Just Add Water! It sounds simple, but there’s a lot that goes in to making a city. Take out your investigation tools because we have fifteen mysteries to solve. As we put together the clues of Chicago history, you’ll learn how Chicago became the city we know today. Collect a star for every puzzle you guess correctly and discover by the end of the book how much of a Chicago star you really are!
Imagine state curriculum requirements mandating the teaching of local history to third or fourth graders, but not having a textbook or educator resources to assist in accomplishing that. For years. For decades. Such is the case with Chicago history and the Chicago Public School system and other school systems in the region.
Enter a devoted and innovative educator with an evolving passion for the subject of Chicago history and a desire to solve this lack of materials problem so that she can do her job well.
Solved. A book on Chicago history written at the 3rd-grade level (give or take a couple years) that takes a creative, investigative approach to the topic and encourages further exploration of Chicago history out and about in the city itself. It also happens to fill a gaping hole in local public education, giving educators a much-needed text (none existed when it was first published) to help them meet state-mandated curriculum requirements for this age level.
Author and Educator Renee Kreczmer: “I embarked on this project 15 years ago [now 21 years ago], when I taught my first group of third grade students the exciting history of Chicago. I didn’t know much at first, but the more I learned, the more I hungered to know more! Stored in my memory banks is information from countless tours of historic city sites and museums, books, articles, dusty old volumes from the Chicago History Museum’s Research Center, classes, videos, movies, exploration trips with parents, friends, and students, e-mails to historians, and many, many hours surfing the web.
"It has been my ongoing goal to find a way to get kids as excited about social studies as they are about science. I thought about hands-on experimenting, but that didn’t lend itself to the social studies curriculum. Then I began to use photographs with discussion for students who didn’t read well. That’s when the idea of students making ‘predictions’ during the photo presentations occurred to me. From there, the idea of analyzing and interpreting cartoons, artifacts, photographs, data, and works of art grew. A newly purchased science series comprised of investigations gave me the idea for just the right format.
"I began using investigations to guide students through the fascinating history that formed the awesome city of Chicago. Each investigation opens with a question, e.g., ‘Is this a good location to build a community?’ or ‘What effect did the Great Fire have on the spirit of Chicago?’ An artifact or photograph with analysis questions helps lead students to a conclusion. We then explore additional information to check those conclusions.”
A growing passion and reputation. Year after year, Kreczmer’s materials improved, and with each passing year more students and their parents and other educators learned about and appreciated the power of Kreczmer’s enthusiasm, her knowledge, and her tested and refined approach to teaching local history.
A meeting of like minds. In 2009, a long-time fan and supporter of Lake Claremont Press introduced Renee Kreczmer to publisher Sharon Woodhouse. Woodhouse, having known about CPS teachers’ lack of a text in this area for years, took one look at Kreczmer’s bulging binders of Chicago artifacts, transparencies, and other custom-made classroom materials, and said, “Make it a book!”
The book. Fifteen investigations make up the chapters of Just Add Water, exploring the prairies of various Illinois tribes and early settlement through Chicago politics and A Century of Progress. Following Kreczmer’s classroom strategy, each investigation asks questions that lead students to draw their own conclusions. By reading the rest of the chapter, students discover whether or not their conclusions are correct. In this way, students learn not only Chicago history but age-appropriate social studies skills, and vocabulary, as well. Along the way, students collect a star for each correct conclusion.
Each chapter concludes with suggestions for related historic outings and further exploring in Chicago. See our links page for many of these outings and other family-friendly history activities to do in Chicago.
Just Add Water is richly illustrated with maps, drawings, color photographs, and historic artifacts. While designed primarily to meet a real need of Chicago’s elementary school social studies teachers, Just Add Water is not strictly a textbook and can be enjoyed by all school-aged children living in or visiting Chicago.