Summer of ’16

I’ve always taken pride in using my summer vacation to learn and improve as an educator. The summer of 2016 may have been my favorite year doing so. Here are a few things I experienced, and what I bring back to my classroom as a result.

National History Day // Tommy became Lakeview’s first NHD finalist back in May, and we spent a week in June traveling to DC and the University of Maryland. While celebratory in nature, I was able to meet some talented educators and was immersed in a culture of student enthusiasm for history. The contacts I made have already begun to bring great ideas back to my classroom and reinvigorated my excitement for teaching student research.

Back to School // I began taking courses in January toward my second Master’s degree, one in school leadership (Concordia University). This degree has already been more difficult than my first degree (Reading Specialist) and has forced me to evaluate my own instructional practices. I’m excited to teach with a fresh perspective of what is effective, not to mention bring some new tools to student learning that come through this process.

NHD Website Course // Building websites has always been a challenge during History Fair. I began taking a course this summer which puts me in the student’s position, researching and building a website as students do in my classroom. It’s always nice to live an assignment through the role of a student as I imagine ways to improve that experience.

Teacher Advisory Committee // The Leadership of the Chicago Metro History Fair has kindly included me in this leadership committee. While I have input regarding the History Fair contests, the friendships I’ve made with some of Chicagoland’s best educators has been exciting. We also took an afternoon to travel to UIC’s Daley Library to explore their special collections and conduct some research ourselves.

Googlepalooza // This is an in-house conference for CPS teachers that I was lucky enough to sneak into! Googlepalooza was two days of hands-on exploration of GAFE (Google Apps for Education) and working with teachers who have used GAFE to streamline assessing and learning in their classroom. Again, a treasure trove of information to improve how I teach student historians at Lakeview.

Lakeview Student Historian at National History Day

Education is the ultimate weapon to defeat the forces that divide us. And studying the past is now more important than ever. Because studying the past teaches us about how and why we are all connected and helps us learn about tolerance. – Dr. Cathy Gorn, NHD Executive Director

Last week, Tommy Surdyk became the first Lakeview student to bring a project to National History Day. His project, titled “Lager Beer Riot: Liberty is Served,” was one of two individual exhibits to represent Illinois at this National competition. National History Day is a misnomer, though. We spent five days at the University of Maryland celebrating student historians and learning how to create more in the future. Above all, it was an incredible honor for Tommy to represent Lakeview at this national event. His work isn’t just a product of my classroom, but of strong parent support and a reflection of every Center Cass teacher who has developed his ability.

At Lakeview, we complete research projects that culminate with our History Fair (now part of the Spartan Showcase). A few of our students then advance to the Chicago Metro Fair, and eventually the Illinois History Expo. These contests happen all over the nation; 0ver half a million students compete in this program beyond our district. Ever year, a few hundred of these students represent the best of student historical research for a week at National History Day.

Our first experience with the National component was an education. Students are interviewed a bit more formally than at any level prior. Given this event’s proximity to DC, judging is done by some prominent historians others involved in public service. I was fortunate to work with an Archivist from DC and a highly renowned teacher from Washington DC. Additionally, I met some incredible educators from around the country, exchanging a number of great ideas about teaching history, technology, politics, and history fair projects. This was a remarkable opportunity for me to work with some of the best history teachers in the country.


Tommy was also lucky to interact with students from all over the country, too. One neat way NHD encourages this is through the exchange of buttons or pins. With all 50 states, DC, and a few international delegations, this took considerable time to do. We were also invited to view documentaries and performances, as well as see the exhibits on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Illinois and NHD provided a number of social opportunities for kids along the way, too.

Above all, it was incredibly motivating to spend time with students who love history, hear them discuss political events with the proper context and efficacy, and learn from other educators. I’m enthusiastic to return to work and begin working on History Fair 2017, but even more excited to embed some of what I learned into my curriculum and share with my own colleagues.

