Topic Proposal for History Fair

Students are choosing their topics for History Fair this week. While this sounds simple, students must consider several important factors:

  1. Availability of sources
  2. Connection to Theme
  3. Personal interest
  4. Be at least 25 years old and related to Chicago or Illinois
  5. Have an impact or effect on Illinois or America.

To complete this process, students are writing 2 topic proposals. This ensures we don’t have too many duplicates and that students have thoroughly examined a topic. I’ll need 2 proposal packets from each student on Friday, and will sort through topic assignments then. I cannot guarantee students their first choice, but that’s why we have 2 proposals!

The first document in the proposal packet is a Topic Proposal:

Second, students must include sources. Nothing fancy, no citations (yet), but a list of sources to show there’s something to support this project. I need 7 for individuals, 15 for pairs, and 20 sources for groups.


Third is the Sunshine Doc. I wrote about this last week, but to paraphrase, this is a tool to analyze your topic and evaluate it against the details of a good HF topic:

Sunshine Doc

Finally, students working in groups or in pairs must include a social contract. This contract is designed by students, and walks them through the process of examining what a group’s outcomes are, and what potential consequences may be for failing to meet expectations:

Every student must complete 2 packets by Friday!


History Fair Update

It’s been a busy two weeks as we’ve built a foundation to understand what History Fair is, and how we choose topics. These two weeks are crucial: “No context, no contest!” If you cannot understand this basic rationale, you’re in big trouble over the next 10 weeks! Here’s where we’re at:

Topic Shopping:

  • As students browse topics, they should be considering a few things about their topics. These documents (our “Shopping” document, and the Sunshine doc) help a student identify whether a topic is appropriate for History Fair and their Interests.

Sunshine Doc DetailsSunshine Doc

Field Trip:

  • Our Field Trip to the Chicago History Museum showed us how to use artifacts to build an exhibit. This trip is driven by inquiry and investigation, not to mention an exploration of a Museum full of potential topics. This trip is led by talented, published historians Dean Rodkin and David Keller, who serve as excellent models to ask questions and follow leads.

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Conflict & Compromise:

  • This aspect of the project is the most difficult. How do we shape our argument? What is the central conflict of our project? What is the compromise, or lack thereof, which resolves/escalates our conflict? Remembering that a topic must fit these areas is very difficult. We used a writing exercise to begin narrowing our topics down, and will revisit the theme next week with more exercises to develop a better understanding.

How is my son/daughter doing?

  • Ask them! Nobody has topics or groups yet – we make those decisions next week. Ask them, though, to see their “sunshine docs” from above (they should have 2) and for their timed writing piece (they even have a self-assessed rubric to go with that). Those two documents should tell you what kids are thinking of for History Fair, and help you guide them toward success.

One week from today, we’ll have decisions on groups and topics!

About Student Personality Types

Today we used a version of the Myers-Briggs Test to evaluate our Personality Types. Myers-Briggs asks students to agree or disagree with questions about various feelings and situations. The science behind the test is the use of domains to identify how people’s personalities work – introverted vs. extroverted, intuitive vs. observant, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. sensing. The result is a 4 letter “personality type,” which our website used an avatar to represent each. Below is a sample.

Overview of Types
Just 8 of the 16 personality types kids can identify with.

Mr. Littles Personality Test Resulst


This test is only as good as the answers students provide. If a student is having a bad day, or answers questions how they want to be vs. how they are, or just isn’t reflective enough, then this test is invalid. However, it’s an excellent window into a child’s mind. There were tons of “this is sooooo me” when kids read their results and scrolled through the strengths and weaknesses, workplace habits, and friendship observations. This should also play a significant role in students’ social-emotional development, as self-awareness is a crucial element to their growth. We’re also stressing students shouldn’t use this survey to “label, evaluate or limit” students. Myers-Briggs is very clear about that. This is a guide towards areas of strength and to help students be cognizant of weaknesses.

