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