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Published On: Tue, May 31st, 2016

National History Day Offers Students Hands-On Education

Each year National History Day gives students the opportunity to discover more about the past in ways that are thoroughly modern. Students from around the world are invited to take part in National History Day contests, and they are encouraged to explore history rather than just read about it.

Florida World History textbookDr. Cathy Gorn, the Executive Director of National History Day, explains it this way, “National History Day is more than just a day, it’s an experience.” The goal is to spark students’ interest and improve critical thinking skills as they research historical moments.

One way to spark that interest is through the use of artifacts from days gone by. Renowned collectors like the Raab Collection make it possible for people of all ages to get an up-close look at pages right out of history. Their list of prestigious clients includes the Library of Congress. The work of collectors gives students an opportunity to see artifacts and autographs written by the founding fathers and other important historical figures. It helps bring history to life in an impactful way.

In recent years, the education system has largely focused on science and math curriculum by investing more heavily in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses. National History Day and it’s corresponding contest serves as an example of how humanities studies can be blended with science and math for all-around education.

Leading facilities like the Stanford History Education Group are also creating high school history courses that increase engagement and analytical skills by incorporating historical documents. Their “Reading Like a Historian” class at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco is a shining example of why history is still highly relevant and can support skills needed in STEM classes. Evaluations showed that students who participated in the class outperformed counterparts in:

·  Critical thinking
·  Reading Comprehension
·  General reasoning
·  Historical thinking
·  Recall of historical facts

The meaningful activity was determined to improve retention of information. The program has been so successful that the Stanford History Education Group is also developing a course for middle school students.

For students outside of the San Francisco Unified School District, National History Day serves as a resource for garnering the same type of learning experience.

Facts and History of National History Day

Teachers, parents, daycare providers and guardians can get students invested by sharing information about National History Day. Some historical facts that can be shared include:

·  National History Day and its corresponding contest were founded in 1974. Today, students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa and international schools around the world take part.

·  On average 600,000 students participate in the National History Day Affiliate Contest, which provides scholarships to the winners.

·  Finalists get a chance to compete in the National Contest at the University of Maryland.

·  National History Day began at Case Western Reserve University under the supervision of history professor David Van Tassel.

·  The original intent of National History Day was to provide an alternative to traditional history studies that largely involve rote memorization and reading.

·  Every year there is a new theme that guides the corresponding activities. This year’s theme is Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History.

·  National History Day is a non-profit organization that provides resources for both students and teachers.

·  Despite the name, the organization offers year-long programs centered around the non-traditional historical study.

·  Students who have participated in the National History Day contests have helped to correct inaccurate historical accounts through their research. They have also helped to reopen legislative cases for further review.

·  More than 5 million students who have participated in National History Day contests have gone on to receive degrees and careers in a variety of disciplines including medicine and law.

For adults, shows like Downtown Abbey are an entertaining way to become engrossed in a historical period. For kids, it’s more meaningful to have events and contests that allow them to explore history in a creative way. Exposing them to artifacts and the people who work to preserve history improves engagement in a way that goes well beyond one subject in school.

This year’s final National History Day contest will take place June 12-16, 2016 in College Park, Maryland.

Author: Jimmy Simond

photo/public domain

photo/public domain

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