"I keep six honest serving men. (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who." - Rudyard Kipling
Recently I attended a workshop presented by National Geographic, at the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies conference. The speaker was explaining their Geo-Inquiry Process, which has a scientific connection. As I sat there and listened and viewed the materials distributed, I immediately thought of the connection to History Day! This questioning model is transferable to the NHD research process as well. The National Geographic program asks students to follow a five-step process which includes:
- Ask - Developing a Geo-Inquiry Question
- Collect - Acquiring geographic information
- Visualize - organizing and analyzing geographic information
- Create - developing Geo-Inquiry stories
- Act - sharing Geo- Inquiry stories
Our students are basically following the same steps, only using a historical lens to conduct their research. The NHD model looks like this:
- Ask - Develop strong research questions.
- Collect - Sift through primary and secondary resources online, at historical archives and libraries to collect materials to help develop and defend a thesis statement.
- Visualize - organize and analyze the information on index cards, cite sources in an annotated bibliography.
- Create - defend the thesis statement and share their information in a selected format, either as a paper, exhibit, documentary, website, or performance.
- Act - compete at a regional competition and share their research project and what was discovered with the public.
In each program, the first step requires students to write a strong research question. A strong research question asks students to think about their topic in a historical context.
- How is their topic related to its time period in history?
- What is happening socially, economically and politically that will make an impact and result in specific events?
- What are the short term and long term impacts?
- The question should not have a simple response or have a yes or no answer.
- A strong research question will require searching on more than one source.
- A strong research question most likely will have an answer that comes from different perspectives. Possibly different countries. Students researching a topic set in World War II should be exploring all of the countries/parties involved. What was their goal? What was the desired outcome and purpose of each’s strategy? Who challenged the party to view a different procedure or mission?
- Good research questions will answer who the main participants are and what their roles were in an event.
- Why do events take place in the location they do? Why were a specific date, time and location selected to carry out a mission?
For example, a student who may be researching the D-Day invasion of Normandy will discover that the date, time, and location for the surprise attack were all very well planned, with a definite purpose to each mission. There was not one plan, but several, with multiple backup plans that considered all problems that could arise during the collective missions. Each country and participant had a specific role in the main mission. What was the role of each? How was it decided who would carry out a specific mission? Most likely, students will discover multiple answers to the same question, before moving onto the next step of their research process, which is; analyze the materials they found and draw conclusions.
To assist my students with writing research questions, I created a worksheet based on the Geo-Inquiry Process, developed by National Geographic. The worksheet is set up to test the student’s initial research question. If they can successfully answer the question in the box correctly, then they move on to the next box. If they do not have a correct answer, they are directed to return to their original question and rewrite it to make it stronger. Students continue to proceed down the list of eight questions until they reach the last box, which will direct the student to begin their research. I am attaching the worksheet I created to this blog for teachers and students to use when writing their own research questions.
Please remind students that the research process is constantly demanding historians to ask more questions. Most of the time, one question will lead to others. That is what makes researching a puzzle. Students are young detectives of history, who uncover multiple answers, and very often they will find, answers only lead to more questions!