IMG_7105As we prepare for History Fair, understanding our strengths and weaknesses is a vital component of our planning. What strengths do students bring to a group? What’s a student going to struggle with? Bringing these out now will lead to far more effective collaboration. There’s no recipe; we don’t need a certain number of personality types in a group. Instead, we want students to be conscientious of their strengths and weaknesses as they form those groups. Students working alone benefit with better self-awareness. A student who procrastinates knows they should seek help creating a timeline. Those more comfortable takings risks should think beyond the exhibit. everyone benefits from some reflection about how we work. I demonstrated this with my own results! Below is the document students used in class to guide reflection.


Spotlight on Writing

7th graders have clearly observed our teaching team’s goal this year: writing. Writing is frustrating. While we want students to be natural, life-long writers, doing so requires skills which are both ambiguous and nebulous. Most adults have nightmares when thinking of a teacher in high school who destroyed their writing. Evaluating good writing is often subjective, and that makes it unclear and frustrating to students.

The PARCC test seeks to make that more concrete. Below is the rubric which PARCC, and many of our 7th grade teachers, use to evaluate writing:

Screenshot 2017-12-06 at 11.52.47 AM

Social Studies, ELA, and Science rubrics might be different, but all reflect the major demands of this rubric; writing coherently, stating a claim, supporting that claim with evidence, and using analysis to justify that claim and explain your argument.

We’ll be using this rubric more often in class. Today, students wrote for an extended period of time to evaluate their History Fair topics. On Friday, we’ll do a self-evaluation using this rubric.

While I’m not a fan of PARCC – few people are – the reality is that PARCC reflects our curriculum and is the measure that the State of Illinois uses to judge a school district’s effectiveness. This is absurd, but our reality. We’ll work to improve students’ understanding of why they’re taking this assessment, and prepare them for what the PARCC expects. That doesn’t mean we’ll sell out and do PARCC prep only. That’s also absurd. This is still a grade level with tons of student choice (History Fair, 20% Project) and a desire to grow people, not good test takers. We’ll find a happy medium so this area of concern is improved. The first step is understanding how we’re being scored, hence today’s lesson.

Spartan Historians earn Illinois School of the Year

I talk a LOT about how awesome my kids are. About how hard they work for a school project and about how many hoops they jump through in the name of excellence and doing it right. Their collective hard work was recognized on a state level when Illinois History Day recognized us as the NHD School of the Year. Not all students can earn the honors they deserve, but this award is meaningful as it captures the excellence of ALL of our students, including students who have helped develop this program and build the excitement which now surrounds it.

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In addition to this school honor, 8 students (EIGHT!) earned a Superior rating at State. This is the highest number Lakeview has had. They are:

  • Brenna Humprhis & Ryan Rosignal (Exhibit)
  • Bella Chlada, Anna Bastuga, & Katie Bastuga (Exhibit)
  • Cassie Repole (Performance)
  • Hajira Choudry, Emily Reyes & Adriana Loconti (Website)
  • Michael Joseph (Website)
  • Ysabel Pakowski & Nathan Nowak (Website)
  • Allison Ford (Research Paper)

Lakeview was also invited to visit our State Senator from the 41st District, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. She and her Legislative Assistant Mary Lou Frank secured a tour of the Capitol as well. An already special day was enhanced by the generosity of our Senator.

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Last but CERTAINLY not least are Lakeview’s very own 2017 NATIONAL HISTORY DAY QUALIFIERS: Brenna Humprhis & Ryan Rosignal! Ryan and Brenna will take their show on the road to College Park, Maryland June 11-15 to take part in an INTERNATIONAL celebration of student historians. Only 2 group exhibits from the state get to advance, so this is an unbelievable honor and accomplishment. I couldn’t be prouder of these kids!


