Inquiry-Driven Westward Expansion Mini-unit

When my student teacher abruptly postponed her assignment last week, I was disappointed. I enjoy coaching new teaching talent and wanted to see her succeed. I also looked forward to some freedom to sort through a variety of new instructional ideas to implement next year. However, this became an opportunity to try some new ideas out – teach from scratch. With no real time to plan a unit, this has been a fun challenge to be creative with how I’ve designed the unit. My personal challenge was to do mostly new instructional ideas while maintaining the engagement and enthusiasm of History Fair.

Screenshot 2017-03-22 at 11.49.58 AMAfter using our textbook (note: if given more time to prepare I would have preferred to use primary sources) to collect background knowledge, we moved on to organizing with a question in mind: did people move west for social, political, economic, or cultural reasons? This inquiry method utilizes a framework for social studies thinking  (Fitzpatrick, 2011) to organize and better understand historical events. This process requires students to use inquiry to really evaluate an event and understand where it belongs. For only having a 10-minute primer on this process, students did a nice job. We’ll revisit the SPEC definitions during the Civil War Unit.

This process also lead to a day-long QFT (Right Question) usingScreenshot 2017-03-22 at 11.45.06 AM John Gast’s American Progress. Students generated questions which ranged from the concrete (“what is that cable?) to symbolic (“why does the lighting change from right to left”). As usual, the QFT extracted thoughtful questions which pivoted into our next activity: Students using those questions to develop an understanding of what happened during Westward Expansion.

Our inquiry and research activity today was a both a test of our research skills (corroboration, validation) and analysis as it pertains to the goal today (“Why did Americans expand West”). Students identified questions which they deemed important and examined several sources, as well as those at their own discovery, to find answers to the questions.

Screenshot 2017-03-22 at 2.43.46 PMScreenshot 2017-03-22 at 2.43.26 PM

Our next two days will focus on a final evaluation of the Social, Political, Economic and Cultural impact of the Westward Expansion. We’ll do some skits tomorrow, then write (with evidence!) on Friday. Looking forward the culmination of a whirlwind 8-day unit.


Lakeview’s 2017 Chicago History Fair Team

Congratulations to these students as they advance to the 2017 Chicago Metro History Fair! The Chicago History Fair will be held on Saturday, April 22nd at Lane Tech High School in Chicago.


“Potter Palmer: Taking a Stand for Chicago” – Delaney Madiar, Amanda Maylath & Hannah Martin

“A Chance for Life” – Ryan Rosignal & Brenna Humphris

“The President Has Been Shot!” – Katie Bastuga, Bella Chlada & Anna Bastuga

First Alternate: “Race Riots of Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919” – Ashley James & Katie Steffgen

Second Alternate: “10,000 Black Men Named George” – Paige Antiporek

Final Alternate: “Owen Lovejoy’s Stand Against Slavery” – Leo Hermans & Andrew Brandt

(Rounding out the top 10 exhibits are the projects of Juliana Rossi, Emily Poska, Abby Durkin, Courtney/Jessica/Kaitlyn, and Kevin L.) Genuinely impressed with everyone’s work. Well done, Student Historians!

*In the event that advancing projects fail to make improvements or meet criteria for Chicago History Fair, they will be replaced by alternates in the order they are listed above.



“Lincoln’s Push to End Slavery “– Hajira Choudry, Emily Reyes, Adriana Loconti

“1919 Race Riots” – Michael Joseph

1968 Democratic National Convention/Chicago Eight” – Ysabel Pakowski & Nathan Nowak



“The Harlem Globetrotters: A Game Changer” – Chris Gasmen, Nick Motuelle, Brendan Gibbons & Alex Salvino


Research Papers:

“Reversing the Chicago River” – Adam Ahmed

“Pinkerton National Detective Agency” – Allison Ford

“Lucy Flower and the Juvenile Court Act of 1899” – Cassandra Rapp

“The Black Hawk War: Conflict During the Expansion into the West” – Tanner Sains



“Seeing the World in Rainbow: Standing for Gay Rights” – Gwendolynne Royle

“The Flying O’Hares” – Cassie Repole

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Wrapping up History Fair: Student Reflections on the Process and Pride in the Product

