Kicking off 2018-19 with Presidential Time Travel!

While the beginning of the year can be stuffed with baseline assessments, introductions to procedures, etc, I like to begin with a group project. It’s a fun way to build culture, introduce a few year-long concepts, and learn about my students. I really enjoy seeing what they can do before I set goals for the year and map out how to accomplish those.

The core concept behind the project is this: America in 2018 is divided and frustrated, so we should travel back in time to capture a President from the past, and return them to unite Americans and lead us forward!



Students first did some background reading on a few great Presidents, and then they IMG-2007identified which characteristics they found to be most important for a great President. After being grouped with classmates, those groups set norms to guide them through collaboration, then began sharing their characteristics to find some common ground. Once students had their characteristics, they could decide which President matched those characteristics. This is where I learned lesson number 1: how resourceful are these students? Resourceful groups/students efficiently used their time to find websites and articles which covered a range of top Presidents. A few even used a – gasp – library to find information!

Once students selected a President, they began to collect research on them. Lesson number 2: can students differentiate between meaningful evidence and “noise?” Sometimes students will simply collect facts, and not connect them to a purpose. Examples of this would be saying things about a President’s family, where he was born, etc. The best groups found information about a President which directly related to their characteristics. For example, if they chose George Washington because he was brave, they found an example of how he lead troops across the Delaware River leading into the Battle of Trenton. It’s also a convenient time to build my expectation for citing your work.

Students initially used this document to organize their research:

Students then used this document to organize responsibilities and revisit their norms:

Armed with Evidence, students began their campaigns! Lesson number 3: can we balance evidence with enthusiasm? So many kids thought outside the box and took a risk, and the best groups did that while keeping the spotlight on evidence. Ultimately, students presented an advertisement, produced posters, and gave a speech to rally the crowd to vote for their candidate. The project culminated with a day of campaign rallies and a vote in each class.

Ultimately, these kids did a nice job on their first project and we’re on our way to a great year. I’ve got some crucial observations from watching them work (way more lessons than I can list here), and most importantly, began nurturing a culture where students are encouraged to take risks, have high expectations to utilize evidence, and where collaboration is crucial to success. Looking forward to a fun, productive year!


2018 Chicago History Fair Projects

While the following projects are advancing, be proud of your work. We’ve been celebrating your success, because that’s what defines great projects, not advancing in History Fair. Great job, 7th graders!


  • Alice Shen & Priya Patel – Chicago Women’s Liberation Union
  • Grace Barry & Alexis Bende – Freedom Day
  • Ava Lafin & Catherine Hewawissa – Radium Girls
  • Jacob Selig, Sam Blough, Bradley Padavic, & Krish Patel – Eastland Disaster


  • Hugo Pletcher & Nick Esposito – Black Panther Party
  • Joe Hiatt – Manhattan Project

Research Papers:

  • Emily Lang – Radium Girls
  • Delaney Wells – Chicago vs. 1850 Fugitive Slave Act
  • Delaney Turner – The Unfair Fair
  • Kyle Collins – Fort Dearborn Massacre


  • Amanda Colip & Maggie Stanley – Chicago Outfit
  • Elijah Chojnacki – Camp Douglas
  • Andrew Cimbalista, Ben Orozco, and Tim Malatia – The Haymarket Riot

Finding Photos for History Fair Exhibits, Documentaries and Websites

The first and best place to find photos is within the sources you’ve already used. Those photos are likely relevant to building background, come from the event themselves, and may demonstrate the significance of the stand you’re illustrating.

Also, don’t just limit this to pictures. Photos could be of documents, newspapers, artifacts, or anything useful to tell the story of your stand.

Exhibits and Websites could use anywhere between 10-16 high-quality photos. How they’re used will be discussed later. It’s always better to have more, so shoot for 20-25 really good photos. Documentaries…  just start collecting. You need more than any of us can count.

Also, select high-quality photos without watermarks, that are large enough, are not pixelated, and aren’t distorted. Make sure you retain citation information and CITE the photo you’ll use. Save them in a document with the URL and citation info so you can access it later.