Bringing 20% Projects to Lakeview 7th Graders

7th graders have begun a new project in ELA, Science, and Social Studies. This interdisciplinary project serves as a capstone for 7th grade, combining the skills students have practiced and learned and putting them to use collaboratively. The 20% Project is modeled after Google’s philosophy of giving employees 20% of their time to pursue projects they are passionate about. This freedom has lead to the development of ideas such as the autonomous car. While we don’t expect students to be inventing anything, it’s empowering for students to have the opportunity to use the design process along with their research skills, resourcefulness, and empathy to pursue a passion of theirs. Schools around the country have begun to adopt this project as a way to develop the 21st-century skills our students need.
Kevin Brookhouser is credited as a pioneer on this topic. Here are his students sharing what they’ve done with his support and guidance. Our students don’t have the time to do the same (yet), but here’s a sample of what’s possible when students are empowered to use their skills:
While we expected this project to be embraced by students (as the “WOW Day” was in 2011), I think we’re all surprised how quickly students took ownership of this project and took off with the planning. Here are some examples of student projects:
  • Create a YouTube channel to make videos on how to fix computer and software problems
  • Create a book for incoming 6th graders or new students to help with their transition to Lakeview
  • Create care packages for active duty military overseas to let them know people care about them. Use extra toiletries from hotels
  • Have a book drive to give underprivileged kids an opportunity to have books to read
  • Would like to learn Serbian so he can communicate with family and build better bonds with them. Would like to dub a tv in Serbian as his product.
Students will be given all of ELA/Science/SS, every Friday, to develop these plans. Mrs. Screenshot 2017-05-03 at 9.03.26 AMGemmell has designed a document students are using to organize their ideas. A critical part of this project is the “Design Thinking” component, in which students reflect to understand how their project can be improved. This includes realizing the plan won’t work, being rejected, and/or failing. That “failing forward” mentality a crucial 21st-century skill, which is why we’re supporting students through this process.
The final product could look like one of three things:
  • A successfully completed product, project or creation.
  • A successfully planned or constructed project which will be completed at a later date.
  • A project or idea which failed, with reflection on what could be improved in the next iteration.
This project will conclude on June 1st and 2nd – the last two days of school – with students sharing their projects and reflecting on the process. It’s exciting to see the students so electric about school and using the skills they’ve learned all year.

Thirteen Reasons Why: Helping Vulnerable Children Navigate Difficult Topics

downloadI’m stepping out of my comfort zone and writing about a TV show many of our students are watching: Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix). Jay Asher’s book has been popular for several years, but the Netflix series is controversial for its depiction of real, awful events. Knowing that many of our students are watching and that some schools have advised parents not to allow their children to watch, my wife and I took the weekend to watch the series and educate ourselves. I can’t help but share my reaction as a parent and teacher of students at a very vulnerable age.

I have not read the book. The series, though, isimages a painful emotional tour of the events
which lead a girl to commit suicide. Its visual nature makes the content of the book even more real. Hannah Baker is an intelligent and creative girl, and the show’s slow march towards her death is heartbreaking. It’s hard to watch the show and not think of the students who are watching this show and processing what it all means.

I don’t suggest middle schoolers watch this show due to the scenes depicting sexual harassment of Hannah and other girls, two scenes which show graphic rape, and the very real and visceral scene in which Hannah kills herself. All this overshadows other concerning calls for help – Tyler is building an arsenal of automatic weapons and a deep resentment of his peers, Alex contemplates suicide, and Justin has an abusive mother and is growing violent himself. Heavy stuff. However, many Lakeview students have watched this show, and a conversation with them is important to help them process what they’ve seen. Many of our kids identify with the characters in the show, but they don’t yet have the intellectual or neurological ability to process it properly.

If your children have watched this, it begs a conversation with them. Difficult, yes, but I can’t imagine a 13-year-old watching this and processing its content alone. Or with google, social media, or any other path to misinformation. If you don’t know how to approach topics like suicide and rape, I’ll leave some sources below. Professional advice or guidance from me would not be appropriate, but I recommend you reach out to our leaders at school (such as Mrs. Horeni) if you need help talking to your children. Watch the series, educate yourself, and prepare if necessary, but don’t let your children tony-13-reasons-whynavigate this alone. If anything positive is to be gleaned from this series, it’s the power of friendships and positive thinking. Be cool to people… you have no idea what’s going on between the ears.


Sources from experts about the topics in Thirteen Reasons Why: