Middle school popularity of History Day Fair expands, Canyons holds own competition
Mar 26, 2019 03:32PM
By Julie Slama
Draper Park eighth-grader Ethan White created a website in his first District National History Day Fair competition. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
With the increasing interest in National History Day Fair, Canyons School District held its own middle school competition last year. This year, the numbers participating increased by 50 percent.
“It used to be that our (middle) schools would just send students directly to regional competition, but now with more than individual teachers offering it to students, we’re seeing our biggest numbers,” said Scott Lambert, who coordinated the District’s History Day Fair Feb. 20.
Last year, at the first district competition, 95 students took part with 60 individual or small group projects, and most attended Indian Hills and Union middle schools. This year, 140 students presented individually or with groups a total of 88 projects with five of the eight Canyons middle schools represented.
Of those five schools, Albion had five students; Draper Park, three students; Indian Hills, 10 students; Midvale Middle, 18 students; and Union, 20 students who advanced to the regional round. Region was slated for March 21 at Salt Lake Community College’s Redwood Campus.
“Teachers are learning the benefits — improved critical thinking, more extensive research, speaking and listening, writing, reading several sources. It’s broadening students’ skills and they’re becoming historians,” Lambert said.
While each school participates differently, whether it’s part of a social studies assignment for seventh or eighth grade or maybe just a certain class, or if offered yearly or every other year, Lambert said his goal is to get all middle schools to participate — Mt. Jordan Middle plans to participate next year — as well as increase interest at the high school level. Currently, high school students automatically advance to the regional level since participation numbers are low locally.
This year, he had judges from non-participating middle schools so those who aren’t familiar with the program could see it firsthand. Judges also were represented from Hillcrest, Brighton and Alta high schools.
Through the National History Day (NHD) competition, students choose a historical topic, then conduct research in libraries, archives and museums and on the internet, conduct oral history interviews, and visit historic sites. Students analyze and interpret their materials, draw a conclusion about the significance of their topic and present their work in one of five ways: as a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary or a website.
According to the NHD website, more than a half million sixth-grade through 12th-grade students nationwide participate in the contest, which every year introduces a theme for the competition. This year it “triumph and tragedy in history.”
“It’s a broad theme, but students can address it many ways to show us about both sides,” Lambert said. “I’ve been impressed with some great ideas and research these kids have done.”
At Indian Hills, all 400 seventh-graders participated, competing at their own school before advancing to district, said social studies teacher Kamil Harrison.
“We had 230 projects at our school alone, and after being judged, 25 projects advanced to district,” she said. “Since we had seventh-graders in Utah Studies participate, we had all our projects focus on Utah topics. These ranged from the Candy Bomber to John Browning from internment camp at Topaz to the miracle of the seagull. We had projects on the transcontinental railroad, the invention of the television, the implant of the first artificial heart and the tragic death of Larry H. Miller.”
Through the project, Harrison said students learn to understand primary sources and often searched through the Library of Congress or Gale Research, sources they hadn’t used before.
“They picked topics that didn’t know much about or hadn’t heard of before. Some of them are the coolest ideas, but they’re tough so they really put a lot of work into their projects,” she said, adding they also learned teamwork and time management skills. “It’s something we’ve embraced. It’s amazing to hear 13- and 14-year-olds talking about history.”
Three students in Morgan Taylor’s social studies class were questioned by Supt. Jim Briscoe about their research on women’s suffrage leaders in their exhibit.
Seventh-grader Lauren Simons, who teamed up with classmates Sydney Roberts and Ella Marston, said she learned Utah was the second territory to allow women to vote.
“However, it was a tragedy that Utah didn’t succeed in becoming one of the first states to allow women to vote,” Sydney said.
Nearby were Albion’s Zack Parker and Drew Stevens, who created their exhibit on Wild Bill Hickok.
“We already were interested in him and knew a lot about him, but I didn’t know he didn’t like Calamity Jane,” Drew said about the 1860s gunslinger during the western expansion.
His classmate said he learned about the gun Wild Bill used.
“It was a specific 1851 Navy gun,” Zack said he learned about through research, which he said was included in the “bibliography that took a long time to do in MLA (Modern Language Association) format.”
Eighth-grader Laura Curtis entered the competition with her documentary on Amelia Earhart. She was one student from the largest delegations to the district contest, Lambert said.
“I learned she was interested in medicine before becoming a pilot,” Laura said about the first woman to fly the Atlantic and set numerous flying records before disappearing while trying to fly around the earth at the equator. “I learned you can always start new things.”
She also learned how to write an annotated bibliography as well as how to include pictures, tapes and other material into her first-ever website.
“It’s not as hard as I thought it would be,” she said.
Draper Park Middle
Eighth-grader Ethan White also created a website in his first district competition.
“This is a huge opportunity for kids, not just to learn history, but to be involved in discovering it,” he said. “I’ve been intrigued about the stock market, but I learned about the tragedy when people lost their life savings. It was a devasting event.”
Social studies teacher Jared Collette said he had all his students complete the project, but he didn’t require them to participate at district.
“They learned to be creative in the project choice and how they presented what they learned,” he said. “But they also learned the importance of research and citing sources.”
Midvale Middle eighth-graders choose topics that ranged from learning about Freddy Mercury being a champion in rock ’n’ roll to Walt Disney’s propaganda films during World War II, from the Iranian Revolution to a better education for Honduras, said English teacher Bethanne Lenhart, who along with history teacher Sheradee Bradfield supported students in participating in NHD Fair.
Eighth-grader Cameron Jessop already was familiar with the contest as his four older siblings previously competed, and having placed at region, state and even nationals. However, it was Cameron’s first time competing.
“I put a documentary together and know they did as well, but I didn’t pay attention to how they did it,” he said. “I just thought it would be easier and a better format for the interviews I taped.”
Cameron’s project was on post–World War II European Jews trying to resettle in Palestine with the help of American sailors.
“I didn’t know what happened between the Holocaust and Palestine. As I learned that the (British Minister for Health Aneurin) Bevan wasn’t allowing them in, even though (President Harry) Truman asked that 100,000 Jews be able to go there, I knew it was a story to tell. There’s not many who know that story of Americans willing to help and could die if they were caught.”
Cameron’s documentary included three interviews with American sailors as well as period photographs and research.
His mother, Tiffany, said she appreciates all her children learning “research skills they use for the rest of their academic life” as well as the relationships with the interviewees.
She said her other children are still in touch with people they interviewed for their NHD projects — from relatives of those killed in Birmingham’s 16th Street church bombing to a now adult who was one of 50 Jewish children rescued during World War II by an American couple.
“It’s the relationships they’ve made with history that has become so meaningful to them,” Jessop said. “It doesn’t matter where they finish, but what they’ve learned and how it has impacted them today.”