History Day offers challenges

Posted on: Feb 26, 2018

About 60 Delano Middle School students presented in-depth research projects to various panels of judges during the History Day competition on Friday, Jan. 26.
History Day is open to students in sixth grade and eighth grade who are members of the Advanced Language Arts program. This year’s theme of “Conflict and Compromise in History” challenged them to not only build a base of knowledge about a topic of their choice, but also offer analysis and an explanation of why that event was significant.
“It really is advanced research because it’s not just a copying exercise to write down the facts they learn,” said Gwen Briesemeister, the gifted and talented coordinator for Delano Public Schools. “They do comprehensive study of their topic and they need to understand the meaning of it, why we care about it today and why it was significant at that time.”
Students must read a variety of primary and secondary sources, including articles and scholarly journals, and are also required to speak with someone else connected to their topic through an interview or phone conversation.
“It’s been interesting. A lot of authors and professors have helped, people who have experienced being part of whatever it is they’re studying about,” said Briesemeister.
Exhibits and more
As long as their topic fits the theme, students have a great deal of freedom to choose a group to collaborate with or to proceed individually. They also can choose one of four ways to present their findings.
The first is to create an exhibit board, a mini museum that only allows them to use 500 words. That limitation forces creativity with visual elements, and encourages a great deal of work with primary documents that might include quotes or headlines.
A second method is to create a documentary film that must run between eight and 10 minutes. Students may also create a website using a standard set of tools, or choose to do a performance that must incorporate quotes and dates, as well as be entertaining. Performances must also be about 10 minutes long.
“Certain topics lend themselves better to exhibits, others to a performance or documentary,” said Briesemeister. “Some kids would just rather do computer work.”
Growing in skill
Because both sixth-graders and eighth-graders are involved, Briesemeister has been able to track the growth of individuals.
“For sixth-graders, it really is a baptism by fire,” said Briesemeister. “For a sixth-grader to do an annotated bibliography, to know primary and secondary sources, to write a thesis statement and to prove it – they’re only 11 and 12 years old, so it’s a powerful activity for them. There are tears, there’s happiness, there’s frustration. I have the pleasure of being able to work with both grades, so I really do see their growth. That part is really fun.”
The regional competition is March 19 at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Students can also advance to state and beyond.