With all of Tommy’s success, it’s easy to overlook what an amazing year this was for History Fair. Tommy’s project isn’t just an individual success, but represents the growing enthusiasm of history at Lakeview and History Fair. Every Lakeview project received a Superior rating at State, a first for Lakeview.  I believe much of this was possible because of our implementation of “Research Road Trips.” These trips into Chicago provided our students with valuable assistance from professional researchers and access to special collections unavailable online. The great wealth of human and other sources provided by NHD and our local Chicago Metro History Education Center have had a major impact on student leaning and historical research in my room.

Team 66 supported this endeavor with a generous grant to make this whole process possible. From NHD in 2015, to funding our extra History Fair work, to supporting me as I followed Tommy to NHD 2016 – this very post wouldn’t be possible without Team 66’s support. Our students are better because of their support.

Tommy’s award-winning project on the 1855 Lager Beer Riot.
Award Ceremony at UMD’s Xfinity Center.
Tommy and I having a little fun during the All-Illinois Pizza Party and Frisbee Toss.

Chicago History Museum

We had a successful trip to the Chicago History Museum this week. The museum is a small institution, which makes it a good destination for junior high students being introduced to Chicago History. Our students worked with docents to explore primary sources and develop an exhibit based on their interpretation of historic events and those items. I am also grateful for the parents able to travel with and guide their exploration (Mrs. Erickson, Mrs. Surdyk, Mrs. Scheck, Mrs. Cullen, Mr. Rabig, Mrs. Tannhauser, Mrs. Major, and Mrs. Kenyeri). I’ve attached some photos of the students at work.

You would also be proud of their behavior on the trip. The docents on both days extended their compliments to me about how wonderful it was to see students so engaged and well behaved, an honor extended to the children again on Friday with our guest speaker. (Apparently all historians know each other!) This was a positive introduction to Chicago History and the museum, which will also be an invaluable resource when conducting History Fair research the next few weeks.
To top it off, your children were remarkable with our guest speaker today. They asked some wonderful questions and were completely enamored with her presentation and stories of local history. I left school today excited about their enthusiasm of her presentation. Great way to end the week! I’ll get that presentation on Classroom next week if you’re interested in seeing it.

2015 JV Boys Basketball Team

Below is our team for this year. I’m grateful for the effort all of the boys demonstrated the last few days. This is always a difficult decision, and I recognize some boys will be disappointed they didn’t make the team. I encourage them to keep playing basketball. I wish my team was big enough to keep every talented players. Daily 3:30-5:30 practice begins tomorrow.

7th Graders:
Angelo Ognianov
Erkan Ozgen
Jacob Potter
Joey Turek
Kyle Flynn
Noah Edders
Paulius Viduolis
Richie Pecenka
Chris Pogorelec
6th Graders:
Christopher Gasmen
Ben Dziedzic
Keaton O’Leary
Richie Sperando
Ryan Blazevich
Tyquan Butler

Thanks again to the boys for their hard work the last few days.

Revisiting Articles 1 & 2: Bad Quiz Results = Time to Change

“Don’t get it done, get it right.” More than just a History Fair motto!

As we broke for Spring Break, I assessed what our students knew about Article 1 (e.g. gave a quiz). The average score was a 56%.


We assess to check for understanding, not just to get a grade. 56% represents a failure on a number of levels. Most of our Article 1/2 learning was teacher-led. Students completed notebooks and took notes as I lectured. That clearly failed, and classwork on Wednesday will reflect a departure from that method.

Most telling was one question. Only 26% of students knew that a representative’s term is 2 years. That’s probably the easiest question on the quiz, and 26% tells me students didn’t study, didn’t pay attention in class, or just didn’t care. Bad timing for a quiz, sure, but I think this is an example of what happens without preparation, focus, and tending to our learning.

This quiz is an indicator of both ineffective work on my part as a teacher, and the students’ part in taking ownership of learning. However, it becomes an abysmal failure if we don’t adjust. So, kids – time to adjust on Wednesday. Wake up, show up, and get ready to work. I spent some time over break adjusting my plans and designing a simulation to involve you, not talk to you. I understand my 3 absences, spring break looming, and a post-History Fair lull skew these observations, but the point remains: kids didn’t learn. Time to do work.