Every year Martha Kohl at the Montana Historical Society tells teachers to take the leap and try National History Day. And every year only a few listen. But this is the year! Why? Because National History Day projects--for which students conduct independent research on topics that they choose (and thus are inherently more interesting to them than topics you assign) and create projects in a format that plays to their strengths--is a perfect activity for distance and/or hybrid learning. (Of course, it's great for in-class learning as well). And it doesn't hurt that there's a competition element involved for those who like that sort of thing.
What Is National History Day?
NHD is an up-to "year-long academic program focused on historical research, interpretation and creative expression for 6th- to 12th-grade students. By participating in NHD, students become writers, filmmakers, web designers, playwrights and artists as they create unique contemporary expressions of history. The experience culminates in a series of contests at the local and affiliate levels and an annual national competition in the nation's capital in June."
Each year, students create projects around a theme (this year's theme is Communication in History: Key to Understanding.) As a teacher you can limit student choices to the topic of your class. Tteach Montana history? Have them choose a Montana topic. Teach World History? Have them choose a World History Topic!
Students can choose one of five ways to present their research: through a website, paper, exhibit, performance, or documentary film. Projects can be either group projects or individual projects. (As a teacher you can limit this too, having all students creating individual websites for example).
You Don't Need to Invent the Wheel
One of the great things about NHD is that it is a national program with national resources and a lot of teachers (over 30,000) have been doing it for a long time. NHD has gathered resources to help you implement the program in your classroom, including a series of "Help! I'm a New NHD Teacher!" videos. There are also tons of resources for students, including samples of previous winning projects, so they know how high to aim (the answer is very. The quality of some of these projects is amazing.)
NHD in Montana
This year two regional contests will be held virtually on March 6, 2021 (one for eastern Montana and one for western Montana), and the state contest will be held virtually March 27, 2021. One of the best things about National History Day is that it encourages revision by giving students an opportunity to get feedback from a regional contest so they can improve their projects before competing at state. If they win state, they can improve their projects based on feedback again before competing nationally. Learn more at the Montana National History Day website. or by contacting state coordinator (and Conrad teacher) Michael Herdina.
The Montana Historical Society offers two prizes for NHD projects, the $500 Martha Plassmann Prize for an outstanding project using digitized newspapers. This year they won't be offering the $1,000 travel scholarship to the best Montana history project eligible to advance to the national contest, because the national contest will be virtual. While part of the fun of NHD is gathering with other students, the virtual contests on all levels will cut out time-consuming and expensive travel, lowering the barriers to participation.
What Else Can Be Said to Persuade You?
Final Three Thoughts:
First, National History Day is NOT just for gifted students. The program lends itself to differentiation and some of the greatest success stories are those of "average" or typically low-performing students.
Second, your students can participate in the program WITHOUT competing. So you can assign this a classroom project, and then encourage the ones who really get into it to join the competition.
Finally, Martha Kohl and Michael Herdina are here to help! If you have questions or want assistance, don't hesitate to contact us.