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.
As the co-advisor in Vernon schools, I have found the need to have a variety of tools at the ready to facilitate students’ topic shopping and turn this daunting step into a perfect time for your students to show them how broad their knowledge base really is.
Always start with an introduction to the annual theme. Before introducing the theme to your students, familiarize yourself with the tools offered by National History Day and Connecticut History Day. The theme book is key for educators to understand the nuances of the theme, and both entities offer webinars and other theme-related educator materials, many of which are classroom ready.
Sometimes students need broad topic categories to help them grasp the idea that everything has a history. You can pre-select topics (ie: science, inventions, entertainment, transportation, civil rights, etc.) or have students suggest them. Then break students into groups, assign each group a specific number of topics, and have them write related topics on chart paper. After 3-4 minutes them display their lists, and students travel the room to shop for topics. For instance, I have a broad category of FOOD; this leads to chefs, cooking methods, cereal, French, etc. I encourage the students to dig deeper for even more detailed ideas for each of these subtopics. If you need a more independent version of this activity, you can have students use my Topic Word Web, which has broad and more focused topics, still allowing students to be even more specific with their ideas. This activity has been helpful for our after school program in which we have students engaged at a variety of skill and starting points.
By this point in the brainstorming, we encourage the students to complete a skim search on the Internet for a few of their choices. Some are ready to run with one or two ideas, while others may still need additional exploratory time. For these students, direct them to the CHD list of local topics or other general searches using the theme words in their search. The CHD Student Handbook has a terrific form for the students use to organize these early searches, and providing them with a handful of useful sources once they’ve made a final topic selection.
Regardless of the format for your school’s History Day program, these activities will be effective!
Cyndee McManaman is the Mansfield/Storrs Regional Coordinator and a former middle school social studies teacher.
This year’s NHD theme not only provides opportunities for students to search for inspirational stories, but to also share and to ponder their impact. It also provides teachers and students with a golden opportunity for metacognitive growth. For, if truth be told, one of the greatest barriers to creating a successful project is the difficulty encountered when trying to select an appropriate topic.
Here is a sample of just some of the barriers in topic selection that I, and the students with whom I work with, tend to run into.
American conservatives generally believe in preserving the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. In the 1960’s the Black Panther Party also championed those rights. What is the real issue in the gun control debate? Why is it so hard to come to an agreement on what should be done?
Global warming is a major issue to be sure but the melting of the polar ice cap may be hard to relate to. However, what about the effect of global warming on the frequency of storms in our area? Can we prepare for them? Are we going to have to sacrifice some things in order to keep ourselves safe?
The very issue of a barrier is one that connotes an unsettling feeling in most people. Why is that? Are all barriers bad? Why are barriers created in the first place? Can breaking a barrier be a bad thing? How did we get the feeling we have about barriers? Can two people view the same barrier differently?
As that great philosopher, and pretty good baseball player, Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” If you really watch something closely, you are bound to have questions about what you are seeing. Those questions are what will lead the students to topics of interest. Topics of interest will translate into an eagerness to learn and that eagerness will go a long way to helping the students persist when they encounter obstacles along the way. I believe that it is important to ask the right questions.
Regardless of the annual theme, the NHD process is all about breaking barriers; those that are imposed on us or those that we impose on ourselves. When it comes to topic selection, taking the time to recognize these barriers and to examine how we typically deal with them can make all the difference.
Tony Andrade is the Fairfield Regional Coordinator and a former middle school social studies teacher.
The answer to that may not be so simple. After working as Instructional Facilitator for grades 4-8 in social studies, I struggled with my teachers to follow the lesson I learned after attending Nationals in 2018 – that a National History Day project is truly just a five paragraph persuasive essay.
While teaching eighth grade social studies last spring, I found the students had a very difficult time grasping the Civil War and staying engaged with the lessons. How could they not be interested? To get them interested, I decided to bring in NHD. However, the students were not as excited about this idea has I had hoped they would be. I took some time to find out how such successful participants that had done NHD for the past three years really dreaded doing it again, and the answer was surprising.
First, the students lacked the knowledge of context and current events. My philosophy is we learn about the past to understand our present to make informed decisions about our future. We started watching CNN Student 10 news at the start of every class to provide them with information about what is going on in the world. We had intelligent debates about what was happening in their own world to hook them into wanting them to learn about the past.
Next, I tackled how to help them develop research skills. I found they did not know how to read non-fiction text in order to analyze it. I taught close reading strategies for main ideas. I taught lessons on citing text. The key was that all these lessons applied to their own topic. They were motivated to learn. Inquiry-based learning is an awesome tool for any teacher.
