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NHD Projects Around the Nation—Share Your Story!

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Click to Enlarge NHD Projects Around the Nation—Share Your Story!

NHD Workshop Experience in Colorado

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Recently I was invited to take part in my local middle school's "National History Day Workshop" as a community expert. The school's 8th grade social studies and language arts teacher hold this every year as a way to kickstart the students' National History Day experience. This was my fifth year participating in this event.

Prior to the workshop, the teachers introduce the students to National History Day, so that by the time the Workshop day occurs, they have an idea of what they need to do, have started to think about their topics, and have even started some basic research. The goal of the Workshop is to narrow down their topics, start thinking about what kind of project they might like to do and how their topic would fit into that, and get some more ideas about how to research their project.

My fellow community experts included several local librarians, a retired teacher who had taken several kids through the NHD process before, a staff member from a local museum, a former school board member, parents, and students who had participated in prior years. Between us, we tried to meet with most of the students (in groups or as individuals). Our goal was to ask them questions to get them thinking about their projects and the work ahead of them. Some of what we asked included:

What's your topic? (This opening question helped us ascertain where they were in their research. If the topic was too wide, we would work with them to narrow it down.)

How does that fit into this year's theme? (When asking "Where is the tragedy, and where is the triumph?" we often found that kids could figure out one, but not the other. We worked with them to avoid describing their tragedies as "racism is bad!" to make them more relevant to the specific project.)

What kind of project do you think you might do? (Asking this helped them narrow their topic down to something that could be accomplished. If they are considering an exhibit, for example, the strict word count could affect how much they can talk about. A website, on the other hand, might require far more visuals than are available for other topics.)

What kind of sources have you been able to find so far? (This also helped us to see how far along they were. If they could respond only with "history.com," we tried to direct them to more sources that were specific to their topic. We also used this as a way to suggest that they visit the local library for books, instead of just relying on websites.)

Have you started thinking about what primary sources you might use? (This question reminds students that primary sources are required, and gets them thinking about different types of sources they could be looking for.)

Using these questions as a framework helped us help the students dig into the work. The students were at various levels. Some would answer the first question with "I want to do something about the Vietnam War, but I don't know what." So we'd follow up with asking what drew them towards that large topic, and seeing if we could help them narrow it down into something more manageable.

Other students, on the other hand, were well under way, with a nice narrow topic. In those cases, we could spend more time focusing on making sure they had good sources (if possible, avoiding something like history.com or biography.com in favor of more specific sources), and could start to guide them towards potential primary sources. We could also spend more time talking about what type of project might best fit their topic, and how to showcase their work in the best way.

During our downtime in between classes, the other community experts and I connected with each other, helping to widen our own networks. We all agreed that while we were there first and foremost to help the kids, we were getting so much out of the workshop as well. While there are always topics that return year after year (Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks are the big ones here!), we are also always surprised by some of the choices. We always learn something new, and we find that it's a great way to get in touch with what's important to the kids. It also introduces them to the idea that there are people out there to help them—that it's okay to reach out to their local librarian, or to request an interview, or to send an email to a museum to ask for help with their topic. For most of these kids, this is their first big research project, and it's a joy to help get them off on the right path!

Robin Tutt is Manager of Editorial Operations at ABC-CLIO, has helped two of her own children through the NHD process, and is a "community expert" on primary documents.

Entry ID: 2186180

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