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.



A Parent’s Guide to Independent Study

Dear parents,

As of this week, your 7th or 8th grader should have chosen a 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 Neighborhood 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 Planning Document this week/weekend, and will ask you to sign their IS Parent Contract (due Monday).

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,



Holocaust Studies and Trip

Dear Parents,

This Tuesday, January 19, our class will be taking a field trip to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. We will have the opportunity to be guided by museum docents on a tour of the museum, and to hear from a speaker who a survivor of the Holocaust.
Our current course of study for social studies and reading is World War II. We’ve been studying this period in history using a few different lenses, while focusing on how this relates to our year’s theme of Movement of People.
Last week, the class has had lessons and discussions about the war’s timeline and geography, with a political point of view.
This week, we learned about the Holocaust itself, and all the students participated in an activity and discussion about the bystanders and collaborators of the Holocaust called “Some Were Neighbors” (based on this lesson material and photos from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).
Other aspects of social studies that will be coming up later this month are the U.S. homefront during WWII, Japanese internment in the U.S., propaganda posters, and a final “stopping point” project.
At the same time we are reading Maus by Art Spiegelman, the iconic graphic novel of a Holocaust survivor’s story. The students have been enjoying the book, with thoughtful questions and responses to the reading.
While the museum experience next week will doubtless be emotional and unsettling, I am confident that the students are mature enough to handle the trip. A few things the museum staff mentioned that will help the trip go smoothly:
  • Please be sure that your child eats breakfast on Tuesday morning and brings extra snacks in their lunch. The museum tour will be occurring between 10:30-1:30, which overlaps our regular lunch time. The museum staff specifically asks that students aren’t distracted by being hungry.
  • It can get cool in the museum, so students should wear a sweater/sweatshirt. We’ll be able to store our coats when we get there.
  • I’ve asked the students to dress “business casual” – somewhere between every day school wear, and what they’d dress in to go out to a play.
  • We’re taking a school bus, so the students don’t need money or a CTA card.
Additionally, please find some time to talk to your child about the museum experience, and what they’re learning about WWII and the Holocaust. I’m constantly surprised and delighted by the students’ high level of understanding and introspection, their ability to make connections between events across time and geography, their passion for justice in the world, their unique blend of innocence and maturity that only an adolescent can have. I hope that you find these same things when talking to your child about what they’re learning about the nature of the world.
Best wishes,