Throughout the years of Connecticut History Day, we have encountered many extraordinary students who have learned valuable lessons throughout the creation of their projects. Here are what two of our students, who created a project together, have learned from participating in Connecticut History Day:
I learned many lessons from working on my group performance for National History Day that stayed with me. I learned how to work effectively in a group setting; how to prepare for a public presentation; how to write an engaging piece of written work that incorporates several people’s input. This experience also improved my public speaking skills, something that I use in my work today. I learned a lot about stage presence, as well as how to deliver an engaging monologue. I appreciated both my group members’ advice and our teacher’s invaluable feedback after watching us prepare and rehearse multiple times. Rehearsals allowed our group to become really passionate about presenting our topic while having fun, too.
Looking back, I see that it was a really helpful experience due to the fact that I later became heavily involved in collegiate student groups and clubs where public speaking and presenting was an integral part of daily live. Not to mention the countless hours spent working in group to develop campus events about diversity and social justice.
Brianna Dau was a 2011 National History Day participant. She graduated from Hartford’ Classical Magnet School in 2012. Brianna attended Stonehill College where she studied Psychology and Communications and was heavily involved in student activities and Stonehill’s Intercultural Affairs Office. She graduated from Stonehill in 2016. Brianna currently works for a non-profit in Los Angeles, helping low income and homeless individuals find jobs.
While I had to reference what the 2011 History Day theme was, Debate and Diplomacy in History, I still vividly remember the dialogue from the performance we wrote; a ton of information about early radio censorship; and most importantly how to conduct historical research. The latter is a skill that helped me for the rest of high school and saved my life in college on many a research project. It also spurred a lifelong interest in censorship and law.
When my 11th grade teacher let us find something that we were interested in and then worked with us to shape this vague topic into something that fit the theme (i.e. we wanted to study the 1920s and she helped us to reach the debate of radio censorship), she gave us ownership of our project. This was the first time in my academic career that I felt I had a hand in my own education.
As a person who was a not-so-good student in high school, I loved working on this project enough that I urged my group to take our project to regionals, then states, and then luckily nationals. While we didn’t even come close to winning anything on the national level, History Day was one of the best academic experiences that I’ve ever had.
Alexa Esposito was a 2011 National History Day participant. She graduated from Hartford’s Classical Magnet School in 2012. Alexa studied Classics and English at Hofstra University, graduating in 2016. While at Hofstra she was a member of the History Club on campus. She works in the Children’s Department of a public library in Southern Connecticut.
With the onset of the cold weather, the ending of fall sports, and the beginning of the second quarter, many students are diving into their NHD projects for 2018. Students have been thinking of topics that they can relate to the theme, but it is time to get serious and begin the most important part of a National History Day project, the research! Students have one of my favorite themes to work with this year, Conflict and Compromise in History. Almost every topic in history has been met with some sort of conflict that resulted in a compromise at some point. It is a theme students can clearly understand and relate to. We live in a world surrounded by conflict. The evening news is filled with reports of conflicts and compromises being discussed on the local, state, national and global stages. Most current day concerns have a long-standing history students may be interested in researching, such as tax codes and health care. What implemented the first tax codes? When did states adopt personal property taxes? Who started the first healthcare company? Implemented policies? For whose benefit? When did it become a government issue? Which war brought the healthcare issue to the forefront? Which war began the first healthcare program for veterans? All of these questions relate to current issues, but with interesting histories to investigate.
It is very important to keep students organized from the beginning of the research process. I highly recommend using the NoodleTools program for this purpose. Students can write a working thesis statement, type research questions, organize note cards, keep an interactive outline, and add to an ongoing bibliography all in one spot. Groups can collaborate and share their work with each other and their teacher’s drop box. The best part is no lost documents!
As students select their topics, teachers should encourage them to pick a topic that they are personally interested in. Students who select a topic that has a connection to a family or local history, generally develop into very strong projects. Students should make a list of all of their individual interests and explore possible topic ideas. Their preliminary research should include trying to locate available primary and secondary resources. Are there more resources available for one topic over another? As the holidays are approaching, I encourage students to talk to family members. Ask questions and find out their own family history. Do they have a relative who might be a potential expert on a topic they can possibly interview?
My best advice to you is to have fun, explore the new topics your students uncover along with them. You will find it to be rewarding and inspiring. You never know whom you will meet. NHD not only helps students to grow, but teachers as well! The more engaged you become in the process, the more your students will gain from the experience! Check out the special programs offered just for educators, there's something for everyone. It is not too late to apply for the some wonderful programs! Applications are being accepted for the Albert H. Small Normandy Institute: Sacrifice for Freedom 2018. I promise it will be a life changing experience for you!
Connecticut History Day Teacher
Many of you who are already in the program realize that History Day is one way to do all of the above. To do a good History Day project, a student (or a group of students) must work in all four dimensions of the C3 framework. They must develop a good question about the subject they are studying (Dimension 1), come up with a plan to analyze the subject and choose necessary resources (Dimension 2), carefully and critical analyze documents and they come up with an answer to their question (Dimension 3) and “report out” on their findings (Dimension 4). Some teachers claim that the inquiry process as outlined in the C3 frameworks is more about skills that content: I disagree. To conduct an inquiry project students need to utilize critical literacy and social studies skills throughout the process. However, I would argue that the content that students acquire through inquiry is rich and meaningful. If you are just starting out with History Day, use the C3 frameworks as a guide: they will be very helpful.
Having students research topics related to Connecticut and your own town is a great way to introduce students to the study of these topics. If you don’t know much about Connecticut history there are many people that do. Oftentimes, your school’s media person/librarian can be a great resource to help find materials on locally-related topics. In addition, you should, without a doubt, contact your town’s historical society. Many individuals that work there are incredibly knowledgeable, and oftentimes historical societies can point you to the exact resources you are looking for. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people working at historical societies: they ABSOLUTELY want you to.
From my perspective, the value of History Day is enormous. You will see projects that you cannot believe were created by middle school or high school students. More importantly, through History Day you can see students who were never “fans” of the study of history become engaged and energized because they are researching a topic that they can relate to. If you are not yet involved in History Day, start now! You will absolutely benefit your students by doing so.
Social Studies Consultant, Connecticut Department of Education
Ah, the struggle.
Igniting the “history fire” of passion in a student, or drowning in the feeling of selecting History Day topics.
A barrier in getting students (or anyone, for that matter) interested in history is that most topics seem irrelevant. For example, from a young student’s perspective, most history is outside of their normal world: “it’s old,” or “it has absolutely nothing to do with my life today.”
Let’s break down that barrier: in every city, town, neighborhood, and village of Connecticut, there are histories (and their mysteries) just waiting to be found, researched, and solved. Every student (and person) living in this state has a direct connection to our shared history – we are a part it; everyday, we create more history simply by living. It’s relevant when we’re living it, and for a student, that opens an avenue for discovery.
Now, at the Connecticut League of History Organizations, we connect history professionals and heritage organizations. Our organization’s mission is to build connections among those who preserve and share the stories and objects of our past. Our statewide partners like Connecticut Explored and ConnecticutHistory.org help share resources that tell local stories from your local historical society and libraries. When it comes to the places – and the minds – who hold the resources, documents, artifacts, and knowledge, CLHO can help connect your student (or you!) with our community members, who might open the door to help you discover your backyard history.
- Laurie Pasteryak Lamarre, Executive Director of the Connecticut League of History Organizations