Here are a few examples of great sources you can use to find photos:


Comic Books & Storytelling: Communicating the Conflict of our History Fair Topics

One of the most interesting teachers I follow through social media is Tim Smyth, a mm7social studies teacher who infuses his classroom with comic books. While I haven’t done enough to utilize comics in the classroom, I jumped an opportunity to have my students write their own. Tim also made an excellent suggestion to use Ms. Marvel No. 1 as the introduction. It was a great suggestion that kids related to and segued nicely into identifying their own topics’ conflict and/or compromise.

Important to this step was NHD’s 4 C’s document. This helped us organize our ideas and frame a story around context, conflict/compromise and change. Additionally, we utilized a 1-point rubric (more on that in a later post) and let students take a break from chromebooks and research. It was a nice time to take a “step back” and put everything together. Here are a few examples of the stories we told:


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How Parents Can Guide Students through the Final History Fair Steps

The key is here is guide, not do. Students have poured a ton of work into these projects, and take great pride in both their research and vision to share their findings. We want students to lead this process, but it will likely require some coaching and guidance at home. Here’s how to help understand where your child should be. Start with the top – kids shouldn’t move on to the next step without mastering the preceding one.

Check their “RCF.” This form holds all of their research. Individuals should have around 30 lines, with partners at 50 and groups at 65. You’ll find sources, early analysis, and will see how through their work is.

Ask to see their Comic Books. A few are in my classroom on display, but the rest have been distributed back to students. Their stories should not only have a clear conflict and/or compromise, but also illustrate some context for that topic, and show some change. “So What?”

Next, check their Outline. This was a crucial step to organize the above research.

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The Argumentation Form comes next. This rainbow sheet will organize the claims and evidence which they’ll thread throughout the next step.

The final document is the Master Plan – their FINAL document for History Fair! This plan utilizes their outline (probably refined) and should have a refined thesis. Each outline section correlates to a label. See this post from last year for an explanation on this process, though I’ll try to update it next week.

Utilizing a Growth Mindset in History Fair via One-on-One Meetings with Students

One of my biggest frustrations in facilitating History Fair is how I equitably IMG_0159 (1)distribute my time. How can I spend quality time with each of my students through the process? Inevitably, the most proactive students get an inordinate amount of attention, while a few students struggle to find confidence in their work. Resolving this divide was goal number one in my History Fair unit this year.

Last week, our days consisted of our typical routine: write down our goals and deliver some instruction or clarification. I then spent the next 40 minutes sitting with 3-5 students individually, without interruption, going through their work and talking about their frustrations, celebrations, and next steps. This might have been my favorite week of the year. Our conversations were excellent, and quite a few kids left our meetings reenergized and with a clear path to success.

Charity is an excellent example. She’s worked diligently, hit our checkpoints and deadlines, and done a really nice job working independently. She’s a model for what this project should/could be. But she’s quiet and doesn’t seek my help. As a result of our 12-minute conversation, she walked away reassured her work was on track, with more sources to use, and confident in the vision she has for her exhibit. Wasfi, whose work is shown above, is much the same kind of student, but I was stunned during our conversation. His mock-up “above” is a really unique idea for a topic which I’ve seen a dozen times.



Screenshot 2018-02-11 at 6.40.13 PM
CASEL’s Social-Emotional Learning “Wheel”

These meetings are also an excellent time to boost students’ self-management and self-awareness. The self-assessment (above) guides them on an evaluation of their work and asks for specific points to reflect on. Students sit down with me prepared and having already reflected, which is a powerful social-emotional tool. We talk quite a bit about getting through obstacles, which frustrations persist, and how I can guide them through problem-solving. This project is an excellent way for us to live the growth mindset and to provide experience managing its ups and downs.


One-on-One Meetings & Self Assessments

This is a big week for our History Fair projects. We’re rolling out the Argumentation Plan (more on that later in the week) and I’ve carved out a week for meeting with students individually to discuss their projects. Central to those one-on-one meetings is a self-assessment on their progres. Students will come to our meetings with one of these complete, which will guide our conversation.

These “learning targets” reflect the pillars of a proper History Fair project, everything we’ve been doing in class, and a bunch of standards. They serve as a nice distillation of what’s important for them to know. It’s also an opportunity to discuss examples of grit. How are we fighting through frustration and demonstrating a Growth Mindset?


I’m looking forward to an excellent week to discuss the progress our student historians our making! Can’t wait to provide some feedback and discuss where this research journey is taking them!