I have had the pleasure of serving as a judge for various levels of National History Day contests for more than ten years. I enjoy being an audience to the students’ projects after months of their in-depth research, writing and revising, and meticulous selection of evidence and design elements. Not a contest goes by that I don’t learn something new because of a project I evaluated. I want those students to reap the same benefits from their evaluation forms, which is why I’m super excited about the new NHD evaluation forms. The new rubric format provides targeted feedback for each of the criteria in addition to the comments on strengths and areas for improvement.
One of the criteria NHD included this year is STUDENT VOICE. But what exactly is student voice? Watch this video NHD Quick Tip: What is Student Voice? to learn more. The micro-progression within the evaluation form details what the judges will be looking for when evaluating projects.
The notion of student voice will drive students to really tailor their projects to state and prove and argument rather than present a “the History of…” project. We want students to make a fact-based argument and then explain in their own words how the evidence they’ve selected proves this thesis. Too many times students will get stuck in the desire to tell everything they learned about their topic, leaving little room in their project’s time limit or word count to present the historical impact. These projects end up as a biographical presentation, largely or entirely supported with extended quotes from secondary sources, and lacking any analysis or synthesis.
So how do students ensure their projects reflect THEIR voice? The first step is getting to know their topic and asking detailed questions (Who/What/When/Where/Why/How). This initial step will involve reputable secondary sources and some relevant primary sources. This preliminary research may or may not end up in the final project visibly but will certainly shape the overall understanding of the topic. The deeper, targeted research will further their knowledge and understanding of the topic and its place in history. The judges will review the annotated bibliography for itemized descriptions of source usage and synthesis.
The next step is creating a thesis statement that can be argued; it is not a statement of fact. For the judging team, this part is critical. The thesis statement is what the student is defending, and the entire project centers around this statement. To be confident in their argument, students need to have a strong understanding of how each document and quote they select for their project supports their position. Judges want to experience the students’ thoughts and words through careful analysis of their evidence.
Student voice is also evident in the thoughtful selection of supporting materials. One brief, insightful quote can be more powerful than a few repetitive ones. The important thing is how students connect the dots between the pieces of evidence through their analysis and explanation. The rubric uses words such as original, persuasive, and distinct to describe a student’s ideas, analysis, argument, and conclusions.
Judges detect student voice in the explanation of historical impact. Often, students will get caught up in relying solely on quotes from historians as evidence. The students have spent the time researching and analyzing their topic and should be able to articulate the significance of the topic in history. And even more important is that they incorporate their analysis into the project. Many times, over the years, I’ve had students explain the significance or other critical details during the interview. While I was happy to know they had come to these conclusions, the fact that the information was left out of the actual project meant I couldn’t evaluate that information. With this year being entirely virtual and the interviews not taking place, students must be certain that they get it all into their project.
While the concept of student voice in an NHD project is not new, the accountability for presenting it will be encouraging for all participants as they work to develop and hone their critical thinking and writing skills for the future.
For more information about building a better argument, check out the materials on the Teacher Resources page here on the CHD website.
Cyndee McManaman is an educator who taught for several years at Vernon Middle School, where she still coaches NHD students. Cyndee serves as the Mansfield/ Storrs Regional Coordinator and works as part of the State History Day Office.
By now, students have identified topics for their History Day projects and are in the beginning stages of research. Students begin their project research by concentrating on secondary sources. Like other projects, students should use a guiding question to direct their research.
Once students have chosen a topic, one of the first tasks of students is to narrow the topic. So often, students try to research a big, broad topic and that just is not possible. Encourage students to focus their topic into a doable topic that strongly links to this year's them of Communication in History: The Key to Understanding.
Encourage students to "funnel" their interests from a broad topic to a narrower, more focused one.
Have students develop a research question to guide their work. A research question is not a thesis statement, but it is a guiding question that students seek to answer through research. I've included an example showing how starting with a broad topic (American School for the Deaf) can lead to a targeted research question.
It is often tempting for students to want to jump right to primary research, but it is vital that they start with good secondary research. Secondary sources are ones that are produced by someone who did not experience the historical event first hand.
Why is good secondary research so vital? Secondary research helps students:
Good secondary research involves utilizing a variety of types of sources such as books, articles, documentaries, and websites. Too often, students do a google search and list a bunch of websites as secondary sources. Some websites might be appropriate, but students need to be sure the website is a reputable source. I encourage students to utilize their local libraries for research since they will have access to books , articles, documentaries, and databases.
