|Tricia is our PBS Teacher of the Year 2010. Below is a teaching tip and a testimonial about why NHD is important to teachers and to students.
To think like historians, students must be able to analyze primary sources. However, accurate interpretation of primary sources requires sufficient background knowledge, so I often prefer to begin units with secondary source readings or mini-lectures. Some of my units, on the other hand, begin with an investigation or comparison of primary sources. Such is the case with my slavery unit. Working in groups, students are given transcripts of two Federal Writers’ Project interviews, and asked to analyze these interviews by responding to a series of prompts. The interviews are very different. The subject in one describes her positive memories of life as a slave, while the subject in the other interview recounts her bitter memories. The subjects’ dialect and use of language are different. However, there are ambiguities, and as we probe these ambiguities through small group and whole group discussion, students start to realize that the subjects are actually the same person—what changes is the interviewer. Not only can interviewers inject their own bias into their record, but they can influence the subject by the kinds of questions they ask, their social status, and the expectations of the subject. I love to see the expression on my students’ faces as this realization dawns on them. Not only are they making connections to actual enslaved people, they are also introduced to the concept of bias, a critical but often difficult concept for 8th graders.
History Day is a key vehicle through which students demonstrate their historical thinking. Because of our many years of success, it has become a vital part of our school culture, and most students look forward to creating their History Day projects. All 7th and 8th grade teachers work together to help our students succeed at NHD. We also work closely with our building librarian, who dedicates a portion of each year’s budget towards the purchase of books that fit the upcoming theme, and works with us to teach research skills. Over 400 students show up on History Day parent night to showcase their projects, which is a media event in our community. In addition to learning to apply their historical inquiry skills, students must also learn to manage their time. This can be difficult for my very bright students, who are often facing the first truly challenging project of their school career, as well as my disadvantaged students, who often lack family support. I hold a parent meeting and send out a calendar of due dates, which helps student pace their research, and lets parents and guardians know what is coming up. Students who do not want to compete in “varsity” NHD have the option to complete what I call a “classroom project” instead. These students may choose topics such as Jackie Robinson or Harriet Tubman, which almost always fit the theme, and for which I have compiled a small library of sources at all reading levels.
I love History Day because it challenges students to create projects that are beyond anything they could have imagined themselves doing. While most students enjoy HD, for some students it is a life-altering experience. I remember one student whose parents had not graduated from high school, but were involved in NASCAR racing. He did his project on seat-belts, and got first place at our regional competition. In those days, our state competition was a two-day event, and students stayed in dorms. This was this young man’s first exposure to college, and he was so excited to be living at a college dormitory and eating dorm food! He went from a D student to a B+ student that year!
National History Day makes a difference for teachers and students.
|National History Day is the Gift that Keeps on Giving! |
By Gail Ingram
Gail Ingram is a world history teacher from Cheraw High School in South Carolina. She is the Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year 2010, Senior Division.
NHD is indeed "the gift that keeps on giving." The life of a student's NHD project can often be extended beyond the state and national contests. Over the my twelve years as a NHD teacher year, I have assisted and seen my students' research and work reach a greater audience outside the NHD "community".
Matt Butler's individual dramatic performance of a young man from a nearby town who did not return home from the Bataan Death March (his McColl High School class ring was found in the Philippines) led to an invitation to be a guest presenter at a Bataan- Corregidor survivors' reunion. He still stays in touch with some ofthe survivors.
Crystal Esaw presented her individual dramatic performance on the Holmesburg Prison experiments at an annual gathering of former inmates in Philadelphia. Three of the former inmates were present at the national contest and watched as she won the award for Best Senior State Entry.
Mark Ingram's historical paper about the March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo led him to interview his Japanese grandmother who survived with one sister, but lost her mother and two other sisters in one of the worst civic fires in history. His grandmother was reluctant to discuss this painful chapter in her past, but she agreed to be interviewed by her grandson. His paper became a valuable family document. He ended up spending a year in Japan as a JET teacher and becoming fluent in Japanese. He and his grandmother visited the temple that holds the ashes of her mother, two sister, and thousands of others.
In September, a collection of paintings and ceramics, created by Katheren Grishas Clark, was on display at the Burr Gallery in the Cheraw Community Center. Mrs. Clark was the subject of a 2009 NHD group exhibit created by Mrs. Clark's great-grandson, Garrett Pickrel, and his two partners, Joel and Zach Keefe. I proposed the idea of an art exhibit to the students and to one of Mrs. Clark's granddaughters, Garrett's mother. Mrs. Clark, a well-known South Carolina portrait painter and ceramics artist, was a World War II refugee from Latvia who survived the siege and fall of Berlin in 1945. Her portrait of Governor James F. Byrnes now hangs in the South Carolina State House in Columbia. The students' research, using an extensive number of primary and secondary sources, included interviews with Mrs.Clark's granddaughters and friends of the artist. They also used family scrapbooks, containing artworks, personal documents, and photographs, to help bring to life the legacy ofthis talented woman who lived an extraordinary life.
My students and I must work on a "shoestring budget" in an academically and economically challenged town and state. Just raising the money to participate in the national contest has been a Herculean task. However, I believe NHD is worth all of the time and effort. Thanks to my students' participation in NHD, they can hold their heads up high in our school, district, state, and nation. Their research skills will follow them wherever they go. What a lasting gift!