That History Day Guy

July 28, 2008

Play around with a Topic

Filed under: Topics — historydayguy @ 5:40 pm

So History Day Guy is an educator, but also a museum guy…. This past weekend the history kids and the history wife took a trip to the Strong Museum in Rah Cha Cha ,NY. . If you have never been, this museum is dedicated to the history and culture of Play.


Margaret Woodbury Strong, a prolific collector of everyday objects, especially dolls and toys, founded the museum in 1968. The next year, she died and left her considerable estate to help support it. Fourteen years later, the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum opened in a new, 156,000-square-foot building on 13 acres in downtown Rochester.

So do you know where I am going with this? Individual in history? Yeah, you know the drill. I think Maggie has a great story and the City of Rah Cha Cha and museums everywhere have been impacted by the ground breaking model pursued here. One of the women I work with said this was one of the places that most influenced her professionaly.

So I know you really wanted to do Susan B. Anthony, but take a ride over to the Strong and inquire at the desk about ol’ Maggie and see if this might be a playful topic for 08′!


1st Annual Teacher’s Institute

Filed under: teacher support — historydayguy @ 5:21 pm

When I said I wanted to bring 12 teachers here and conduct a week long boot camp on New York State History Day at NYSHA, people said I was crazy. When I said it was during board week they told me I was REALLY CRAZY!

Despite my insanity I moved forward with it. Tobi Voigt and I put the word out via our on line newsletter and regional coordinators we had expressed interest from about 28 candidates from all over New York State. After reviewing their applications we were down to about 14. After last minute cancellations, 11 teachers arrived at Hartwick College’s Hill Top House to take up residency for a week. They traveled with us to the Farmers Museum where they enjoyed a Welcome BBQ and a look at the museum.

Tobi and I then briefed them on the week’s activities:

  • They were going to use the NYSHA library to research their topics
  • They would visit our collections and have a guided tour tours of the Thaw by Eva Fognell
  • They would hear from Bob Bullock on New York History
  • They would become familiar with research locations around New York from Katherine Gilbert from the Upstate History Alliance
  • They would receive training from exhibit designer Dan Wallice from The Baseball Hall of Fame
  • They would have a budget of $40 and 45 minutes in Wal-Mart to shop for supplies
  • They would have less than 48 hours to design and create their board and to write their process papers and bibliography.
  • Did I mention we assigned them partners, some of whom they had never met?

The whole week was amazing and culminated in an actual competition on Friday. Our special guest judges were Bob Weibel, New York State Historian and Julie Daniels, from the State Archives.

The work was amazing. The teachers learned valuable lessons in design, research skills, thesis writing and got to feel first hand the stress and joy of being History Day Students!

For a look at our first ever New York State History Day Teacher’s institute take a look at our pictures on Flikr

July 13, 2008

Thesis Statements

Filed under: thesis siaiements — historydayguy @ 12:13 pm

Can I just say the place where HD projects fall short is almost always the Thesis Statement? I was looking at this fantastic board the other day that came to states, but went no further as the judges thought there wasn’t enough analysis. It had a thesis statement. It was place prominently on the board in the center where I like to see it, but it started with all this exposition. It was not a statement but actually a paragraph with roughly 3-4 sentences. A thesis statement is one sentence. There can be much debate about this. In fact I encourage it (Despite how incredibly wrong people who think a thesis statement is more than one sentence! Now I am going to do 2 things. Give you an AWESOME idea for a topic AND show you and example Thesis. Arthur Causwell was an amazing figure who lived at an incredibly exciting time in American and New York State History. His family, his associates, and his legacy easily earn him a place in history. He also exemplifies what may be America’s number one National Identity Crisis: race. I love this guy as he was deeply spiritual, intellectual and a complex figure that was torn between many worlds. I took this from (a really great place to start general research.) but even they have the thesis as two sentences. So I took out the period, used items in a series and made them parallel with the use of the verb to be in past tense.