When I left the classroom three years ago, I had a fair amount of experience with online learning management systems. I was always willing to be part of the group piloting a new system or application. I liked having different avenues for interacting with my students, and for them to engage each other. Our History Day Club meetings were after school, but we still maintained a Google Classroom for these students, primarily to house research sources, skill-based tutorials, and a platform for peer review.
Fast forward to Fall 2020, and my co-advisors and I are meeting entirely online with our group of middle- and high school students. While nothing can replace the importance of face-to-face instruction and mentoring, we are committed to providing our History Day students with the support they need to have a successful contest season. With the use of mini-lessons and some organizational tools, we will set them on the right track
The History Day community has been hard at work developing new tools to support teachers in this new remote model of teaching. More than 30+ videos and webinars are available for students and teachers. The NHD staff has created several video series to walk students through research and NHD project specific topics, as well as many videos to assist teachers. Check out the National History Day channel on YouTube. They have also gathered the replays of NHD sponsored webinars. Using the EdPuzzle application, we created an activity in which the students interacted with the annual theme video through a set of embedded questions. Using the brief NHD videos will be a great tool for introducing new ideas such as “Student Voice,” providing bibliography and annotation writing tips, or for student tutorials on creating a website within NHDWebCentral.
Keeping students organized will be an even bigger challenge this year as schools migrate between hybrid and fully remote models, and students need to have a handle on how they’re going to keep their notes, research and project drafts organized. Cloud-based document sharing works well for student groups and for teacher feedback, but our students forever seemed to be starting new documents every time they started a new section or resource. This year we are implementing a digital notebook to keep our students’ work in one document. While still in its early stages, the students are excited about the ability to compile topic ideas, research notes, citations, images, project design, and process paper elements within one file. The file is adaptable to each student’s needs, and we can add slides to the Google slide deck if we need to modify it again.
Because so much of our students’ research will be conducted online, we anticipate spending a lot of time addressing the credibility of sources, and how students can evaluate possible sources. While research at local libraries, museums, and historical organizations can still be done (with caution and patience), students may not realize the bias or accuracy of online materials. We are using a catchy tool from the LibGuides at Portland State University called the C.R.A.P. test. Students evaluate sources for Currency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose. The mnemonic is fun, and will keep the students thinking.
Another organizational tool we are putting into practice this year is a digital library, of sorts. Having a living document accessible to teachers and students will be a time saver! Sort it by skill or topic, whatever works best for your student population. You can also encourage your students to add links with a one sentence descriptor.
In August I attended the New England History Day Affiliates educator workshops (these recorded webinars are available on the CHD website). One of the best nuggets of wisdom I acquired was the concept of visual literacy. For History Day students, in particular, they need to consider the information they can gather from images (advertisements, photographs, artwork, postcards, infographics, etc.) in support of their argument, not simply using these images to decorate their projects. We are incorporating a visual literacy warm-up for each of our meetings in which the students evaluate an image without the citation/caption, then reveal the caption after a few minutes. Breakout rooms could be used to divide an image into segments and have each group evaluate a portion of a larger image, and then bring the conversation back to the full group to discuss their observations.
Managing student conferencing or check-ins is complicated within the distance learning model, but this is a step that cannot be overlooked. Whether you use a Google Form exit ticket, individual video conferences, or a Google Doc checklist shared between student(s) and teacher, insist that your students report back to you regularly on their progress.
Keep up to date on contest updates and submission requirements by signing up for the Connecticut History Day newsletter, sign up to virtual in-class workshops run by the CHD staff, and reach out to your regional coordinator for any assistance.
National History Day on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/NationalHistoryDay/videos
EdPuzzle How-To: https://youtu.be/8I0fV0djfJA
Digital notebook resources
Visual Thinking Strategies: https://vtshome.org/
C.R.A.P. Test: https://guides.library.pdx.edu/c.php?g=271329&p=1811863
Cyndee McManaman is the Mansfield/Storrs Regional Coordinator and former middle school teacher
Welcome to Connecticut History Day! We know that the 2020-2021 school year is and will be an extremely challenging one. We appreciate all that you are doing—teaching virtually and in person and constantly adjusting to changing circumstances. The goal of this post is to outline the materials and resources that we plan to provide for you in teaching Connecticut History Day.
10 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 1-2:30 p.m.
Join us for part or all of the day for this free workshop. If you can’t attend, register for the workshop and receive a recording of the workshop. Sessions will focus on: the 2021 Theme of Communication in History: The Key to Understanding, the new NHD Rules, strategies for teaching history virtually, online resources, and time for questions and answers.
