagues and I had grown frustrated that our lessons hadn’t brought the high-level of engagement and enthusiasm they once had. So this survey was designed to recalibrate and design lessons to correct that. The first question alone brought some heartbreaking responses:

This wasn’t typical “middle school stuff.” The overwhelming vibe of student results: fear, frustration, and anxiety. My colleagues and I take this all very seriously, if not personally. A few of our takeaways:

  1. We have a “crisis” list and will immediately reach out to students who represented a concern about a potentially dangerous or harmful situation.
  2. Homework probably needs to be revisited. If we can’t avoid it, we need students to understand the rationale. (Alas, homework and students will never be a perfect marriage).
  3. In general, kids like group work, research, to be challenged, to move around, and to feel safe at school. Not shocking, but clearly we’ve had tunnel vision, especially around PARCC time.

Short term solution: Our instructional strategies might be rigorous and difficult but we’ve missed the boat on learning styles by not varying our activities. I’ll be changing that immediately.

Long term solution: There’s a LOT of drama with these 7th graders. The impact is distracting and students associate school with bullying, anxiety, or the otherwise awful consequences of the “drama.” This suggests we’re not hitting on Maslow’s most basic needs of a Physiological secure and Safe environment. This is a huge one that can’t be solved tomorrow.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs: While some references are not developmentally appropriate for middle school students, his research is fundamental to understanding student needs. Students cannot learn, let alone function maturely, without their most basic needs met.

While it’s silly to think Lakeview isn’t safe, the perception of a student is important. Issues such as bullying, low self-esteem, fear of punitive punishments, and so on all contribute to a feeling of insecurity. With this, a school can feel like a place that students are always looking over their shoulder. While we’ve done a number of things as a team to solve that issue, we’re not there yet. And, our kids are gassed. They’re overworked in sports, school, and activities, and have devices which distract them until late hours. They are physically and cognitively exhausted, then throw in the social-emotional impact of the safety issues… it’s easy to see how students are a mess right now. We can’t learn the causes of the Civil War, no matter what the instructional style, with these issues.

The 7th grade team has a long-term solution to address this and will roll it out soon. We only have 7 weeks left, so I admire my colleagues for trying to solve this problem in our most ambitious and creative way yet. We have a lot to finalize but spent two hours planning today and will immediately reconvene tomorrow morning. We can’t fix this issue in one day or with one change, but we need kids to know we hear them. Our plan will, over time, build their capacity to both see the positive things we’ve done, and equip them to build a positive environment to learn in.