1. Create/Follow a schedule to assist your students with chunking their research and completion of their project. Our first year, we only had a few students, so it was easier to manage. Now our program has grown to more than 30 students. By creating a weekly schedule, we are more prepared for monitoring our students’ progress, and to limit the stress. Additionally, we are able to design mini-lessons for our meeting days to help with specific skills such as thesis development, annotated bibliographies, how to cite sources, etc.
2. Group projects bring special challenges. During our second year, we had several group projects and within them, lots of drama. Be sure to have a discussion with all group members to make sure everyone is on-board with participation, and then have them complete a group contract breaking down work responsibilities and the schedule, especially when work is completed outside of the school day. Additionally, parents of students in groups need to be aware of the group’s responsibilities. As the advisor, be proactive if you notice conflict brewing. Talk with the students and work through any disagreements before they damage the group’s efforts.
3. The teacher and student guides are WONDERFUL! Not only are there great ideas for helping students select a topic, but many lessons and tips to complete the entire research project. Our first year, we were “ignorance on fire,” trying to invent things along the way.
4. Take advantage of the workshops offered by the CT History Day staff. We did this our second year, and the students really appreciated the additional information on how to create an awesome project. This also applies to any teacher workshops. We learn something new every time we attend one. We have been able to connect with other teachers, and are learning so much from their experiences.
5. The registration process was much more detailed than I expected. The first year we didn’t know how much information was required to register ourselves and our students. We were late to the game on this, and ended up with one student who didn’t meet the deadline. Since then, we made a paper version of the registration form to make sure we had all the information from both students and parents ahead of time.
6. Encourage your students to reach out to find local resources for their topic, even if they think there is not an obvious connection. Our state has a rich history that spans nearly five centuries. Local libraries and historical societies are treasure troves for primary and secondary resources. Students can often find experts or eyewitnesses who can provide insight, even if the topic isn’t actually a local one. We have several universities in our state; these offer unique perspectives on topics.
7. Learn the basics of Weebly. Between registering students for websites and assisting with technical questions, the first couple of years were a struggle. It would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with Weebly. Their tech support is wonderful, but it’s so much easier if you can address students’ questions or hiccups as they arise. NHD now offers a webinar on YouTube for teachers and students.
8. Get friendly with YouTube! The NHD Channel has so many resources to help you and your students have a successful History Day season. Additionally, the other states’ History Day organizations have wonderful resources. Encourage your students to use YouTube to find samples of projects and to watch some of the training videos.
9. Regional Contest Day has a lot of down time. We didn’t realize how much waiting was involved, and how little there was to do at our regional contest site. We now recommend to our students to bring a book and food, especially if their parents cannot stay with them (We don’t encourage this; however, sometimes scheduling conflicts happen). We also explain this thoroughly to the parents, so they understand that the day has a lot of wait-time built in. If they have other obligations, we explain that it’s acceptable to leave and come back later in the afternoon for the awards ceremony.
10. Prepare students for their interview. Middle schoolers are still shy around strangers, and added with nerves, the interview can be very stressful. Not only do we now provide our students with sample questions for the interview, but we also do practice interviews in the days just prior to contest.
Cyndee McManaman & Regina Lee, Vernon CT