I come to Connecticut History Day not as a student, not as an educator, but as a parent. My role has evolved over the last six years as I have gained perspective on how to best support, encourage, and maintain expectation with my daughter Lindsay, who is passionate about history and passionate about History Day.
A bit of background. Lindsay began participating in the performance category of History Day in 6th grade. She was introduced to CHD through the Quest Program as Sedgwick Middle School, under the guidance of her teacher, Jennifer Hunt. As 2019 starts, Lindsay is now in 11th grade and about to participate for the 6th time. That first year, I'll be honest, I had no idea what History Day was about. Lindsay largely conducted her research and wrote her script as school. All I knew was that she needed a few props for her "Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire" performance and the date she was to perform. We arrived in Torrington and I was shocked. Shocked by both the level of talent and the level of competition. Based on her amazing experience that day, Connecticut History Day soon became on integral part of our life.
I have learned that my job as a parent is to provide Lindsay with support in three different areas. The first is access. Access to the tools and resources she needs to create a successful CHD project. That can take different forms. For example, the year Lindsay did a performance on Peggy Shippen Arnold, Benedict Arnold's wife, we spent Columbus Day driving around the Benedict Arnold Trail in Norwich and New London. We visited Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park, the Ebenezer Avery Historic House, Fort Trumbull, and visited the grave site of Col. William Ledyard who was killed during the siege. Providing her access to be in the physical spaces where history took places provides her with the ability to create her own picture and thoughts.
My next job, after her research is largely complete and she has begun to write the script, is to listen and encourage. Listen to her thoughts about the script, how she wants to stage the performance. Ask questions to further narrow down her topic, to get her to clarify exactly what she wishes to convey. This can be challenging. She does not always want to hear my opinion, even when asked. In the end though, it is her decision, it is her project. I am here to be a sounding board.
My last job is to manage expectations. This has been the hardest area for me and I have become better at it as the years have gone on. As a parent, you always want your child to do well, to win the medal, to move on to the next level, but that doesn't always happen. It took Lindsay four years to win at the State Contest in the performance category and move on to Nationals, a goal she set for herself back in the 6th grade. In the first three years, she would get close but not move on. I can tell you there were many tears shed. She had to learn that she can't always win. She had to learn how to be graceful and supportive of those who did win. She had to learn that winning does not define her or her work. Not easy concepts to process even as an adult. She has learned to take the good with the bad and look at CHD as a journey, not individual events.
CHD has provided Lindsay with a world of opportunities and given her the skills and experiences that will help her all throughout her life. I truly feel she has an edge as she moves forward to college. She knows how to research, manage her time, create clear and effective projects, and can confidently present them to others. CHD has given her direction and has further fueled her love of the past and its lessons for the future. As a mom, I couldn't be happier.
Lisel Moynihan is a long time Connecticut History Day parent, supporting her daughter, Lindsay.
Earlier this month, we introduced our Research Resources blog series to help students further their research. Last time, we shared tips on conducting strong online research. This week, we'll be sharing some of the numerous national resources available to students. As always, please feel free to share your resources with us by emailing them to email@example.com.
By this point in the history day process, students should be deeply researching their project. They should be digging deep and becoming experts in their topic. Research can be overwhelming though and for those doing CHD for the first time, it can be scary. There are many easily available resources that we will be sharing right here on the Connecticut History Day Blog. Over the next several posts, we'll be sharing resources for U.S. history, local history, and world history.
Keep in mind that any of these resources could be useful for a variety of types of history, not just American history.
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress (LOC) online offers millions of records for books, manuscripts, letters, maps, images, and so much more. Students can even ask a Librarian for assistance by emailing a question to a LOC subject specialist. The LOC also curates digital collections to help scholars find resources related to a specific topic-- anything from African American perspectives and presidential papers to baseball cards and band music from the Civil War era.
The National Archives offers specific National History Day online research tools to aid students in their research. Resources in the NHD section of the National Archives website are organized by time period (ex. American Revolution, Industrialization, World War I, etc.). Student can find information on further resources and how to cite National Archives documents. Students and educators can also find information to learn how to work with primary sources.
History, Art & Archives at the United States House of Representatives
The US House of Representatives offers students a full Triumph & Tragedy Resource Guide with all sorts of topics and resources pulled form their website. The NHD page is organized by topic and gives students different historical highlights, records to review, and collection objects. In some cases, blogs are included that give further insight into the topic.
The Avalon Project
A part of Yale Law School, the Avalon Project offers a large number of documents related to law, history, and diplomacy. The documents have all been transcribed to make them easier to read. Each document includes a source for each item and then supporting documents expressly refereed to in the text.
Digital Public Library of America
Offering thousands of resources, the Digital Public Library of America includes images, books, news, oral histories, and more for students to access for free and immediate use.
Of course, there are hundreds of other resources available for students to use during their research. Feel free to share your class' favorite places to research with us by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: As of January 25, 2019, some of the resources listed here have a pop-up regarding the Government Shut Down. The resources are all still accessible and available for students to use.
