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.

Beginning to Close History Fair with the Question Formulation Technique

Wrapping up History Fair isn’t just a flurry of cutting and printing… it’s an important time to reflect and bring closure as we end a long, rigorous, and important process. Inquiry is the driving force of what NHD projects do, and we need to circle back and reflect how that skill has driven our work both implicitly and explicitly. This was also a convenient time to check and see how strong our understanding of the theme is.

We used the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to begin closing out our History Fair unit. The QFT is an instructional strategy which encourages students to ask questions. More than that, students are taught what kinds of questions reflect comprehension and which return more information. This video is a long example but demonstrates the full strategy:

There are 7 steps in a QFT lesson:

  1. Establish the rules (3-5 min).
  2. Share the prompt (1 min).
  3. Ask questions as a group (5-8 min).
  4. Refine questions (3-5 min).
  5. Prioritize questions (3-5 min).
  6. Identify individual top 3 (1-3 min).
  7. Reflect (5 min).

Below is the prompt we used, and questions a few groups of generated:

Even better, here’s a sample of a group of students discussing the value of a question and whether it’s closed or open. It’s a nice example of the kind of questioning and collaboration this strategy encourages.

Students enjoyed the lesson and found it valuable:

“I thought that it was really helpful and was going to help Izzy and me work on our project because it gave me a new perspective on how to read our project.”

i really liked it and i feel like it helps give me a better understanding on how to ask certain questions just not on history fair but along with other topics”

It is a great lesson to teach people because it gives them something to think about their project and how to make it better.”

“I thought this lesson was fun and paid off and fun to do in groups with classmates/peers.”

It changed the way that I view the project and I now have a better understanding of what we need to have in the project about the stand and what makes sense.”

How can Parents Help students successfully finish History Fair projects?

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hurricane” is a fairly accurate portrayal of 7th graders finishing their History Fair work. It’s also an incredibly lame attempt for me to encourage kids to “write their way out.” 

Entering the home stretch of History Fair is a flurry of activity. Unfortunately, the volume of work makes it impossible for me to give kids timely feedback at the rate they’d like. So, students are going to need the help of each other, their ELA teachers and How can parents help their students finish this project?

  1. First suggestion is to have your child read their labels out loud. This might sound silly but any repetition, errors with conventions, and language use should be apparent.
  2. Use a “peer evaluation form” to look for topic sentences, evidence, and analysis. A few other questions are on that doc to help, too.
  3. If you’re feeling brave (and have some time), you can try Mrs. Defors’ ratiocination exercise. This something our “expert” kids have begun helping new students learn, but is difficult for me to separate from class to engage with. Feel free to see this blog post to read, then guide your child through the process.
  4. Read an excellent example of what writing looks like to have an idea how to do this well. (Thanks Emma and Gillian!)

I will make every effort to give students additional feedback prior to History Fair. But students shouldn’t wait or make any excuses that I’m not available on an immediate and individual basis. Design of this project has facilitated student work in a pretty clear way. PLUS, this website contains TONS of resources to help students clarify any confusion. Continue using Reflections, email, and help time at school (AM, PM and study hall) with any concerns.

Finally, students can expect feedback on these specific dates:

  • 7th and 8th Periods: Tonight!
  • 5th and 6th Periods: Wednesday
  • 3rd and 4th Periods: Thursday

Ratiocination Exercise to Finalize History Fair Writing


noun ra·ti·o·ci·na·tion \-ˌō-sə-ˈnā-shən, -ˌä-\ :  the process of exact thinking :
Mrs. Defors works with our 3rd Period students in our Lab/Makerspace.

As students wrap up their writing, our fabulous Instructional Coach, Mrs. Defors, is working with students in small groups to improve their writing. Our class has been utilizing the wide-open makerspace in our former computer lab. Kids can build stage pieces and open up exhibits outside of my cramped classroom, but it’s also excellent for differentiated groups like Mrs. Defors is leading. Once they get the hang of it, students will be experts and ready to share their skills with peers next week. This isn’t just Mrs. Defors teaching today, but building a culture of collaboration for kids to continue growing through this process.

As Mrs. Defors explains it, ratiocination is a tedious process but really polishes students’ writing. We’re removing passive verbs, repetitive sentence starters, and using powerful transitions. For something so tedious, the students love it!

Anna: “I thought ratiocination was very hepful for revisiong our (history fair writing). It made me look at our writing in a differnt way… really took it to the next level.”

Bella: “Ratiocination was extremely helpful. At times, it was challenging but it was more helpful. I enjoyed making my project even better. It was the most helpful part of history fair so far.”

Katie: “Ratiocination was very helpful in taking our writing to the next level. The activity can be a little challenging but extremely helpful.”

Anna “ratiocinating” during 8th period.

Here are Mrs. Defors’ directions for this process:

And an example from class:

Writing the Ship

Historical writing has been a Challenge for seventh graders this year. While synthesizing information into a unique argument is always difficult, this year student historians have struggled to put that argument into words. As this is the most important component of History Fair, we’re spending lots of time righting the ship. Making slow but steady progress.

Today’s lesson was designed to have students evaluate their own work. Some students used highlighters others used their devices; whatever the method, students took a critical eye to their own work to identify gaps in the argument. We used the familiar topic sentence-evidence-analysis structure to tighten their arguments. Students should come home today with packets that looks like this: 

  • Topic sentences (blue) should state the claim and introduce the purpose of the paragraph/label.
  • Evidence (yellow) should be factual information related to that claim. Strong evidence includes quotes, statistics, accomplishments and specific actions.  
  • Analysis (pink) is your interpretation of that evidence.

The purpose of highlighting is to point out what exactly is missing. (Note that Jason/Thomas noted missing analysis after this exercise.) If you’re looking to guide students on writing, this should help. 

Taking Advantage of a 4-Day Weekend

President General Washington would be glad if you spent some time studying history this weekend! I suggest you spend some time building your project with the extra time his legacy has given you this weekend.

Some things to consider before you build anything:

  1. Review your checklists. These include the rules, examples, and advice.
  2. Make nothing permanent. The week of 2/27 is one which you can present and get feedback from myself and your classmates. You don’t want permanently glued items which will either damage your project to move, or dissuade you from making any improvements.
  3. Labels will still undergo revisions. Do not assume what you have now is perfect. It is not.
  4. Be genuinely creative!
  5. Plan. Plan. Plan. Swimming regionals are coming up. The musical starts to practice next week. Spring sports will ramp up soon. “Failure to Prepare is Preparing to Fail.”

Projects are DUE March 3rd (Thursday), but may be turned in early and presented for Extra Credit anytime the week of 2/27 (in class).

Need more sources? Try this:

What else can you do this weekend?

  • Begin printing photos for your project.
  • Begin tinkering with the sizing of your text (and use different texts, too).
  • Improve your annotated bibliography.
  • Complete an entry for ongoing reflections.
  • Read the two superb examples of Master Plans posted on classroom.
  • history-fair-timeline-february-1