Blackout Poetry Revolutionizes Assessments in the History Classroom

I've been utilizing blackout poetry as a means of assessing knowledge for a few years now because it's one of the best ways to assess deep understanding of a topic. Yesterday's classwork was no exception.
I've never used music from the hit musical "Hamilton" in my classroom before. I've wanted to but planning lessons seemed daunting because, frankly, many of the songs aren't student-friendly. I located a friendly version and decided to take the plunge--I'm so glad I did! We listened to and annotated the song two days ago and then wrote our poems yesterday.
We are studying the New Nation and the seeds of discord surrounding Hamilton and Jefferson. The song "Cabinet Battle #1" tells the story of the negotiations into paying off state debts in the Northern states, creating the National Bank, and the creation of Washington DC (exciting, right?) I've never particularly cared for teaching this time period but I do now, thanks to this song…

NHD School Celebration

Student Historians recently presented their National History Day projects to our school community. Thanks to the support from our 6th and 7th Grade Social Studies teachers, 8th Grade students were able to successfully defend their theses to their peers. The 7th Graders can see what they will be asked to do next year and the 6th Graders can use these projects as a spring board for their student-centered projects they will complete within the next month. Each grade reflected on the event and related it to what they knew, as well. It was also a wonderful community-building activity.

National History Day projects are so meaningful to me because they are, at heart, Genius Hour projects within the content area of History. I promised myself this year's focus would be on helping students hone their passions and I believe this was achieved. Middle Schoolers need to find who they are and what they're about. Delving into what's important to them will help on their journey to  become…

December Highlights

Student Historians have been very busy these past few weeks. We are spending our time on the three branches of government and on our National History Day projects. It's always rewarding to have students learn about how our government works and I've used two resources to help this year: the Constitution graphic novel we used last year and, thanks to my newest US History colleague's suggestion--an amazing website called iCivics .
iCivics is an engaging and interesting way to help students learn about the US Government and I would like to utilize it more next year. I'm also happy to see that the website covers more areas that we learn about this year. 
NHD is going quite well. The payoff for students and me is manifesting itself on a daily basis--I'm getting to know 8th Graders that aren't in my classes and building connections with the grade level as a whole, helping students through the "just tell me the answer" phase of learning, encouraging them to …

Reflection, Research, and Risk-Taking

Student Historians have been busy reflecting on their project and thinking about their work so far as they completed "The State of My Project" reflections. (The title is a take on the Presidential  "State of the Union" Address.) 
Students were asked to let their classmates know what topic they've settled on, what the approximate start and end date of their project topic is, how they feel their research is going so far, showing us their 4 Ts graphic organizer work at this point (especially the "triumph" and "tragedy"), and to let us know about any Aha moments or tips they may have for their classmates.
These quick presentations are really going well (we're doing a few each day). It's providing us the opportunity to celebrate the learning that's taken place, giving students the chance to publicly reflect on their work, and to learn from one another as they provide tips or share moments when things started to "click" for …

Presearching and Researching

This week in NHD featured presearching and researching topics in order to finalize choices next week.
Student Historians continued to wonder and find questions about the topics they learned about last week in the Media Center. The Speed Topic-ing lesson was a hit and left many students wanting to know more about at least some of the topics they examined that day.
This week started with a mini-lesson from Mrs. Chatel as she asked this group if their topic questions could simply be answered with a "yes" or "no" or if their questions were "Big Mac" questions--ones that would take many weeks to complete. A Big Mac question is the perfect National History Day project endeavor.
Presearching and researching went well. These students are going to decide their project topics, partners they will work with, and what type of project they will create this week. Language Arts teachers will support this work with helping students begin to formulate a thesis. History cla…

Speed Topic-ing and Student Passions

This week's National History Day work centered around staff /guest collaboration and giving students the opportunity to explore their interests.
The reason I first dove into National History Day projects three years ago was because of the success my students found when I introduced Genius Hour into an elective class I used to teach. Genius Hour centers around students researching subjects that interest them and sharing their knowledge with the world. I spent the summer of 2016 planning how to replicate that in my US History classes when, unbeknownst to me, it already existed. I stumbled upon the National History Day website and the rest is history (pun intended).
While I am tremendously proud of my NHD work with my students I feel that we've moved away from making these historical passion projects. This year I'm emphasizing the concept that my students should determine their interests first, then relate the history to their passion. 
Tuesday's Speed Topic-ing Activity…

Introduction to "Triumph and Tragedy in History"

Our National History Day journey began in all US History classes this week. 
I am always striving to improve and streamline my lesson plans and I've realized how essential this blog is for that purpose. Last year's posts (and their labels) were extremely helpful as I continue to hone our NHD work.
All History classes were combined for two mini-lessons to begin to delve into this year's theme of "Triumph and Tragedy in History". Student Historians defined both terms and began to think of examples of triumphs, tragedies, and of topics that relate to both. I am once again very excited after seeing initial student topic ideas--they are interested in a wide range of local and national topics from Early Explorers to 21st Century issues.
Starting slow helps to set the stage for choosing a topic that is relevant and interesting to the student, it also lessens the chance of explaining this project all at once and potentially overwhelming them. This experience will be one…