Above is a presentation I shared with other teachers at a conference on Friday. Our students do some good work at Lakeview, but the videos of kids talking about History Fair is my favorite part of the presentation. While I’m confident this difficult project is beneficial for students,  their own recognition of what History Fair means is exciting:

  • I think that history fair is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in school. Even though I got stressed a lot, it was tons of fun and I am satisfied with my product.
  • I enjoyed history fair and I am sad that it is over.
  • I think that everybody did a great job on their project and I am so incredibly proud that we did our entire project by ourselves and we did not have any outside help *besides Mr. Little and Mrs. Defores with writing*
  • History fair wasn’t all that bad.
  • I honestly thought this was a really fun! I loved that I got to work with my partner but also help others who were struggling.
  • I think this history fair was a hit for the kids that will be doing this later in their lives but also for the kids how have done this to see how far we did.
  • I might look over my project again and refine it. Everyone’s projects were AWESOME! Nice job, 10/10 would look at again.I think History Fair was really fun and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.
  • I loved working on this and being independent.

I’m disappointed this is all over, too. The “commotion” of kids collaborating across groups, giving feedback, and helping each other develop thesis statements was a fun element of this project. The challenge is maintaining that student-lead collaboration and culture of ownership in the next units.

In case you missed websites, documentaries, research papers or the brave performances of Cassie and Gwen, check them out here.

Learning Never Stops (for teachers, too)

Hard to believe it’s been 5 years since img_3998I attended my first ICE conference. Since then, we’ve adopted the “Learning Never Stops” mantra and become a fully integrated 1:1
school. While that’s had its lion’s share of frustrations, by now we’ve gotten to a point that devices are tools to great learning. Attending ICE always sends me home with new ideas and tools to help students learn more productively. Grateful our district funds this professional development, and even more grateful I have colleagues that enjoy ICE as much as I do. Sometimes we even see each other! Conversations with fellow educators about how we’re using technology almost always enhances the actual presentations. Here’s a summary of what I bring back to District 66:

  • We have used the QFT, but Mike Biondo had the clever suggestion of having students bring a photo in and doing small-group QFTs to create questions together.
  • Several good book suggestions by Jim Burke to help Frame Historical Thinking.
  • Joe Sanfelippo (Fall Creek School District, WI) shared a great line: “In the absence of knowledge, people create their own.” Something to think about for school leaders and teachers as we communicate with the public and parents about what we do.
  • The “Thinking Like a Historian” framework to help facilitate historical thinking.
  • The 20% plan is an excellent way to encourage independence, inquiry, and real-world application of content.
  • Mr. Hummell has very blue eyes.
  • Biondo also teased his “Murder Mystery Party” lesson, which students role play and ask questions to discover not a mystery, but who brought alcohol to a party.
  • Family trees are an incredibly effective way to build inquiry skills. Hard NOT to ask questions.
  • Structured Academic Controversies are an effective way to teach not only inquiry, but forces students to consider alternative perspectives.
  • I knew IMSA offered some great PBL training, but was unaware of the great resources available through them online.
  • Sanfelippo also spoke about schools utilizing social media to promote their schools like companies do their brands.

  • Sanfelippo authored a book, Hacking Leadership, which covers a number of his points, but ultimately beat the drum for schools celebrating successes and building trust. Celebrate value in everybody and build from there. Whether it’s press conferences for new hires, high fiving each other, and frequent giveaways, building a culture is up to school leaders at all levels. #gocrickets
  • Why doesn’t Lakeview do Senior Walks?! People would eat that up here!

  • Google Keep is now integrated into google docs and should make group communication much easier in the future!
  • Really intrigued by the SAS Writer add-on to analyze writing skills.
  • Lucidpress is a nice alternative to Publisher when using chromebooks in a 1:1 school.
  • Wolfram Alpha and Scrible might be nice alternative citations tools, seeing that Easy Bib is total garbage now.
  • I’m again reminded I don’t use hapara well enough to help students learn at their own pace. More than a classroom management tool.

Thank God I have a student teacher for the next three months so I can digest all of this.