Free! We will meet with you and your students virtually. Workshops last approximately 45 minutes. Workshop options are
Check out the NHD Theme Book, the list of 2021 CT Topics, and a short video about Communication in History: The Key to Understanding at https://www.historydayct.org/annual-theme-198008-762084
Short videos, worksheets, the Educator & Student Handbooks, and the new NHD Rulebook can be found here: https://www.historydayct.org/educator-resources
A plethora of materials for teachers (videos, lesson plans, webinars, and resources) are located at https://www.nhd.org/teacher-resources
Direct students to these online research resources at https://www.historydayct.org/student-research and project examples at https://www.historydayct.org/project-examples1
The State Coordinator will be offering periodic office hour for teachers. Pop in with questions or comments. The first one will be held on October 29 1-3 p.m. you can join us at:
Thank you for your hard work and commitment to Connecticut History Day!
Like everyone else in the world, COVID-19 required the team at Connecticut History Day to do some quick pivoting. This certainly is unlike any Regional Contest season that any of us have ever experienced!
The first two regionals—held at UConn and Norwich Free Academy—had taken place and planning was underway for the Torrington Contest when schools began to close. At that time, the we decided to hold the remaining four contests as virtual contests because we did not want to cancel the contests and disappoint students.
Some schools closed so quickly that students could not bring their projects home to work on. Others did not initially have access to online resources. To address these problems, we have added a seventh “Make-up” Contest to the six Regional Contests. This “Make-up” Contest will take place on April 18th. Any student who could not participate in the Torrington, New Haven, Fairfield, or Hartford Contests due to the closing of schools is eligible to participate in this Make-up Contest. Teachers — please contact us to know if you have students who would like to participate, as they will need to register for the Make-up Contest.
The deadline to register is Thursday, April 9.
One of the things we miss most with running a virtual contest is seeing all of the students and enjoying their excitement. Contest days are fun days filled with lots of energy! However, we have found some positives in the situation.
I need to give special recognition to the CHD team—Nicole Sousa, Cyndee McManaman—and two of our colleagues from The Connecticut Network—Tom Paquette and Paul Skaff . In the space of 48 hours, our team was able to sit down and figure out a system for running virtual contests. Only one contest, Torrington, had to be postponed. Every other contest took place as planned.
The State Contest will also be held virtually. We are currently finalizing details for deadlines and judging and will be in touch soon about that information.
We know that a virtual contest is perhaps not quite as fun as one held in person. But, we believe it is important for students’ work to be recognized and appreciated. We are looking at some ideas for sharing student work—both online and in person—so please send any ideas or suggestions you might have to firstname.lastname@example.org
On behalf of the whole CHD team, I’d like to thank you -- the educators -- for your dedication and support. We sure hope to see you soon in person!
- Rebecca Taber-Conover
Regional Contest season has begun! Many students' focus is on the contest and winning a prize. The reality is that only a small percentage of students are going to win a prize and advance to the state contest; of the 1400 + Regional Contest participants, approximately 400 will be at the State Contest.
So, how do you manage expectations for your students and deal with the disappointment of students who have not won?
Encourage your students to celebrate their achievement.
For some students, conducting their first ever oral interview or talking to someone about their project is an achievement. Visiting a museum or historic site associated with their project is also something to celebrate. Creating a History Day project is not easy and in the days before a contest we often have students who withdraw. The sheer fact of completing a project should be celebrated.
National History Day's tagline is "It's Not Just a Day, It's an Experience." Encourage your students to enjoy the contest experience. Have them view other projects and meet fellow participants. Participate in the activities offered. For instance, at the Norwich Contest, the Slater Museum offers a wide range of activities, including tours and a scavenger hunt for students. At UConn, participants can enjoy music from the Eric Rice Band or attend an event hosted by the UConn Riding team.
Encourage your students to learn from their experience.
I know of students who save their evaluation sheets from year to year, reviewing them in order to improve their work. For students who have participated multiple years, encourage them to reflect on their growth and improvement. Some students use disappointment to spur them on the following year. One year, a young man walked across the stage at the State Contest and I could see the disappointment in his eyes, because he placed third and did not qualify for the National Contest. That experience steered his determination to improve and the following year he qualified for the National Contest.
Many schools host a History Day event to showcase student work. It's a wonderful way to highlight every student's achievement. Consider reaching out to a local library or museum to see if they might want to display projects. One year, a couple of students focused their projects on Caroline Ferriday; a woman who helped bring recognition to the women of Ravensbruck. That summer, the students' projects were on display in the Visitors Center at the Bellamy-Ferriday House in Bethlehem.
