That History Day Guy

June 17, 2009

National History Day 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 9:51 pm

Opening Ceremonies at McKeldin Mall:



Every year students gather on the expansive lawn to furiously trade buttons, meet kids from all over America, Europe, Guam (Current Rock Stars) and American Soma. This year there was even representation from Shanghai China!

The New York contingent gathered early to stake out a great spot for viewing in front of the McKeldin Library. Students were welcomed with brightly colored bags stuffed with extra NYSHD t-shirts, buttons and paperwork for the week.

The buttons and shirts are really ramped up this year and Wisconsin was my favorite. It is black and features a Pirate Cow.

The ceremony opened with the pocket full of Dynamite that is Dr Cathy Gorn. She whooped up the crowd with her traditional welcoming of the 50 states. We were then treated to a short biographical film about Kenneth E Behring whom the National Contest is now named for, This year he has given over 2 million dollars to the contest. There are many feelings about his involvement but what can be said for sure that his generous infusion of cash has resulted in the saving of state programs all over the country.

The real show began when Megan Felt a history day Alum took the stage to demonstrate the power of the National History Day program. As a freshman in High school she and classmates began an amazing odyssey that helped to bring to light the amazing story of Irena Sidler. Sidler was a Polish social worker who was responsible for the saving of over 2500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1999 when the students first accessed the news story about Irena, there was almost no information on the subject.

At the time a Google search revealed one entry. But the students persevered and through searching through public polish records found Irena, wrote her, and began their amazing odyssey.

The girls developed a performance for NHD but insuring yeas they developed so much more. They were asked to perform their play across the country, they brought Irena story to a national audience, and today, do in large part to the student’s tireless efforts Irena’s story, and the stories of those children who survived and were reunited with their families’  and continue to be reunited as a result of Megan and her organization’s efforts.

This is the power of NHD. Starting with just a desire to learn, and ending up with an organization that can change the world. Now not every kid has this kind of transformative experience but most do have some kind of experience that will transform the way they learn or look at history. It’s going to be a great week!


June 14, 2009

History DayGuy Resurection

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 6:15 pm

Like the mighty Terminator I am rising from the ashes of a year long hiatus to bring you the latest in New York State and National History Day. The last year has seen a return to school for That History Day Guy, but I have not been idle in my work in the Empire State. This past year saw the inclusion of Buffalo New York in the state contest, grants written on behalf of urban and rural areas, and we are very excited to announce that Fredonia College is offering the first for credit internship in History Day specifically dedicated to outreach to teachers and students.

This year promises to be a big one for us because we have just received a grant from The Eastern Region for Teaching with primary sources ( a program from the Library of Congress) to reach out to teachers both in central New York and all over the state.

But today we are at the Big Show.The National Contest. Students have begun to arrive   at the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Competition 2009. We have seen our friend Mr. History, met students from around the country and Europe, and have watched as excited kids set up  exhibits for judging.

We will join about 53 students from around NYS at opening ceremonies at MaKeldin Mall at UM for the opening ceremonies. So I hope you will follow along as I will be updating live throughout the contest and every Friday for the next year detailing our efforts at bringing New York State History Day to as many students and teachers as we can!

October 14, 2008

Secondary Sources

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 11:51 pm

Are you tired of feeling dirty for using Wikipedia?  Come on. You know you’ve tried it.  It starts slow when you need a little information on Mary Todd Lincoln, and before you know it you have based your disertation on someone known as pinksparkle42.

So let me turn you on to a secondary source you can feel pretty good about. It is the Digital History .Project.

This is by a bunch of nice museum, public park and teacher people. It is a good place to start with large American History Topics and it can get you going on the research train. The best part. You don’t feel dirty after!

September 8, 2008

Making National History Day happen in the classroom

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 3:49 pm

Recently there were some questions floating around concerning people teaching classes on History Day. This project is an interesting example of students creating documentary films ( category in HD) .

While not expressly an NHD class it is an example of students creating very meaningful projects in the context of a the classroom.

I get a lot of questions about how to do History Day in the classroom. I get the usual moaning about how there is simply too much going on to add another thing to the curriculum, but all too often when I am in the classroom it is simply a race to get to the Civil War before Christmas in order to prepare for “The Test.” Whatever standardized monster that may be for the particular state.

The thing is running that race to the civil war and answering the questions at the end of the chapter sections is not getting your kids able to think critically, analyze information and deal with historical information in an engaging way.

Doing history day will take your students to  new places. It will expand their existing skills as they work towards a goal that becomes more and more important to them.

The best part is NHD and other Places produce resources that can help you implement the program i the classroom without an enormous amount of extra time. I think of my days as a substitute teacher where students watched Apollo 13 for a solid week in a social studies class. There is time in the curriculum. If you dedicate two weeks out of your entire year and some dedicated chatting with kids on the side you can make HD happen in the classroom in a painless fashion.

