Article taken from the National History Day 2012 Theme Book
National History Day (NHD) is an opportunity for teachers and students to engage in real historical research. National History Day is not a predetermined by-the book program but an innovative curriculum framework in which students learn history by selecting topics of interest and launching into a year-long research project. The purpose of National History Day is to improve the teachign and learning of history in middle and high schools. NHD is a meaningful way for students to study historical issues, ideas, people and events by engaging in historical research. When studying history through historical research, students and teachers practice critical inquiry: asking question of significance, time and place. Through careful questioning, history students are immersed in a dective story too engaging to stop reading.
Beginning in the fall, students choose a topic related to the annual theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research. After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students then present their work in original papers, exhibits, performances, websites and documentaries. These projects are entered into competitions in the spring at local, state and national levels where they are evaluated by professional historians and educators. The program culminates with the nationalcompetition held each June at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Each year National History Day uses a theme to provide a lens through which students can examine history. The theme for 2012 is Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History. These annual themes frame the research for both students and teachers. The theme is intentionally broad enough that students can select topics from any place (local, national or world) and any time period in history. Once students choose their topics, they investigate historical context,historical significance, and the topic’s relationship to the theme by conducting research inlibraries, archives and museums; through oral history interviews; and by visiting historic sites.
NHD benefits both teachers and students. For the student, NHD allows control of his or her own learning. Students select topics that meet their interests. Program expectations and guidelines are explicitly provided for students, but the research journey is created by the process and is unique to the historical research. Throughout the year students learn about their heritage and develop essential life skills by fostering academic achievement and intellectual curiosity. In addition, students develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that will help them manage and use information now and in the future.
The student’s greatest ally in the research process is the classroom teacher. NHD supports teachers by providing instructional materials and through workshops at the state and national levels. Many teachers find that incorporating the NHD theme into their regular classroom curriculum encourages students to watch for examples of the theme and to identify connections in their study of history across time.
History Day breathes life into the traditional history curriculum by engaging students and teachers in a hands-on and in-depth approach to studying the past. By focusing on a theme, students are introduced to a new organizational structure of learning history. Teachers are supported in introducing highly complex research strategies to students. When NHD is implemented in the classroom, students are involved in a life changing learning experience.
The debate about American education continues to focus on what is wrong with our schools—on poor student achievement and reports of ineffective teachers—but where in the discussion is the demand for evidence about programs that are working?
National History Day is one of these programs. It is fostering outstanding achievement for students in all subject areas, not just history. It is shaping students into well-rounded, collaborative, independently motivated leaders who are prepared to lead. And it is doing it now, in 50 states around the country and beyond.
In the ongoing rhetoric and quest for education reform, the focus on global competitiveness lies at the heart of the debate. But the crucial role of the social sciences in American education has been marginalized. Subjects like English, history, civics and the arts play a central part in developing a well-rounded understanding of our contemporary global community—and the study of these topics develops the imperative 21st century skills that lie at the heart of individual future success and an American workforce equipped to compete in the global marketplace.
Without history, without civics education, American students will not be prepared to build upon the foundations of the past to continue to strengthen the democracy and economy of the future. Without the college- and career-ready skills of collaboration, research, writing and entrepreneurial thinking that come from the study of history and civics, students will not be prepared to handle impending—and complicated — global challenges.
The need to demonstrate the evidence-based, wide-ranging effectiveness of innovative, successful modes of teaching history is at a pivotal point. According to the most recent federal study of American students’ academic ability in civics, the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “nation’s report card,” revealed that only 27 percent of fourth-graders, 22 percent of eighth-graders and 24 percent of twelfth-graders scored proficient or higher in civics – meaning that millions of young Americans will be unprepared to be the informed and engaged citizens a healthy democracy requires. (The Nation’ Report Card Civics 2010)
Against this backdrop, the National History Day history education organization identified the need for an evaluation of the program to prove its effectiveness and validate what its leaders have known anecdotally for years: The historical-research training, skills and experience of the program transform young people into scholars. And further, the innovative instruction from National History Day is linked to academic success and skills development across ALL subjects, not just history. It is not a program only for students who are gifted academically, but for all students — and all teachers.
As we look toward the future, creating the educators and system that will carry the next generation further into the new millennium, we cannot afford to leave history education behind. The following section is the key findings of the study that highlights the power of National History Day for every classroom!
NHD students outperform their non-NHD peers on state standardized tests in multiple subjects, including reading, science and math, as well as social studies.
For example, in Texas, NHD students outperformed their non-NHD peers on TAKS tests in reading, science, math, and social studies. During four years of performance (2006- 2010), NHD students scored more than twice as well on TAKS tests as non-NHD students. An average of nearly two thirds of NHD students had commended performance each year, compared to an average of 19 percent of non- NHD students (see Chart A).
In 2008–2009, 87 percent of the NHD students achieved commended performance on the social studies assessment, compared with 37 percent of the comparison-group students; in 2009–2010, 73 percent of the NHD students received the highest rating, vs. 53 percent of the comparison group students (see Chart B).
NHD students in South Carolina outperformed their non-NHD peers on English and history assessments.
In the South Carolina school where students continued NHD participation from 8th grade to 9th grade and beyond, NHD high school students led their school district with a 61 percent passing rate in English 1 — 9 percentage points above a comparison site (see Chart C).
On the 2008-2009 South Carolina U.S. History and the Constitution end-of-course test, the NHD high school led the district with a 52 percent passing rate — 26 percentage points above the other (non- NHD) high school in the district, 14 points above the district rate, and 9 points above the state rate (see Chart D).
NHD students are better writers—they write with a purpose and real voice, and they marshal solid evidence to support their points of view. NHD students had more exemplary writing scores and fewer low scores than comparison students.
Overall, NHD students outscored comparison-group students on both pre- and post-writing assessments, receiving more exemplary scores (5s or 6s) on a 6-point scale (see Chart E).
NHD has a positive impact among students whose interests in academic subjects may wane in high school.
• Among Black and Hispanic students, NHD students outperform non-NHD students, posting higher performance assessment scores and levels of interest and skills.
• Compared with non-NHD boys and with all girls, boys participating in NHD reported significantly higher levels of interest in history, civic engagement, and confidence in research skills, on both preand post-surveys.
NHD students learn 21st century college- and career-ready skills. They learn to collaborate with team members, talk to experts, manage their time and persevere.
When asked about their confidence in a variety of career- and collegeready skills, NHD students have an edge over their peers. NHD students consistently express more confidence than students who do not participate in NHD, in research skills, public speaking, the ability to organize a report, knowledge of current events, work habits, evaluating sources, and writing skills (see Chart F).
NHD students are critical thinkers who can digest, analyze and synthesize information.
• Performance assessments show that NHD students were 18 percentage points better overall than their peers at interpreting historical information — an average of 79 percent correct vs. 61 percent correct.
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