Maryland History Day: Through the Lens of a Teacher (doing this for the first time!)

September 16, 2015
by Shana Bainbridge, 6th grade English Language Arts teacher at Cross Country Elementary Middle School, Baltimore City

At first my thoughts on History Day were twisting and completely overwhelming.  How was I to do History Day and stay on track with my curriculum?  In the end, the answer was simple . . . I wasn’t.  I did not keep up with the demands of the curriculum laid out by the district; what happened instead was a more authentic form of teaching and education. The key to overall success and enjoyment is to spend the time finding the right topics with your students.  The topics must be something they have interest in or else History Day could become painful for everyone!  Read, research, learn, and most importantly have fun (and read the rule book).

As a teacher, the thing I enjoy  most about History Day is that  it is for all students.  Each  student has the ability to  choose a topic related to the  theme, conduct research, and  create a final product. This  allows all students to go  through the critical process of  research and discovery.  This  past year a group of my  students were very successful  in the competition; four 6th   graders were awarded first place in both the Baltimore City district competition and the Maryland state competition for their documentary “Frances Perkins: The Mother of Social Security.”  Of course I do not know the formula for success (admittedly I was a bit surprised both times their names were called).  However, I believe these are the things our award-winning students did well:

Great topic: They chose a subject matter that some/ most people were not aware of, and that taught students and judges something new.

It was authentic: This project was completely student created, meaning it wasn’t perfect.  It had a great voice and a driving enthusiasm that came straight from the kids.

Strong interview:  These specific students are very well spoken and practiced interviewing with several adults in their lives (both parents and teachers).

Work as a team: This group did a great job of dividing the work load and working to one another’s strengths.

Focused Thesis: Once they established their thesis they stayed on topic, relating everything back to what they were trying to prove.

Told a story: Perhaps it was the Language Arts teacher in me, but I stressed telling a story to my students.  I asked them to entertain me with their topic and these students delivered (as it is hard to watch their documentary and not love a woman named Frances Perkins).

Primary Sources:  I explained to my students that it wasn’t enough to use primary sources in their research; the viewer or judge of their final product needed to see the primary sources.  This group did an exceptional job of implementing primary sources into the story they told.

When reflecting on my first year participating in Maryland and National History Day, I think it’s best to discuss what my plans are for year two.  I have developed a 17-week schedule for both teachers and students.  This schedule is complete with hyperlinked activities and checkpoints for students to follow.  This will assist me with the implementation of History Day, and I already know what I will be using for grading.  I plan to have the in-school competition before the holiday break, allowing more time for the students going to the district competition to make modifications.

In support of the 2016 History Day theme:  I look forward to the Exploration of new topics with my students, and although we may Encounter struggles or difficulties, the Exchange of ideas will always be enjoyable!

If you are a new (or new-ish) teacher to History Day, sign up for the National History Day Google + Hangout for new (and newer) History Day teachers, Tuesday, September 22, 7:00 PM.