September 3, 2008

Can’t Keep those HD kids Down

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 9:49 pm

Ok. Check this piece out by some kids from the Empire State.

Good ideas from the Windy City for thesis development

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 9:38 pm

So our Friends in the Windy city have used (as do most of us) the inverted pyramid to narrow a thesis.

It starts with the broadest possible topic, say the Civil War, then narrows it to say slavery, looks at an even narrower one, say Fredrick Douglass. Now that is all good for developing your topic but how does it drive your thesis.

Well check the posted presentation.

They combine some standard research questions with the considered topic that will force students into the exercise of analyzing their topic by asking the essential questions such as:

  • What changed? How and why?
  • What was the historic significance?
  • What was the long term impact?

So asking

  • How did Fredrick’ life change from slavery to freedom? How and Why?
  • What impact did his writings and speeches have on not only the abolitionist movement, but other progressive movements of the time?
  • What historic figures would or would not be possible because of the actions and legacies of Fredrick Douglass?
  • I love it when there are free great resources out there just waiting to help us with our history day work!

So thanks Chicago History Fair for providing this great resource!

July 7, 2008

Helping Teachers and Students with National History Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 8:13 pm

I hope that this year my posts can be a central clearinghouse for on and off line sources for teachers and student who are doing New York State History Day and National History Day.

1st off, That History Day Gal has posted a suggested Topics list that is awesome and I hope you consider it. We are going to see hundreds of M.L.Ks J.F.K.s Rosa parks and all the big names from the history books. What we want to do for both teachers and students is suggest those lesser known, but equally important historic figures that are all too often over looked. This list is full of New York historic figures and we really hope that you will focus on New York History for this year.

One other plug: We will be celebrating the Quadracentenial in New York in 2009. Beyond Champlain and Hudson and Fulton there is 400 years of history in the region to look back on. Look to the sites, institutions and programs for great topic ideas.

last thing is feel free to post here with your own ideas.

June 19, 2008

Thanks 08′

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 12:04 pm

I am sitting on one of the nicer subway cars I have ever been on, in one of my Favorite Cities; DC. I am heading back to College Park. I just dropped off Lily Rishira and her mother Carol at the National Portrait Gallery. Lilly was selected along with outstanding entries from around New York State and the United States to present their work at the Gallery.

It was just Lily and her Mom. They have been on an HD odyssey. They came from Manhattan in NYC and did their initial performance on Monday, went back home to do Lily’s 8th grade graduation, then got word they made run offs and are back again . Fortunately they had already planned to be here for the appearance at the Portrait Gallery. She is Brilliant and we are all very hopeful for her and the rest of the NYS contingent.

I have been judging for 2 days. The first day Ind. Jr. Performance, Day 2 Sr. Group Exhibit. Both exhausting. Both featuring great work. Both so difficult to choose a top 2 for moving on. I had great Co-Judges and Captains. They are very professional and experienced. A pleasure to work with.

The judges do so well in large part to Dr. Rock Star Cathy Gorn who each year conducts a thorough training session with each new group.

I listened carefully as Cathy cheerfully went through all points to remember as we embarked on our tasks.

Cathy had a lot to say but here are some key points:

“We are there to judge not be judgmental.”

  • Providing positive feedback and constructive criticism is essential. I have written and talked extensively about the importance of the judges comments. They must be positive and helpful and CG echoed this.

“This is National History Day-not National Current Events Day!”

  • This is really important to me. Every year I get students to start National History Day and want to tackle a current topic. Many times these topics are well researched, and the students are passionate about the content and do fantastic projects. But this leads me to the next piece:

“Without Context there is no Contest.”

  • When students tackle topics like a controversy in their own state over Power Lines, or try to delve into 911 or Rwanda, it is quite frankly a mind field. For a project to be successful it provides Historical Context. This means the topic is placed in time. It is placed around the other events of the day in some fashion. connections are made; it is the exposition and the hook that brings you into the project itself. Students then make their assertions or arguments CALLED THESIS STAEMENTS PEOPLE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD THESIS STATEMENTS!!!!!

Here is where the students takes a stand or position on the events, supports the arguments with primary sources, then takes it a little bit further and makes some larger historical connection.

As we continue to mourn 911 or stare starkly at news footage of the War in Iraq, none of us have any context. These are emerging events that we are tasked with processing and developing the skills as historians to tell the story for future generations. Cut your teeth on something in the past that is moving to you, and then tie it to current events as your dénouement.

-Ok. I just gave you a lecture. Another point from CG:

” Don’t Lecture!”

  • This is so important and I am hopeful that none of you students had to be on the receiving end of a lecture during competition. It is a time waster. And there are questions that are a waste of time in my opinion.

“How will this affect your life in the future? “ Is a question I hear from judges. An important consideration but these kids just spent 9 months developing a project and they want to tell us how it is affecting them now.

“It answers the “Why” question.

