Last Thursday was our first trip to the Illinois History Expo. It will not be our last. In fact, I’m not quite sure how I’ve taught for 8 years without having brought this amazing event to our school.
First and foremost is the learning component. With our profession evolving and changing, it’s important to recognize the significant role this Fair plays in helping develop students in alignment with the Common Core Standards. This journey involves the seeking of reliable sources of information (websites, books, journals, archived media), utilizes both primary and secondary sources, and creates analytic and critical thinkers. The entire process is rigorous. Yet, it’s remarkably engaging.
Students have control over their topic, and the product in which they present their learning. Many students, in our first competitive year, chose to use exhibits. Students took great lengths to make their projects stand out, not just in display, but in content. It was so cool to see students working so hard on a project like this. Sure, the competitive aspect drives their desire to be their best, but I think that’s the beautiful thing.
Students so rarely asked about their grade. They just wanted to do their best. And that’s what I think is so remarkable about this entire program. It’s a shift of thinking from “what do I have to do to get a passable grade?” to “how can I do this to the best of my ability?” Of all of my efforts the last 8 years to create that environment, this is the first time I’ve successfully achieved my goal of getting kids to focus on the process, not the product. From both the experiment of the 2011-12 year (in which I began HF, but did not compete at the state level) to this year’s success, I think this is the most exciting, and the most fun, I’ve had teaching history.
Congratulations are not just in order for the 22 kids at the State Expo, but to the 30 kids that advanced to the Northern Illinois Fair, and to all of our students who displayed some really amazing work this year. It’s not just the boys in love with history doing this. Or the pre-labeled “smart kids.” It’s students from all types of backgrounds and abilities. The common thread they have is trying to be as great as they possibly can. They think of how they can improve their work. They rewrite. They tweak. They challenge themselves to become great. Because, since December, there have been no grades. Only their own personal standards of excellence. It’s an impressive accomplishment, as a class, to have set the bar so high. The class of 2015 is going to have to work pretty hard to top this.