:30 Summaries: Intro to History Fair Topics

25 minutes classes. Only a few days of “soft” research. Last day before Christmas break. 30 second summaries (using screencastify) were a great way to both introduce our choices for topics and hold students accountable. Are they taking a stand? Can you explain their significance? How excited are you about your topic? Generally pleased with our ability to own the topics we’re jumping into and researching. Here’s a montage of student creations (with an assault of watermarks; I’ll work on improving that):


Organizing Research with the RCF

Once History Fair topics are chosen, research begins. This sounds easy but becomes very difficult when students accumulate so many sources and so much information. Where does it fit? What is important? Where did I get that piece of info from? Enter, our Research Collection Form, or RCF.

This document came from a colleague at the Chicago Metro History Fair (whom I regrettably don’t remember). My ELA colleagues and I collaborated to modify it to our liking. This document is an easy way to pull info from sources and start the analysis process. We’ll revisit this after break to better understand the Annotation and Content/WhatHappened/Significance pieces, but this is an important tool for kids to use while researching over the next few weeks.

Individual projects need to have 7 RCFs by January 13th. Partners need 12 combined RCFs (unique sources for each one), and Groups of any size need 20.


End of Topic Selection – Time for Proposals!


Students have spent 8 days traveling downtown, doing “soft” research, and completing activities designed to build an understanding of this process. Now we get to (finally) pick topics! Below is an example of what is expected of students. This student (thanks, Cassie!) has chosen Eddie O’Hare, and gives some clear reasons why he took a stand, some significant impact, and has supported these positions with Historical Questions which will drive her research and curiosity.

The third document “Big C, Little C” is the most difficult. It requires students to think abstractly. Many 7th graders are very concretely thinking of Context and what happened during this time period. Cassie does a nice job of thinking big picture (prohibition and crime on the rise) and identifying where her topic fits there (Al Capone runs Chicago). This requires some background knowledge and inevitably research on their own. Students can’t just wing this. However, knowing where your topic fits is crucial to the next steps of productively looking for and organizing research materials.

Facing Freedom and Taking a Stand: Field Trip as preparation for History Fair

Lakeview’s Student Historians visit the Chicago History Museum every fall. This year the NHD theme is “Taking a Stand in History,” so the Facing Freedom activity resonates as we search for topics and placing them in the proper context. Our students explore a box of artifacts, interpret the event they represent, then tell a story which speaks to their stand.

Students are exposed to a broad collection of Chicago History at the museum, but this activity is a wonderful introduction to the kinds of research, analysis, and storytelling they’ll be doing with History Fair. Thanks to the Chicago History Museum and their docents for an engaging introduction to this process.

Social Contracts & Cooperative Grouping with Middle Schoolers

Today we rolled out our Middle School application of Social Contract Theory. In a sense, during history fair, students who opt to collaborate with partners are giving up their absolute freedom (“my way”) to work with a group that can lighten the load, make a difficult project enjoyable, or bring talents together to produce a formidable product.

This document was designed with the help of some students and aims to have students create the expectations they have for each other. How will they hold each other accountable? What would they like to get from this collaboration?  In a perfect group, members use this document to remind themselves of the objectives and outcome they designed at the outset.

This document also serves as a nice test – if students cannot get this contract done, it’s a fair indictment of their ability to work together.


Big C, Little C, what begins with C…


Suess Silliness aside, the “Big C, Little C” document is a National History Document to guide students into a specific topic and create some Historical Questions for pointed research. We used these in class with the Facing Freedom documents again.

“Big C” is the national Context. What’s happening in the world, or culturally, which impacts your topic? “Little C” is the local context, or what’s happening specific to your topic?  Here are a few examples from class:


Lin-Manuel Miranda as the Model “Student Historian”

Shifting from “student” to “Student-Historian” is a paradigm shift for 7th graders. They’re no longer following instructions, per se, but a trail. Today, to facilitate that shift,  we watched 35 minutes of a PBS documentary, “Hamilton’s America,” which followed Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on his research journey. Today’s lesson is a focus on the process, not just the product. Here’s a sample of what we watched (the full film requires a PBS membership):

Students have a few takeaways after watching this:

  • “History takes a long time to understand.” (Miranda spent over 6 years working on Hamilton.
  • “You need a LOT of resources.” (Miranda uses secondary sources like Chernow’s biography, as well as primary sources and artifacts at libraries and museums)
  • “You need people to help you make sense of it all.” (a great cast and creative team help Miranda develop and execute his ideas; they share his passion)
  • “He talks to lots of experts.” (several historians are featured, as Miranda used Chernow and others to develop understanding)
  • “If you work hard, good things happen.” (preach!)
  • I want to do that.” (kids actually want to do History Fair performances now – that never happens.)

I don’t like spending much time watching videos in class, let alone one which takes up the entire class. We spent valuable time viewing this film because it’s that important. Miranda is the model Student Historian; Hamilton is his History Fair project. Students seem him work through an arduous but passionate research journey, and see him collaborate to construct an argument and presentation for people to enjoy. That’s exactly what a great History Fair project is. Students might not create the next Hamilton this year, but they’d be in great shape if they follow his enthusiastic lead!