Miss Representation Film

As part of our studies on the History of Feminism and Women’s Rights, today our class is watching a film called Miss Representation.

The synopsis of the film from the film’s website:

Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation exposes how mainstream media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America.

The film draws back a curtain to reveal a glaring reality we live with every day but fail to see – how the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls makes it difficult for women to feel powerful and achieve leadership positions.

In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message we receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 33rd out of the 49 highest income countries when it comes to women in the national legislature. And it’s not better outside of government. Women make up only 4.6% of S&P 500 CEOs and 17% of directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.

Stories from teenage girls and provocative interviews with politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists, and academics, like Katie Couric, Rosario Dawson, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Cho, Condoleezza Rice, Rachel Maddow, and Nancy Pelosi, build momentum as Miss Representation accumulates startling facts and statistics that will leave the audience shaken, but armed with a new perspective.

Miss Representation is available to watch on Netflix. I encourage you all to watch the film yourselves, or with your child. Whether or not you are able to watch the film, it would certainly be interesting to have a conversation with your adolescent about it. Ask them what they saw, what they learned, how it connects to their studies, and how it changes how they view the media.

As always, let me know if you have any questions.


Field Trip Friday – important timing!

Dear Parents,

As part of our study on Forced Migrations, our class will be attending a field trip to the Illinois Holocaust Museum this Friday, March 9. The school bus taking us to the museum needs to leave promptly at 8:45 am, so please be sure to help your child get to school on time (by 8:30) on Friday. We will not be able to wait for any late students.

Students should bring a bag lunch, which we’ll eat on the bus on the way back to school (no microwave access).

Our class will be participating in the Take A Stand tour; you can read about it on the museum website here. Of particular interest is the brand new Abe & Ida Cooper Survivor Stories Experience, which uses hologram technology for students to interact with survivors of the Holocaust.

As always, when the students participate in something that may include challenging and emotional content, we encourage you to engage in conversation with your child about the experience.

Let me know if you have any questions,


Parenting Teens

Happy New Year!

The 12-14 level is all engaged in a new project this month: “J-Term,” or January Short Term. For 2 weeks, the 8th graders are concentrating on their work for the Montessori Model UN, and 7th graders are working on a multi-facetd unit on heroes.

Check in with your kid about how this work is going! But don’t get too discouraged if you can’t get the details out of them that you’d like – parenting teens is challenging! For a little laugh, and to feel like you’re not alone, check out this post from Huff Post Parents:

39 Tweets That Sum Up Parenting Teens

The Neighborhood Project & Humanities Fair

Little Italy

The Neighborhood Project is a large-scale, multi-faceted school project that, in total, takes about 7 weeks; we’re currently about halfway done. Seen by some as a “mini independent study”, this project goes along with our Chicago History studies.

Working on this project builds so many of the skills that we value in 12-14, and gives the students the opportunity to really get to know our city geographically and culturally. They’re doing independent work and collaboration, writing, navigation, photography, social interaction, research, cooking, mapping, interviewing, and much more.


The NP includes 4 main components, some of which you may have caught a glimpse of your child working on:

  • A big research paper
  • A creative project on a certain area of focus
  • City Trip Explorations to various Chicago neighborhoods
  • The presentation fair

A couple weeks ago the students completed their first City Trip Explorations to their chosen neighborhoods (pictures included here!). They’re currently working on planning a second trip to each neighborhood. Each student is responsible for arranging the time, date, and details of the trip. Parents and other family members are welcome to join their 12-14er on this trip, as long as they’re willing to follow the student’s plan! The second trip should be completed by December 11.

And, perhaps most excitingly for you all, YOU’RE INVITED to check out all the hard work they’ve put into planning,

Hyde Park

researching, and exploring at the final Humanities Presentation Fair! Students will present their research, and display videos, food samples, maps, drawings, speeches, and many other showcases.

I’ll send a reminder email next week, but please MARK YOUR CALENDAR for FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2017, 1:00-2:00 pm in our home classroom.

Fall Book Recommendations

Every Friday, our class holds a weekly Council Meeting, in which we discuss the highs and lows of the week. Students each take a turn leading council, and wrap up the meeting with a favorite book recommendation. Here are a few of the recommendations we’ve heard so far this year:

Rowan: A Year Without Autumn is about a girl who goes on vacation with her family and meets her best friend there. She ends up going into an old elevator, and goes forward in time. She realizes that her best friend’s family has changed a lot, and she tries to figure out what went wrong.

