Research Road Map for Student Historians

A colleague asked me for the research expectations I give students during History Fair. I created this map to cover the very broad and long process. My instruction includes a plethora of smaller lessons and strategies throughout History Fair, but this is the “big picture” of what we do.

I’ll consider this a first draft. I’m sure I’ve missed something and will update it. Feel free to comment with suggestions for improvement! Below is a PDF to download and access links within the document.

Student Historian Research Journey


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

Screenshot 2017-03-13 at 4.26.42 PM

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