Why History Day? Reflections by a Montgomery County Teacher
Thank you to Sara Romeyn, Ph.D., who allowed MHC to reprint her most recent blog post. Ms. Romeyn is a teacher at Bullis School in Montgomery County. You can read more of Sara’s posts at her site, Romeynwindow.
This Saturday, I will take 15 high school juniors to University of Maryland, Baltimore County for the state level competition of National History Day. This is the third year Bullis has had students make it to states, and while the novelty has worn off a bit I am as excited and nervous as I was in 2010, when we began participating in NHD.
At the start, I was a little reluctant to integrate NHD into our 11th grade US History curriculum. I especially worried that there wasn’t time in my AP classes for a major research project. My colleague, Lisa, sold me on the potential benefits and we have had a program ever since. With a little bit of creative scheduling (students covered much of Colonial America as part of a summer assignment, and I now make podcasts of lectures that students can view at home), we’ve managed to prepare fully for the AP exam AND engage deeply in research. The students are better for it, and I am a better teacher.
So, what is NHD? Briefly, it is a nationwide competition where students conduct research related to an annual theme, and present their findings in the form of a website, documentary, paper, performance, or exhibit. Visit www.nhd.org for all the details and rules.
Our first year out, we had students craft websites related to the 2010 theme, “Innovation in History.” I was thrilled when two of my students made it to the state competition, Catherine for her website on the Brooklyn Bridge and Kamar for his work on the Brownie Camera. I was ecstatic when Catharine made it to Nationals. I was awestruck when she won a $5,000 prize from the History Channel for best entry on a historic site! And I was hooked. Watch Catherine winning the History Channel Prize on YouTube.
In 2011, the theme was “Diplomacy and Debate,” and Lisa and I began to fine tune the process. Students began by exploring topics and conducting secondary research. They drafted thesis statements and outlines. They dug deep into primary documents. They interviewed professors. And they revised, revised again, and revised some more. We expanded the choice of formats and sent nine students to states in the websites and performance categories. Of those, five continued to Nationals and two won major prizes: Kane was a finalist for his website on the Iran Hostage Crisis and Cami won a college scholarship for her work on the Bay of Pigs Invasion . They were recently recognized by the Maryland State Legislature for their accomplishments.
This year, we pulled out all the stops. The buzz about the program is growing, and students began brainstorming in the fall. Every junior taking US History selected a topic relating to the theme “Revolution, Reaction, and Reform.” We had an awesome Bullis History Night where our students displayed their projects for family, friends, teachers, and other classmates. View our History Night video on YouTube.
We pushed our students intellectually, asking them to dig a little deeper, provide additional evidence, and strengthen their arguments. After selecting the top students to compete at the county level, we have 15 students heading to states…with representation in all categories, including documentaries, exhibits, and a research paper.
I don’t know what the outcome will be on Saturday–hopefully a few students will have the opportunity to continue on. Regardless, the true victory has been in the process. We’ve nurtured scholars who have gained ownership over a historical topic and are proud to share their work. We’ve highlighted academic success and created a culture at our school where top history scholars are honored and celebrated.
Why NHD? Why NOT?