A message from your friends at Connecticut History Day...
Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing research resources for students to use to further their research for History Day. Please feel free to share your resources with us by emailing email@example.com.
Historical research requires discipline, perseverance, and the ability to analyze and evaluate information. Nowhere are these skills more important than when conducting that research online (where significant amounts of fraudulent or misleading information can be found). But the Internet can be an excellent research tool when used appropriately and has brought previously unimaginable degrees of convenience to the research process. So where should students go to find the information they need and how can this information be evaluated to ensure its credibility?
Search engines are usually the first stop in any student’s research, but the manner in which the searches are conducted may not always produce optimal results. Students should be encouraged to use concise wording in their searches, and then based on the results, refine or broaden their searches to increase the likelihood of success. For example, a search targeting “earthquakes” in Connecticut might be made more complete through the inclusion of terms such as “seismic activity” or “natural disasters.” Even changing one or two words in a search can make a big difference in what information is brought to light.
It should also be noted that students need to look beyond the results produced by their favorite search engine. Not only does the Internet provide multiple free search engines (all of which may produce different results), but there are also research databases and reliable websites that may direct students to some of their most rewarding finds. A small sample of these resources include ConnecticutHistory.org (https://connecticuthistory.org/), the National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/), the Connecticut State Library (https://ctstatelibrary.org/), the Connecticut Digital Archive (https://ctdigitalarchive.org/), the Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/), and the Smithsonian Institute (https://www.si.edu/). Additional local resources can be found at museums, historical societies, and at history and heritage organizations across Connecticut.
Libraries can be great centers for digital research. Many libraries are free and open to the public and their digital resources may include online catalogs of their collections, academic journal subscriptions, and numerous specialized research databases. In addition, just because students are conducting their research online doesn’t mean they should remove human interaction from the equation. Librarians are trained to navigate research collections and know how to find information both on- and offline in ways most people don’t. A consultation with a local librarian can be an invaluable step toward discovering information a student probably didn’t know existed.
Evaluating information can be one of the hardest parts of conducting research, especially online, where information (and misinformation) are so readily available. There are numerous questions a student can ask about a resource when evaluating the reliability of its information. These include, but are not limited to:
Lastly, a student should be able to verify a “fact” in multiple resources. It is important to get information from several different sources offering varying perspectives and not just rely on the “loudest” voice on the Internet.
Gregg Mangan is an author, historian, and the managing editor of the ConnecticutHistory.org project at Connecticut Humanities.
When you think of History Day, what comes to mind? Intricate exhibits, engaging performances, compelling documentaries… while the products are what we see publicly in History Day, they represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg. These products, to be effective, must be built on a strong backbone of research.
Research has the reputation of being dull and tedious, the less glamorous precursor to project creation. But just as you cannot build a house without a foundation, you cannot create a project without the context, content knowledge, and perspectives that come from research.
So how can teachers make research both engaging and successful for students? Here are a few tips from my own experience:
Scaffold, Scaffold, Scaffold
Especially if you’re working with beginners (my school’s program starts in Grade 6), the practices of note-taking and annotating a bibliography might be entirely new. I create an electronic note guide for all groups to customize, including spaces for source citations, annotations, and paraphrased notes. This takes away the "how" in the research process so students can focus on the "what".
Teach Time Management and Chunking
Our History Day program lasts from late November until the March contests. I create assignments and deadlines every two weeks to help students manage and pace the workload involved in History Day. This also allows me to provide feedback and revision ideas throughout the process.
Bring Research to Life
This could be as simple as a visit to your school or town library to find print sources. I’ve also found tremendous value in visiting a nearby university with students- we conduct research at the archives and in the library. The students always report feeling so grown-up and accomplished after these outing. You’re never far from a college or university in Connecticut, so take advantage of these troves of academia.
Encourage “Round” Research
I find many students have the tendency to learn eight gazillion details about their topics without proper context. The best projects involve what I call “round” research that is far from tunnel-visioned. If you’re researching an author, what similar authors preceded her? How was she similar to or different from other authors of her time? What was the impact of her work? Who praised and criticized her? It’s important for educators to guide students in researching context and multiple perspectives as sometimes students can see learning context as a pesky detour on the road to amassing knowledge on a single topic.
Research can be difficult and frustrating. “It’s like fishing,” sixth-grader Catherine says. Not all sources are useful. Sometimes, like a fisherman, you find a source and come up empty-handed in terms of relevant information. Research takes time and patience, and the reward of the medals and interviews seems far away. The more you can teach students to acknowledge and persevere through the research stages the better they’ll be. I use this as an opportunity to discuss short versus long term rewards, and this distinction and awareness can be applied well beyond History Day.
Thorough research provides the roots to ground a flowering project in rich soil. My final tip is to model enthusiasm and excitement yourself. If you act like an explorer on a hunt, your students will follow suit.
Jenn McMunn is a Connecticut History Day teacher and former coordinator for the Mansfield Regional Contest.