Once they understood how to read a text to analyze, we tackled notes. While notes may work for some, I learned a valuable lesson: LET THEM READ! No notes. After they completed the chapter or Internet article, have students write what they learned in their own words in at least five sentences and I have students find a quoted to back up what they learned. Finally, they draw conclusions, make connections, and tie back to the essential question in no less than five sentences. We repeated this process for two more sources. After a few sources, I asked them to copy and paste the above steps in order and they realized the structure of the body paragraphs were complete in less than thirty seconds. They were blown away. They were also able to analyze if their arguments were important and distinct and different. Many opted to rewrite at least one of the paragraphs. I then taught how to write a thesis and a conclusion. The miracle was this whole process was less than three weeks! They enjoyed it. They thanked me. It was incredible.
So, my new mission is to make every month for every grade an Inquiry-Based Learning product connected to each teacher’s curriculum. These are at first simply a five-paragraph argument. As we move toward fall, we will introduce the five different ways they can express their argument, teaching image analysis, interviews, etc. For each unit, we are scaffolding. For younger students, the teacher is finding the materials. All teachers agreed to set aside time every day to connect to the present and they saw an immediate change in attitude with their students. Now the students look forward to social studies and they can’t wait for NHD.
Tina Bernard is the Grades 4-8 Social Studies Instructional Facilitator with Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School in East Haddam and works with Connecticut History Day students throughout the school.
This week, many Connecticut teachers and students will be returning to the classroom. We are looking forward to another exciting year working with you!
This year, National History Day (NHD) is introducing a brand new theme, Breaking Barriers in History. The NHD annual theme serves as a lens for students to explore the past and focus their research and analysis. You can download this year’s theme book HERE. The theme narrative is on Pages 5-6. That document is an important one to share with students. Connecticut History Day staff and volunteers are also glad to come and do a Theme Workshop in your classroom at no charge.
Instead of rewriting the theme narrative, I’d like to offer some suggestions and ideas for exploring this year’s Annual Theme.
Students often choose topics that they are familiar with and that feel “safe" because they have been covered in the classroom. Encourage students to consider local topics. Each year, CHD staff gathers ideas from museum and history colleagues that results in 30+ page list of Connecticut topics related to the Annual Theme. For every national trend, a local example can be found. We post that list HERE. Connecticuthistory.org is a great place to search for potential topics.
If students want to explore a well-known topic, encourage them to think creatively. I am sure this year we will see a lot of Jackie Robinson projects about how he broke the color barrier in baseball. What about Jackie Robinson’s involvement in the establishment of Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution located in Harlem? Did Jackie Robinson break any barriers by refusing to move to the back of an Army bus? Did baseball executive Branch Rickey has any role in breaking the color barrier in baseball? Instead of studying Jackie Robinson, what about discovering the person who broke the color barrier in basketball or hockey?
This year’s theme of Breaking Barriers in History is an exciting one. We can’t wait to see what topics your students will be exploring!
The trip to the National Contest is always a wonderful celebration of the achievements of Connecticut's students. It's a delight to get to know students, teachers, and parents. This year's 68-member delegation was pretty amazing and the 2019 National Contest was one of the most memorable contests ever!
Never in our history have so many Connecticut students received national awards. It really was unbelievable, especially when you consider that approximately 4,000 Connecticut students participate and that there are states with 30,000 or more participants.
Connecticut dominated the Senior Paper category. Margo Pedersen from Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven won First Place for her paper Malaga Island: How the State of Maine Devistated a Resilient Island Community in the Name of the Greater Good. Ishan Prasad from Staples High School in Westport won Second Place for his paper Shah Bano and India's Postcolonial Predicament: Gender vs. Religion.
Mia Porcello from Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford won First Place in the Senior Individual Exhibit division for her project Out of the Closet and into the Medicine Cabinet: ACT UP New York's Healthcare Triumphs. This is the third time Mia has won first place at the National Contest.
Two Connecticut students won Special Prizes. Marlena Pegolo from Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford won Outstanding Entry in World War I History for her performance, The Tragic and Triumphant "Tail" of Stubby, the Military Dog. Josh Picoult from Simsbury High Schoolin Simsbury won the U.S. Constitution Award for his project Where Do We Draw the Line? How the Triumph of District-Based Representative Government Devolved into a Tragic Distortion of American Democratic Ideals.
Lindsay Moynihan from Conard High School in West Hartford won a four year scholarship to the University of Maryland for her project Turning a Tragedy into a Triumph" Dolley Madison, the War of 1818, and the Creation of a National Identity. Lindsay has been a CHD participant for six years.
