For the past two weeks my students have been knee-deep in their work for National History Day projects, and since this is a new experience not only for them but for our entire high school, there is an air of mystery for what to expect. Anytime you ask your students to be "the first" to do something, there are feelings of uncertainty which ripple throughout the school building. It requires careful planning from staff in order to keep everyone on the same page, but it also allows some flexibility and creativeness in lesson planning. NHD is the only event I know of where students can choose their own topic, work as a team or alone as one, select one of four formats, and aspire to enter regional, state and national competition. There is but one simple requirement for which we insist on, and this mandate is that they complete a project dealing with a turning point in history.
For the most part this has been an enjoyable experience, watching students tap into their personal interests and then delving into quality research. Early on in the process we quickly identified why Google was NOT the best place to begin when looking for reliable research and valid information. So many students weren't aware of the demise of the endangered tree octopus until I demonstrated a search with Google as model was how to proceed. After all, the website has pictures and videos from people all over the world, in addition to ways which people can donate money to this viable cause. It's almost too hard to believe....until you suddenly realize that its all been a huge hoax.
This point was taken and clearly understood by most of my students until they became bored with "scholarly research" which we required through Badgerlink, a scholarly search engine. It was easy for them to sneak back to Google and type questions for which there are so many easy responses- at least they thought it was until we mandated the use of Badgerlink for their initial research. There were groans and moans from those who often like to stray from such directions, but by now they know we are serious about this project. I know that with three weeks remaining until the project due date there will be additional hurdles to jump. This week my classes will be working on thesis statements and bibliographies, and for a good segment of them this will be like going to the dentist after years of neglect. I am readying myself for the tsunami of whines, but in time I'm confident that everything will come together nicely.
Yesterday we took those students who were truly interested in world-class research to join us for a trip to the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison. Few people are aware that WHS is the world's 2nd largest library for North American history, outranked only by the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The WHS staff did an outstanding job working with the kids, identifying books and articles which will they can use in their work. My highlight in the day came at 2:00 PM when none of the kids wanted to leave the library, choosing instead to sit at large tables with research papers surrounding their note cards. Once these young people were focused and engaged in their work, it gave new meaning to the word "learning." It was an incredible sight to witness!