Studying Immigration with Primary Sources and Inquiry

One of the benefits of mentoring a student teacher is that I get to learn a lot, too! Last year Ms. B employed “Gallery Walks” and we found them highly engaging. Students get out of their seats, get to interact with primary documents, and are immersed in content very quickly. I’m glad to continue doing them and give her credit for teaching her mentor an excellent strategy.

This week conducted a Gallery Walk to introduce “thinking like a historian” and investigating primary sources. We used a variety of images to build a gallery and explore on Tuesday and Wednesday. Students experienced galleries of images around 4 experiences of immigration:

  • Mexican-American farm workers
  • Japanese-Americans during World War 2
  • European & Chinese immigrants during the late 1800’s
  • A Hungarian immigrant’s Declaration of Intention (and other Ellis Island documents)

We needed lots of time to discuss and analyze these primary documents, then finished with some creative, first-person writing to reflect on the process. immigrant story bellringerSimultaneously in ELA classes, students were interviewing a family member for their Personal Immigrant Stories. These experiences provided an opportunity for students to collaboratively explore immigration through different experiences. We’re making progress toward developing an understanding of the complex social, economic, cultural and political reasons why people emigrate to America.


Inquiry has been a driving force throughout this unit. Last week we brainstormed

Students generate questions after an introduction to Immigration. These would later become our Essential Questions for independent research.

some open questions in response to what we learned about Immigration. This week who took those questions and created essential questions to guide our research. Ultimately, we’ll develop claims, which serve as an answer of sorts to the essential question. Students have unique questions to research, and their context (time period, nationality, push/pull factors) varies by interest, too.


New Unit: Immigration

This year I’m taking a different approach to a portion of our unit on American History. Our ELA teachers have developed a unit to a point where it now includes a Global Read Aloud (more on that later) and a book study with “Refugee” by Alan Gratz. This is a full-blown Social Studies unit and begs for collaboration. So we are! Time is sparse so it’s been difficult to sit down, but I’m glad that my peers and I have such an effective working relationship that we can make this work.

Immigration as a topic is an excellent vehicle for teaching a broad swath of American history. Technically, even the Bering Strait land bridge was a story of migration! Teaching history through immigration allows me to personalize history (nearly half our students are immigrants or are children/grandchildren of immigrants) and cover historical topics that we don’t usually cover at Lakeview. From colonization to current immigration debates, we can cover some ground in an effective and engaging way.

We began our study with a quick look back on our American roots. Students studied the “push factors” of European Revolutions during the Renaissance Era, then studied the “pull factors” of an American republic with religious and economic freedom. We did some collaborative research courtesy of Britannica and worked on our claim-evidence-reasoning.

While I don’t lecture too often, introducing some concrete information on immigration was important to establishing background information as we go forward. We read Emma Lazarus and ended the week by generating open questions. Students are in a nice place to understand how immigration has evolved and how we can tell the story of our history through different perspectives. You can see their questions below, and while they range in quality, we have some great examples of an inquiry mindset taking shape.


And here are our notes from class:

Multiple Intelligences & SEL Skills

Multiple Intelligences, despite its detractors in education, provides SEL Wheelstudents with important information. Especially as we build SEL components into our classrooms, understanding our own strengths and weaknesses is a valuable skill for middle school students to learn. Today in class, students identified their Multiple Intelligences, then began to alter their approach to studying something like States and Capitals. Multiple intelligences is not the answer to every learning problem but is an interesting piece of information for students to consider when deciding how to study, what kinds of choices to make with projects and activities, and how to find something to build confidence around.

Here are the 8 Multiple Intelligences which Gardner proposed:

Verbal-Linguistic (Word Smart): These students excel when reading, writing, and memorizing dates or lists. They learn best by taking notes, debating, discussing, studying primary sources and listening to lectures. They also pick up foreign languages easier. Think lawyers, philosophers/thinkers, teachers, and writers.

Logical-Mathematical (Number Smart): These students excel when recognizing patterns, reasoning, make abstract observations, games like Sudoku, and usually in math and/or science. However, logical-mathematical thinkers are not limited to math success, and may excel on task-oriented work or creating solutions to problems. Think doctors, mathematicians, and scientists.

Visual-Spatial (Picture Smart): These students excel when using visuals. Spatial students usually find more success when visually manipulating material (mind maps, lists, word searches) and visually studying the construction of material. Think architects and artists.

Intrapersonal (Myself Smart): These students sometimes excel when working alone, as many are more introverted. Many of these students also enjoy peace and quiet and being able to work on their own terms. These students are great at reflection and are usually great at identifying their emotions and feelings. Think theologians and writers.

Interpersonal (People Smart): These students excel when interacting with other students and are usually extroverts. Usually, Interpersonal learners understand others’ emotions and are empathetic. Think politicians (in theory, maybe not practice!), social workers, and managers.

Musical (Music Smart): These students excel when using music to learn. While these students are more talented in identifying sounds, thereby playing instruments better, they are also great listening learners (lectures, speeches, books on tape). These students usually use some kind of rhythm or even song when studying and learning. Think musicians, singers, and composers.

Bodily-Kinesthetic (Body Smart): These students excel at physical activities, like sports or dance. These students are also successful at building things and associating learned material with physical movement. Think dancers, comedians, builders, and artists.

Naturalistic (Nature Smart): These students excel outdoors and when working with nature. Think farmers, gardeners, conservationists, park rangers, and some scientists.

While these intelligences help us identify how our students and children learn, it is important to note that several of these overlap, and result in shared characteristics. Students do not have ONE intelligence but instead, have a set of strengths. I instruct students to recognize what they are gifted and good at, and work to those strengths when provided with a choice in school. We’ll document and revisit how well we’re managing or monitoring our strengths and weaknesses throughout the year, helping students develop those self-management skills are crucial for their SEL development.

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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