We, as adults know that just by participation students are winners. Participants learn how to conduct research, think critically about sources, analyze results, and transform research into projects. Students become writers, filmmakers, we designers, playwrights and artists. Encourage students to view themselves—whether they walk away with a medal—as a winner, because truly they are.
- Rebecca Taber-Conover, Connecticut History Day State Coordinator
Every year, CHD staff solicits feedback from students, teachers and parents about the program and the contest experience to continually improve the program. Over the years, similar questions tend to arise and I’d like to address them in this blog entry. I would ask that you share this information with students and parents.
Why are contest days so long?
Every year I read complaints about the length of a contest day (especially the State Contest) and suggestions to shorten the day. The reality is that we cannot shorten contest days. What many people don’t see is that behind the scenes CHD staff and volunteers are frantically working up till the Awards Ceremony. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in a few hours.
At the State Contest the majority of the categories have runoffs, which means after the first round, judge need to choose the projects to go on to the Runoff Round. Staff has to take that information and start a second round of judging for about a dozen different categories. Judges need time so that they can: discuss rankings with members of their judging teams; have ample time to write thorough comments on the evaluation forms; and choose the projects that will go to the National Contest. It’s a long day for judges, so there needs to be time for them to have lunch and use the restroom.
We have to balance the need for speed with the responsibility of having educational and equitable contests. We understand the days are long and have over the years tried to offer activities throughout the day, including musical performances, board games, and tours. At the State Contest, miniature golf, a scavenger hunt, and the CCSU game room have also been available. For families with other Saturday commitments, students can leave after they have presented to judges. Students are not penalized if they do not attend the Awards Ceremony; they will still receive their award if they have placed.
Why did my student get better “scores” at the Regional Contest than at the State Contest.
Many students, parents, and teachers question why a project is scored “better” at the Regional Contest versus at the State Contest. The Regional Contests are the first round of competition; the level of competition is much higher at the State Contest. The projects at the State Contest have already gone through one round of judge review and, in many cases, have been worked on and improved. Judges are reviewing the best of the best at the State Contest. A different set of judges reviews the projects at the State Contest.
Last year, a parent asked why State judges don’t receive the evaluation forms for the students from the Regional Contest. Students are encouraged to use judges’ feedback to improve their project. Some students take advantage of that opportunity, others do not. Students arrive at the State Contest with a fresh slate; giving judges an old evaluation form would unfairly influence their decisions.
If you are interested in learning more about how contests are run, consider volunteering to judge at an upcoming contest!
Some confusion exists about the appropriate level of teacher involvement in student projects. At the recent Educators Workshop, held at Connecticut’s Old State House in September, we spent some time discussing the subject and I’d like to share that information for those who could not attend the Workshop.
A project must reflect the work of the student (s) and the student must conduct the research, do the analysis and create the project. However, like any other project, it is the role of the teachers to coach their students. Students should not show up at a Regional Contest having never had an adult review their work.
One of the best ways that teachers can help their students is by asking questions throughout the CHD process.
Teachers can assist students by introducing them to good research techniques and the variety of sources that can be accessed, discussing how to write a strong thesis statement, and encouraging students to seek feedback on their work. Having regular checkpoints is key to a successful CHD project.
I’ve found that one of the best ways to keep students on track is to do a five minute conference. I ask the student three questions.
From these three questions, I am able to discern whether the student is on track with their research. Are they using good secondary and primary sources? Are there types of sources they should explore? Do they need other points of view represented? What is the barrier being broken? What is the impact of the topic? Answering these questions helps guide students in improving their work.
One of the most challenging aspects of CHD is for teachers to have the time to give feedback to all of the participating students. Consider having students give peer to peer feedback. Or, invite your colleagues to assist you in reviewing projects and giving feedback on projects. Some schools do this by hosting an in-house History Day event.
I’ve heard some teachers say they don’t give any feedback to students as that is “against the rules.” It is NOT against the rules to coach your students so that they learn and gain skills from creating a CHD project. Like any other project, the teacher does not do the work, but they do guide students.
- Rebecca Taber-Conover, Connecticut History Day State Coordinator
The Breaking Barriers in History theme is an exciting lens through which to view historical events. Students have the opportunity to explore topics that have made a lasting impression and brought change to the world. Historically, barriers take time to break and most often are not recognized or appreciated until decades later. It is the historians who examine events, analyze, draw conclusions and document events from a historical perspective. Historians write what becomes the accepted description of the past. Historians decide the importance of people, circumstances, and events that will be studied in school textbooks and remain embedded in the subconscious of society through time.
