Sunday, March 18, 2012

And the judging begins...

Last week was the final week of deadlines for the students submitting to History Fair. Therefore, my role has changed from weekend help for the students to judge. Unfortunately, due to low submissions for the essay division, the first two sessions of judging were cancelled. This week I'll be receiving the website submissions to judge so hopefully I'll have lots of judging work to do!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Two Sundays

It's that time of year again-- everything is busy! And working with Chicago History Fair is no exception. For some reason, my post about last Sunday was never published, so I'll include both weeks in this post, as I had similar experiences both weeks.

The students who are working with CHF have end of February deadlines for the first round of submissions, so as you can imagine, I have been busy helping these students work on structuring their papers and projects instead of helping with the research projects. One of the general problems I've encountered is that students are not sure how to write a thesis statement. Many of them have rubrics for how a thesis should work that looks like a flow chart. Beginning with their "main idea" they have to fill in three boxes for their "supporting ideas." While this formula is fine, many students can fill in the boxes but have trouble with writing the actual thesis statement. When I first started helping one student, a high school junior, she many "supporting ideas" about her topic (the Chicago Fire), but she could not think of the "main idea." I then realized that these students have just spent several weeks steeped in the details of research but they rarely think about the "big picture idea." So while this particular student had all the dates and concrete details about the Chicago Fire, she had no concept of what it meant for Chicago or the consequences for the future. For me, the most exciting part about studying history has always been the over-arching themes about the past that connect to today. I found, once again, that I took for granted the ability to study something in detail and then make general conclusions. This skill, something that now comes easily to me, is a critical thinking ability that unfortunately many of the students I've worked with have not developed. In order to help my student working on the Chicago Fire, I had her write down the consequences of the Fire from details she had already studied. Together we then researched the possible ways to connect this idea with the general theme of CHF, which is revolution, reaction, and reform. After spending some time thinking, she at once thought about how much of the city had to be rebuilt, telling me that the Fire must have had an impact on the architecture for late nineteenth century Chicago, meaning although the Fire was a negative thing, it actually was a moment of reform. I was so proud that she made this conclusion after much effort!

Yesterday, I mainly helped students who were doing visual presentations. One of the students that I had helped in a previous week (her topic is Bozo the Clown and Chicago children's television broadcasting) showed up again with lots of work already done. She had come such a long way from having to change her topic several times. We worked on formatting her PowerPoint and choosing YouTube clips for the presentation. In little over a month, many of the students have gone from no previous research experience in history to full projects- how exciting!

Next week begins the first round of judging and my first time as a CHF judge. We will begin with the high school division research papers.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lincoln's Birthday

Due to President Lincoln's birthday yesterday, the Harold Washington was closed and so was History Fair. So I thought I'd use this post to list some of the interesting projects some of the students are working on:
- The affects of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle 
- Frank Lloyd Wright's transformation of Oak Park
- 1968 Democratic National Convention (I've already come across about 5 students who are working on this same topic.)
- Race riots in early 20th century Chicago
- the Eight Hour Working Day Movement
- Jane Addams and the Hull House
- Boarding houses for girls in late 19th century Chicago
- the Haymarket Affair (another popular topic)
- the Iroquois Theater Fire
- the Great Chicago Fire (Surprisingly, I've only come across one student working on this one- many teachers have asked students to find other topics since the Fire is considered "over-done.")
- the Advent of the El
- Bozo the Clown and children's radio and television programming (When I first heard about this topic I had no idea that Bozo the Clown had such an impact on children's programming in Chicago and the rest of the country!)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"What's the Dewey Decimal System?"

Today was a rather interesting day at the Harold Washington with the History Fair. Unlike last week, there were very few students to help. So I spent most of my afternoon working with a high school student who chose to do his research on the Eight Hour Work Day Movement. He seemed fascinated that Chicago was such an important hub for all things related to the labor movement in the late nineteenth century, and told me he was encouraged by his dad to work on the topic to understand the struggles that workers have dealt with in the past. After directing my student to the Chicago Encyclopedia to get a general idea of his topic, the next step is usually to guide students to the library's search engine to look up sources. However, my student had never been to the Harold Washington before, much less had used a database search. I proceeded by showing him around the database website and then asking him to write down call numbers so he could look up the books. Once we found a good source and he wrote down the call number, I told him to go find it while I browsed for more sources. He then asked, "What are all these numbers?" to which I replied, "The Dewey Decimal System, of course." "What's the Dewey Decimal System?" he asked, dumbfounded.

I had never really appreciated having a library class in elementary school until this moment. As much as technology has advanced our ability to locate and use sources, finding books the old-fashioned way is a skill that will never go out of style. So I was at first shocked and then dismayed to hear that this student had no clue how to go about using a library. When I first started this internship I thought the hardest part would be explaining to students concepts in Chicago history and finding good sources that would not be too challenging for a middle or high schooler to use. Yet today's experience was just another example that the most challenging part of my work with the History Fair is explaining basic skills that I take for granted, like note-taking and finding a book through a computer source. While I hope that schools continue to teach library and research skills, it seems that some of this education is lost. As off-putting as it was to explain something I thought was so basic, my time spent with this student today reinforced my belief in programs like History Fair.

Eventually, after about an hour of explanation of how books are organized and walking throughout the Harold Washington with this student, he was able to start finding sources on his own so he could move on to narrowing his topic and taking notes. At the end of the day, although he had made slow progress in finding the right amount of sources, I felt very satisfied that he had more of an understanding of library and research skills.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My second afternoon with the History Fair

Today was my second day working with the History Fair at the Harold Washington Library and what a busy day it was! Upon arrival, I met my supervisor for the first time, who went over the large catalog of reference sources we have available to students. The theme for the History Fair this year is "Revolution, Reaction, and Reform in Chicago," so I am familiar with most of the sources in the reference catalog.

After going over our sources, I helped a discouraged sixth grade student who had to start over completely on her research. We brainstormed and I taught her how to perform a search on the Chicago Public Library website for sources. She spent the rest of the afternoon taking notes and asking questions- I felt so proud of her!

The rest of the afternoon proceeded in a similar fashion, helping with brainstorming and looking for sources. I also assisted in structuring a thesis and writing a bibliography. In total, about 15 students showed up, a record number for History Fair Sunday afternoons!    

Sunday, January 22, 2012

First Day

I've just returned from my first day as an intern at Chicago History Fair at the Harold Washington Library, and everything went smoothly! 

The Chicago History Fair is the main event of the Chicago Metro History Education Center, a non-for-profit organization that strives to teach middle and high school students how to do historical research on Chicago-specific topics that are judged at the annual History Fair. As a volunteer intern, I'll be working at the Harold Washington Library on Sunday afternoons to assist students with their research, everything from how to choose a topic to how to read primary sources and how to structure their final papers and projects. I will also be helping out in the CMHEC office on select weekdays and I'll be helping at the actual History Fair as a judge. I'm very excited to begin this opportunity, as I've worked on Chicago history topics for both Capstone and the History Honors program and I'm passionate about working with young students.

Today went smoothly, yet only a few students showed up for help. After familiarizing myself with the reference room I'm working in, I talked to the the two other volunteer interns about what our roles would be when working with the students. I am very familiar with Chicago history, so it was decided that I would be that resource while the other interns would help with locating sources within the library. I helped two students brainstorm topic ideas and gave a brief description of the Colombian Exposition of 1893 to another student. Hopefully next week I will have more students to help!