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.

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,


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.

Getting Our Feet Wet

Last week’s canoe trip can be declared a success! I honestly can’t remember a more “drama free” trip in all the years I’ve been teaching 12-14. No tears, no emergency room visits, no freak-outs from too many scary stories! Even the chili looked better than ever before:

Chili cook-off entries

Chili cook-off entries

Another thing we noticed was how smoothly the students got along (for the most part). The teachers loved watching the spontaneous game on the river bank, where girls and boys of both 7th and 8th grade tried to push each other in. It ended with all the kids deciding to jump in the river together! I swear, this sweet moment went on without prompting from teachers! Later, many kids brought up that afternoon activity as a great “bonding moment”.

Montessoaring into the river!

Montessoaring into the river!

We also wanted to share some classic group photos from last week’s trip:

At the beloved Belvedere Oasis

At the beloved Belvedere Oasis

Intrepid 7th Graders

Intrepid 7th Graders

Crazy Eights

Crazy Eights

Welcome to the new school year!

Greetings parents of the 7th and 8th grade!

The classroom environment is looking fresh and clean, complete with that “new school year” smell (actually, it’s the students’ beloved apple pie candle that we lit this morning before the open house…). Gregg and I are excited to see our students: returning 8th graders, siblings of grads, and those who are new to us altogether!

Gregg Sparks & Meg Broz, year 5.

Junior High Superheroes

This year, you’ll hear a lot from the school about fostering an inclusive community. This is incredibly important on the 12-14 level, where students work within a home classroom, but also combine with 12-14 students from other classrooms in several other classes throughout the week.

At the beginning of the school year, it sometimes appears that the 8th graders are in their own bubble. As they begin to remember that they were friends with the incoming 7th graders in past years, we see old friendships being rekindled, and plenty more new relationships and collaborations develop. This truly begins on the class Canoe Trip, a bonding experience like no other! (Who wouldn’t bond over paddling and slogging through a muddy river, scary stories around the fire, a fierce capture-the-flag game, and a spicy pot of prize-winning chili??)

This blog will be a place for us to share general classroom announcements, photos, interesting articles and resources, and thoughts on education and adolescents. Blog posts are automatically emailed to all parents of the class.

"Irked By How Millennials Speak?" (click image to read/listen to the story)

“Irked By How Millennials Speak?” (click image to read/listen to the story)

For instance, you might like to check out this NPR story about the way millennials speak. For all you parents who feel like communicating with your adolescent is becoming a series of misunderstandings, the story posits that “‘I feel like’ isn’t just about feelings, it’s a way of introducing an opinion.” And I’m sure you’re hearing a lot of opinions from your tween right about now!

You’ll learn more about us, the classroom, the Junior High level, and the upcoming school year when we all get together for Back to School Night (Thursday, September 8, at 5:30 pm). If you ever have questions, feel free to email Gregg and/or me directly. Our contact info can be found on the “About Us” page.

See you then!


Students vs Staff Basketball Games!

On Friday a time-honored Near North tradition played out again: the Students vs Staff Basketball Games! Gregg and I both participated in these raucous afternoon activities, with Gregg scoring 8 points, and me… being a part of the action! Here’s a couple great group shots, courtesy of our Athletic Director, Nate Lyons.