It is important for students to dig deep and examine secondary resource descriptions that provide the long term impact of their individual topics. A project with balanced research will contain comparisons of multiple secondary sources with various interpretations. Comparing numerous perspectives will help students gain a well-rounded view of circumstances from which to draw conclusions. Many events have multiple interpretations and impacts that will challenge students.
Historical fiction books can provide exciting story lines to captivate young readers and introduce historical background information. The bibliography in the back of these books can also direct students to valuable resources they may not locate otherwise. Surprising facts may be discovered that contradicts present-day understanding.
Historical figures who were trying to break through a barrier during their lifetime could not know the resulting long term consequences.
For example, the Women’s Temperance Movement broke through the political and cultural barriers created by the male dominant society and sought a ban on alcohol. The enactment of the 18th Amendment, banning intoxicating liquor led to an organized crime ring that created a more destructive menace to society. In the end, the 18th Amendment did not accomplish what it set out to do in the first place, but its impact was not known until decades later. Secondary resources will provide students the opportunity to read the work of historians who have studied the ramifications on our society over time.
Many young students fall into the trap of believing everything is available on the internet. “You can Google anything.” By limiting research to online availability, students lose the depth and scope printed materials provide, in addition to losing valuable resources that can bring various perspectives and voices to their conclusions. Secondary resources give students the opportunity to actually measure the positive and negative outcomes that cannot be known or interpreted through a primary source. They can provide various viewpoints and analyses of the actual impact decades later.
Both the controversial Civil Rights Act and Voting Suppression Act of 1965 broke through major barriers politically and socially in the United States at the time. Their impact may be presented differently by historians in the different regions of the United States. Various ethnic groups will interpret the outcome of their personal experiences with a different lens. It is very important for students to examine all viewpoints before drawing conclusions. By doing so, they will have a deeper understanding of their topic and it’s major impact and ramifications through history. Time and place help us to observe and be the most objective of historical events. It is the distance and perspective of time that gives secondary resources their most value to researchers. Secondary resources will provide students the cohesiveness to draw conclusions and develop a full picture of their topic.
Sharon Wlodarczyk is a longtime CHD educator who works with students in Region 15.
In middle and high schools all across Connecticut, colder weather and shortened days signal the beginning of the winter-long process of developing a National History Day project.
Time for inquiry, time for research, time for interviews. Time to hunker down and pore over volumes of research, journal articles, and hundreds of Chronicling America newspapers. Sound unappealing? Don’t worry. It doesn’t sound particularly appealing to me either.
History Day is a whole lot more than a dry textbook or memorized dates. It’s an opportunity to discover a gem of a story thinly veiled beneath the surface level history you learn in school. Hundreds of thousands of people and narratives are yours for the finding. It can all seem overwhelming at first, which is why topic selection is so critical. Find something based on your interests, and narrow in until your focus is just broad enough to find an abundance of sources but narrow enough to be fascinating, unique, and manageable. As cliche as it sounds, your topic should make you excited to learn.
But in the throes of research and thesis development, don’t forget what I have found to be the most rewarding part of History Day--making connections. Talking with experts, teachers, librarians and historians will give you new insight and bits of knowledge you never expected. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people to ask any questions you may have. Never hesitate to request an interview with an expert--chances are they’ll be thrilled you care about their area of study! Revise, revise, revise--be open to suggestions and seek feedback on your work. Nothing is perfect the first time. Doing more research often forces you to reevaluate your claim, and that’s part of the process. You owe it to your topic to examine it from all angles.
History has living consequences. The topic you’re researching likely has real, human connections, and finding these people will elevate your project to a level you never anticipated. My project took me from a bookstore in Damariscotta, Maine, to dark library stacks, to a basement vault in the Maine State Library. From archival rooms to an archaeology lab, to the white shell beach of an abandoned island, to a seafood restaurant and a tiny historical society. I met professors, historians, archaeologists, and the descendants of the island people I researched. If you let it, National History Day will bring you on a similar and fascinating journey.
Best of luck, and don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any NHD questions at email@example.com! I’m happy to help in any way I can.
Margo Pedersen is a junior at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, CT. She has participated in NHD four times, competed three times, and attended the national contest three times. Her paper, “Malaga Island: How the State of Maine Devastated a Resilient Island Community in the Name of the Greater Good” won first place at the 2019 National History Day Contest in the Senior Paper division.