  • The “Why question” answers why is this significant. It answers, why you spent 9 months researching. It answers, why people should care about this event. It answers how it affected people, places, and institutions that followed. It answers all of these and does it through analysis, clarity- context and creativity.

It is now the end of day 3 as I finish this post. We survived all the run offs. Tobi has decided to change her cell phone number. T1 and T2 have taken NYS kids into DC and back. We have shared time with old friends and new from all over the country. We have seen incredible scholarship and work. We have slept on the single most tragic examples of sleep related engineering known to man. We have eaten fantastic Mexican food, and I even climbed a Magnolia tree. It has been wonderful. We will be up at 7 to hit the check out desk and then on to the field house and the parade of states. Good luck to all the HD kids out there. Thanks Cathy, Anne Katrina, Tim, Megan, Cafeteria lady who gave me eggs every morning, and the ladies at the Starbucks. We will miss you all until next year!

June 16, 2008

Morning in Maryland…

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 12:52 pm

Do you know at 5:00 in the morning on the Campus of the University of Marland, in College Park you can pet and feed two beautiful horses? Do you know that you can rise to the sounds of songbirds both singing and chirping? Did you know that rabbits run freely across the manicured lawn, and something akin to a babbling brook ( a fountain) runs across a picturesque meadow (quad) ?

Yeah, just like Central New York!

In a mere matter of hours we will be cranking into day one of NHD. It has already been exciting. Tobi and I and TI and TII  met the NYS delegation and our kids picked up their goodie bags, extra buttons and dispersed to collect all they can. It would seem the covated buttons this year is Guam. New Participants this year. The Idaho Potato is my personal favorite, and I did see one of our delegation with a Spud Bar-which may or may not have been chocolate and potatos.

We went through the rousing above speeches and Hoopla and retired to the swank dorms. They are very green. No troublesome AC or warm lighting here. And apparently  UM is saving the planet with one tiny uncomfortable bed at a time. But I can’t complain. I never got to live at my college. Seems my wife and one year old were not in to either dorm or Frat house living when I went to school. I already decided I am going to bring Posters of John Belushi (Look him up kids) and Phish and plaster my walls just so I can have the experience of Dorm life next year!

The crew and I ate at Plato’s Diner in CP at about 10 pm. This is a classic diner that features all your Greek Favorites and Pancakes. My particular Favorite were the Hobo Fries. Yes the name is not PC, but brown box gravy over melted cheese on top of steak fries may be the last meal I ever order if I am facing the chair.

Speaking of Capita Punishment, there was this huge mural on the wall of the poisoning of Socrates??? So, I am no restaurant expert by any means, but visages of historic poisonings are just not my idea of appropriate restaurant décor.

Anyway, at least it was a little history.

Mom, what are they doing in that painting?

Oh, just poising the father of modern dialectical thinking. Eat your hemlock honey…

Today I think I get to judge. I am darn excited! Good luck everybody!

Opening Ceremony

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 12:50 pm

Fundamental change, drastic change, and radical change in the way someone thinks, act or believes. This was the definition for history offered today by Amma Ghartea Tague. Alma is a former History Day student who won the Case Western Scholarship award in 1998. Her topic was the Amistad and Kathy said she was researching before Spielberg’s movie. Marcia Fox  this year’s coordinator for Kansas tells the story of Amma’s success. She actually found out as she went from one place to another to compile her research that Spielberg was one step behind her.  Amma performed her award winning performance for statewide coordinators, and conferences around the country. I was lucky enough to meet and greet with het. I am happy to say that Amma is now at New York University studying Theatre and History.

Amma addressed the group and revved the crowd up She spoke with the affect of a person who will one day be described in terms of “oration” and she knows what time it is for the almost 3000 students who crown the campus green during the opening ceremony.

She told the students that the hard work was done, and they should not worry about competition, but simply “tell it.” Tell there story that they have worked so hard on through the History Day year.

She also offered an inspiring definition of history: Not one of tying your shoes, but of inspiring, or enacting, or producing “radical change” in thoughts, actions or ideas. She proposed that the students themselves were not simply capable of telling America’s stories of “radical Change” but also being a part of it as their lives unfold.

Just this week I feel that many of our students have experienced radical change. For some it will be the first time in an urban environment, in hotels and even cable TV.

For some they will be elevated to unsuspected accomplishments while others will fall to equally unexpected lows.

New faces and flavors will be shared and peoples minds may be radically changed as they learn, interact or react to the ideas and actions taken in this contest.

While a rousing speech by HD alum may not be a radical departure for the contest, it certainly made the kinds of connection so needed in academic programs for teen: relevance. Weather that be in seeing the face or gender of a person who is similar or if it is simply a generational reference point, Alma is the kind of person and speaker who will inspire change, or action or thought. It was a wonderful addition to the open ceremony, and I applaud NHD for choosing her to wrap up the show!

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