Kieran: The Martian is about this guy who is left for dead on Mars after his crew thinks he’s dead in a big sandstorm. He has to find multiple ways to survive, such as farming, since he’s a biologist. It’s a space survival story.
Tyler: Revolt on Alpha C is about a space cadet on a ship going to Alpha C. When he gets to the planet there’s turmoil there and a rebellion against earth. He has to decide between both sides.

Canoe Trip Conversations

Dear Parents,

“So, how was the canoe trip??”


If you’re one of the many parents who had an unsatisfying exchange like this with your adolescent child last night, you may be craving more stories about the goings-on of our class Canoe Trip. If you’re struggling to get details, try these phrases that we use in class council. After canoeing each day, all the students and teachers sat around the campfire, where we held a “mini-council” – a shortened version of our weekly class meeting. I got the kids to talk about the successes and tribulations of their day using these three phrases, which they’re already familiar with:

  • What went well?
  • Issues
  • Thank yous & compliments

If that’s still giving vague answers, try these more specific keywords – maybe you can at least get a chuckle or an eyeroll from your kid!

  • Smorgasbord
  • Rockadile
  • Danny DeVito & Zac Efron
  • Geodes
  • Grave rubbing
  • The check’s in the mail
  • Ouija board

All in all, it was truly one of the better Canoe Trips I’ve been on – the weather was beautiful, which makes all the difference! We enjoyed stargazing and quesadilla grilling, paddling hard and lounging in the grass, stories both scary and hilarious. The students really worked together to get their tasks accomplished, and it was great to seem them getting to know each other. It seems like the year is starting out right!

Welcome to the 2017-2018 school year!

Dear parents of the 7th and 8th grade,

The school year has begun, and preparations for next week’s Canoe Trip are in full swing! Today all the 12-14 students are going through a series of workshops we call “Canoe Trip 101,” learning everything from chopping garlic to paddling to scary-storytelling to the physics of tents. I teach the propane stove workshop, and I love this opportunity to have a moment to say hello to all the new students in the level (and to ask the students “Is propane gas flammable or inflammable? Trick question – they mean the same thing!”).

Meg Broz & Gregg Sparks – Year 6!

Today we’ll also be venturing out on our first “City Trip” to explore the neighborhood. City Trips are one of my favorite parts of the junior high curriculum – I even did a workshop on the topic at the International Montessori Congress in Prague this summer! This is a link to the Intro to City Trips that I presented to the students yesterday, feel free to check it out to get an idea of what these weekly trips are all about.

Finally, I wanted to mention that it was so nice to meet and speak to so many of you at Back to School Night. For those of you that weren’t able to make it last night, here is a link to the information I gave to the parents of our class about our classroom culture, and the expectations we all can have for each other this year – teachers, parents, and students.

Now they’re 8th graders!

We wrapped up the night thinking about ourselves when we were in junior high – what were we like? What were our experiences during those rocky years of adolescence? This self-reflection can be so interesting for an adult, as it seems that the middle school are quite memorable for most of us. Finally, we left last night thinking about the experiences our own kids will have in junior high – our hopes for the people they are growing into. Whether or not you were there last night, take some time to think about how the teachers, parents, and student can work together to have a successful and memorable (in a good way!) couple of years in junior high.

Best wishes,


Navigating this Summer in the City


7th Graders on the first leg of a City Trip

As our school year ends and students work on their summer plans, you may be thinking about how your child will be navigating their way around the city this summer. Will you, their parent, be dropping them off at their internship, camp, soccer practice, or band rehearsal? Or will your child be able to get there and back on their own?

At the core of Near North Montessori’s adolescent program are “City Trips” – opportunities to orient the adolescent to their city home. Using the city and surrounding community as the Prepared Environment (truly, an extension of the 12-14 classroom) is challenging, dynamic, and always engaging.

As adolescents work to find their place in society, they can use their community as a place to study, work, and explore. By becoming a true citizen of their city, adolescents begin to understand how their society works, and how they can become involved in positive social change. That’s why it’s so important to start this work at the start of adolescence, in hopes that the students get more and more comfortable navigating on their own.

8th Graders explore NYC’s East Village

Last week, I had the opportunity to witness a growth in comfort of city navigation when I accompanied the 8th grade to Washington DC and New York City. In both cities, we were able to give the students a brief orientation to whatever neighborhood we were in, and then let them explore on their own for an hour or two. They bargained for souvenirs, rode the subways, found sunny park benches to hang out on, popped in and out of museums and galleries, and tried many varieties of street food. The students never shied away from these opportunities, having become used to this sort of experience in Chicago. Our tour guides in DC and NY, however, were shocked: no other school groups they have worked with give the kids this type of freedom and responsibility.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, the 7th graders planned a multi-step City Trip. First they delivered lunch and toiletry packages they’d made to our new community partner, La Casa Norte. Then the kids planned a route downtown on the EL, stopping for lunch at a place of their choosing, before finally meeting up again with the whole class at Maggie Daley Park. On the way, a small group of students got turned around, heading off in the opposite direction of the park. At first they were anxious, but they were able to calmly find a way to seek help from adults by calling the school for directions, and then got back on track and found the park.

