“Can I email the Harvard Library to find out if this collection is digitized?” “How do I cite a patent in my annotated bibliography?” “This author wants to Facetime us for an interview!”
If it sounds like you’ve wandered into a high school research class, you might be surprised to see what Hendersonville Middle School 7th- and 8th-graders have been learning as part of their National History Day projects.
National History Day is an innovative project-based learning framework in which students select topics of interest for a year-long historical research project related to a theme. The 2017 theme, “Taking a Stand in History,” could be interpreted broadly and applied to any location or time period.
After locating and analyzing their sources, the students present their conclusions in original papers, exhibits, performances, websites or documentaries, which are evaluated by judges in regional contests, state-level contests and, ultimately, the national competition in College Park, Maryland.
Projects are judged on their excellence as well as their adherence to the theme and the research – especially usage of primary sources used to develop the projects.
This year, AnneMarie Walter, assistant director of the Library of Congress’ “Teaching with Primary Sources” program at Mars Hill University, took a break from professional development teacher workshops to host a primary sources workshop with Hendersonville Middle’s Honors Language Arts 7th-graders and English I students.
In addition to the projects themselves, students submit a process paper and an annotated bibliography to support their work. At the contests, each entrant is questioned by a panel of judges about their research and presentation choices.
Of the 53 Hendersonville Middle students who developed projects, 40 students competed in – and 23 placed first, second or third at – the regional contests at Western Carolina University and Surry Community College in March. Topics as varied as Lenny Bruce, Social Capitalism, the Greensboro Four, and Ella May Wiggins – a martyr for better working conditions in a Gastonia mill – were the subjects of four of the 15 winning entries headed to the state contest in Raleigh at the North Carolina Museum of History.
Hendersonville Middle students said they especially valued the opportunity to select topics that matched their interests and the freedom to choose whether to work individually, in pairs or in groups, as well as to choose their method of presentation.
Although the program develops critical thinking, writing, and problem-solving skills, some of the other “learning stretches” were more personal. When teacher Anne Boyette asked the students to reflect on what they would do differently if they were starting over, their responses were honest.
“I would procrastinate less and get started sooner,” was a common refrain; others shared the challenges of working effectively in a group with one’s friends. Even so, most of the students found the experience worthwhile.
As 8th-grader Mason R. said, “It wasn’t just a project that you complete in a few days, turn in, and never think about again. It was a commitment, especially to anyone competing.”
– By Anne Boyette
AIG Specialist, Honors Language Arts and English I, HMS