Arthur C. Parker (1881 – 1955) was of an ethnically diverse background, was a complex figure familiar from childhood with both Native American and European American cultures, but was not always fully at home in either atmosphere.

Now before any of you get the nutty idea that I am telling you to plagarize a web site for your thesis, DON”T! I am just using this as a good example of what a thesis CAN BE.  It is too rare I see good statements as they are so difficult to write. In fact, we will be extra watchful for this as the year progresses.

So, in this the rub is in the last phrase but was not always fully at home in either atmosphere.

This is what this person will be endeavoring to prove on this web page.

So when working on your HD project, consider Arthur. And consider the need for as strong thesis.

Getting to the Heart of this year’s Theme

Filed under: teacher support — historydayguy @ 11:21 am

This week HDGal and I will be holding a teachers institute with people from all over NYS. They are going to actually construct exhibits and be judged. They get in today about 1:30 and will have one thrilling activity after another, all designed to help them appreciate what kids go through, and to get an idea of how to implement in the classroom, and how to foster quality scholarship and product design.

They started with 4 lessons using Google Groups. These lessons and their files are public. If you would like to see the lessons or get a copy of them just click here.

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.

July 5, 2008

July 4 in America’s Most Perfect Village

Filed under: theme — historydayguy @ 2:09 pm

We have celebrated by visiting with friends in the Village, as the clank of bats and cheers of fans wafted over the high fences of Double Day Field and into the yard where my girls were enjoying climbing over our friends Cake and Dabe, as my youngest calls them.

One of our friends (who is a Tory at heart) was wearing a bespangled British Flag T-shirt and it was only after some ribbing did we realize we were imbibing with Canadian beer, and German Sausages . No real room to make fun.

But I am always taken aback to this time in History when General William Howe and a flotilla that was described as “all London afloat” came to settle the question of American Independence. Thousands of English and Hessians-massive ships-guns-bayonets and the Union Jack flying over water that at that time may have actually supported life. The lands were green. Trees instead of street signs. Wood smoke and animals, instead of smog and sewage. How frightened Washington and the men must have been. Such a turning point-such a conflict of place and heritage. So many individuals from Washington and Howe to Adams and Jefferson to George the III and all the nameless men in the trenches. War on our own streets. Something we have not known for almost 150 years.

If you have a chance over this three day weekend, grab a history book. Read through the circumstances and thoughts and arguments that were raging in this so very new nation to be.

My favorite founding father- John Adams-is someone I like to read.

“When I consider the great events which are passed and those greater which are rapidly advancing, and that I may may have been instrumnetall in touching some springs, and turning some wheels, which have had and will have such effects, I feel an awe upon my mind which is not easily described.”

This is not a bad time as you eat brats, watch fireworks, and play baseball to think about the individuals who have made our history worth celebrating.

Happy Independence

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!

June 15, 2008

Show Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 9:00 am

Well as Cooperstown New York begins to stir (that would be the chickens, the robins, my dog and me. Its 5 am) I am getting ready to head to DC for the Big Show. The National History Day Competition!

I will be getting in the mystery Van with the HD Gal and two team members who will call Thing One and Thing Two, and we are loading the History Day Mystery Van and headed for DC.  Due to budget cuts and rising fuel costs we have actually strapped a sail to the top and hope that will assist with gas prices. We will also be staying in the dorms this year. That is another cost savings measure, but those rooms in the White House don’t come cheap!
I want to offer a little advice to all competitors: Don’t Panic!:) I believe that is a line from a book (Where are my Adams Geeks at?)

Relax. Meet people. Trade buttons. Look at others work and don’t think-“I should have done that”-just think-“cool.” Be confident. You are from the Empire State Baby. If you can make it here…

So, breathe deep. You know your stuff. Chat with judges comfortably but with confidence, and be sure to make it to the Mall for Monuments and what not. More than anything have fun. I know I will!


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