This sort of real-world experience is something that we adolescent educators love. By setting the students up for independent exploration of the city, we are able to provide opportunities for “failing safely” (like getting lost for a bit or getting on the wrong train), which is a lesson in and of itself. We always follow up with the students after an experience like getting lost, talking through scenarios and thinking of ideas for the next time it may happen.

To find out more about the City Trip curriculum, check out this Introduction to City Trips lesson I give to the students at the beginning of the year. We are also fond of the instructional cartoons from this book on city etiquette by Nathan Pyle, and revisit them with students a few times a year. They are clever and memorable reminders of how to move around the sidewalks, train stations and more. (Ask your child to demonstrate situational awareness: “Head on a swivel!”)

A much-referenced etiquette cartoon by Nathan Pyle

This summer, have a conversation with your child about traveling around the city with a friend or on their own. Have them plan the route, then show it to you before they take off. Talk through scenarios of what to do if they get lost, or feel uncomfortable. Trust that they are capable of making a plan and adapting to what challenges the city throws at them. Even if it’s just a couple trips to a buddy’s house or the grocery store, your kid will benefit from the continuation of this beautiful opportunity to practice freedom and responsibility in the real world.

A Parent’s Guide to Independent Study 2017

As of this week, your 7th or 8th grader will begin deciding on their topic for their biggest project of the year: Independent Study, or IS.

IS is a multi-part, long-term project that the students will be working on until the end of the school year. During this time, they will be conducting in-depth research on a specific topic of their choosing. The Revolution Project, completed in the fall, can be considered a “mini-IS”, but this upcoming project is a bit more complex.

Independent Study project components:

  1. Learning something new
  2. Extensive research
  3. Working with a mentor outside of school
  4. Writing a paper
  5. Creating a scrapbook/log
  6. Creating a presentation (white) board
  7. Doing a presentation/ speech
  8. And more!

Topics chosen by students over the years have been as diverse as welding, Japanese language, building a bike, basket weaving, banjo… far too many to enumerate here. What is always consistent, no matter the topic, is that the student is given many opportunities for taking their learning experience into their own hands. From finding books at the library to their final presentation, it is truly an independent study.

However, every independent adolescent needs a few capable adults to “help them do it alone.” Gregg and I will be responsible for frequent check ins and evaluations of the students’ work, as well as guiding them through the different components of IS.

Your child will need your help when finding a mentor and a place to study. They’ll be working on the IS Plans & Goals doc this week/weekend, and will ask you to sign their IS Parent Contract (due Monday, February 6).

The role of the mentor is unique to the IS project (further information about this here). For most students, their mentor teaches lessons or classes related to their IS topic. This is not a necessity, however; the main purpose of the mentor is to work with an expert on the topic, and to have weekly contact with that person.

Please talk to your child if you have more questions about IS (and if all else fails, feel free to email me with questions too!).

I’m looking forward to an exciting, productive, creative few months working with the students on IS!

Best wishes,


The Revolution Project

Dear Parents,

The Revolution Project is a large-scale, multi-faceted school project that, in total, takes about 6 weeks; we’re currently about halfway done. As a sort of “mini independent study”, this project takes the year’s theme of REVOLUTIONS to a whole new level.

The students have been asked to act as historians and revolutionaries, creating and staging a revolution of their own design. It’s been fascinating to hear and read about what the students have come up with already: an economy based on desalinization, a militia armed with blender blades, charismatic revolutionary leaders both successful and not, but always with original names. Crucial to this project is collaboration with their peers, a process with many ups and downs (as you may have already been hearing about at home!).

The RP includes 3 main components, some of which you may have caught a glimpse of your child working on:

  • A big research paper on 2 different types of government
  • A creative project on a certain area of focus
  • The presentation fair

And, perhaps most excitingly for you all, YOU’RE INVITED to check out all the hard work they’ve put into planning, researching, and creating at the final Presentation Fair! Students will present their research, display artwork, propaganda and flags, and even show off documentaries and speeches.

I’ll send a reminder email about the fair next month, but please MARK YOUR CALENDAR for THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2016, 10:45-11:45am in our home classroom.