Two Connecticut students recieved the Outstanding Connecticut Entry Prizes. Eileen Peng from Irving A. Robbins Middle School in Farmington won a Junior Division prize for her paper The Treason of Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Triumph and Tragedy. Katelyn Meyers from Nonnewaug High School, Region 14 won a Senior Division prize for her exhibit, The Nuremberg Doctors Trials.
Two other Connecticut teams were finalists. Iniya Raja from Timothy Edwards Middle School in South Windsor finished in 6th place for her Junior Individual Performance, The Eugenic Roles: Dead Souls and Birth Control. Emma Losonczy, Lucia Wang, Mallika Subramanian, Rhea Choudhury, and Sharmila Green from Bedford Middle School in Westport finished in 8th place for their Junior Group Exhibit, Lise Meitner: A Woman's Determination and Scientific Triumph Through Personal Societal Tragedy.
The National Contest was much more than just winning awards. Morgan Geisinger from Vernon Center Middle School was one of 57 students to share her exhibit, Triumph Over Tragedy: Newsies Stop the World, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on Wednesday, June 12. That same day, a group of five students, McKenna Semeraro, Walter Vallecillo, Luis Nunez, Marlon Vallecilla, and Saoirse Noyes from CREC Montessori Magnet School in Hartford presented their documentary on the Little Rock 9, entitled Paying a Price for Education, to Congressman John Lewis. Congressman Lewis insisted his whole office come to watch the students' work and commented that "we learn from young people." In researching their topic, the students interview the sister of one of the Little Rock 9 students. Luis Nunez commented that "we poured passion into our presentation."
Connecticut students had a chance to come together during the week as well. Many students attended the Welcome Ceremony on Sunday, June 8. While rain forced us inside, it was still an honor to listen to Civil Rights Activist Judy Richardson as she spoke about her experience with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s. On Monday, June 9, we celebrated the end of the first round of judging for the junior division and welcomed many senior division students with an ice cream social. The University of Maryland's Dairy Store is a firm favorite of NHD participants! On Wednesday, June 12, many members of CT's delegation joined Liz Porter, the Norwich Regional Coordinator, and I for a trip to Washington D.C. The group toured the U.S. Capitol, visited the U.S. Supreme Court, and met with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. One of the Senator's staff, Natalie, is an NHD alumni and she spoke to our group about her experiences. The National Contest culminated in the Awards Ceremony, held in the Xfinity Center at UMD.
It was another exciting National Contest! As always, I am struck by the breadth of topics students explored. All of us at Connecticut History Day are proud of all of the students who participated this past year.
- Rebecca Taber-Conover
State Coordinator for Connecticut History Day
I've participated in National History Day for two years now. In 8th grade, my social studies teacher encouraged us to create a project for NHD. I decided to give it a try. A couple of my friends and I chose to create an exhibit together. The teacher helped us choose a topic and gave us some tips on where to start our research. We finally decided that our topic would be the Cuban Missile Crisis. We did extensive research on this event and I really learned a lot, not only about the topic but about the techniques that are used to interpret history and create an argument. Processes like this really helped me in my first year of high school, as well as creating my second project: an individual paper. I was lucky enough to have been selected to compete at the national competition for both years and have many great experiences.
One of the first experiences I had was at the opening ceremony. At the 2019 ceremony, we were fortunate to hear a civil rights activist speak. The activist talked about her life in the South and her involvement in Freedom Summer. It was really interesting to hear a personal account of the events that occurred, as well as her unique perspective on the Civil Rights Movement. Overall, National History Day has provided me, as well as many other students, a unique opportunity to meet important figures and to listen to their ideas.
Another fun experience that had at National History Day was the pin exchange. Milling around, in search of pins from other states gives you the chance to talk to participants from all over the country. It also teaches one the great art of bargaining! This year I came home with over 40 pins from other states!
The interviews with judges are also, believe it or not, quite enjoyable. Over the last couple of years, I have interviewed with judges at the regional, state, and national competitions. The judges are really friendly and they are truly interested in our projects. I liked both the seminar format for papers as well as the one-on-one interviews for exhibits (and papers at Nationals).
The capstone experience is, of course, the awards ceremony. The "Parade of States" is exhilarating. We met early in the morning, armed with our Connecticut banners and flags and joined all of the other states (and international teams to boot!) as we marches around the stadium. Seeing all of those different states and participants in one place really made me realize how fortunate I was to be there. It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. This year, at Nationals, my paper won second prize, another Connecticut paper won first prize, and several other Connecticut projects received prizes as well. This rare occurrence in the paper category proved how stiff the competition was this year in Connecticut but also shows how devoted and amazing our teachers are to helping us and helping understand the feedback from CHD staff and judges. Their time, effort, and ideas inspired us!