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Archive for September, 2011

Got Topic Ideas?

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Consistently, topic ideas are one of the most-requested resources. It only makes sense, because each year, teachers are presented with a broad theme and have anywhere between 30 to 150 students to guide along in their topic selection. For some students, choosing a topic is a no-brainer. For others, it can be among the most difficult pieces of the History Day process.

To make student searches and teacher guidance a bit easier, here are some tips and links to smooth the path of topic selection.

When students are choosing topics, gauge their interest. Some students will choose topics solely because they fit the theme, and not because the topic interests them. On the other side of that, some students will choose topics of interest that have no connection to the theme whatsoever. Try to find a happy medium.

Also, ask questions about resources. Students interested in ancient history topics can get frustrated at the lack of available primary sources, and students wanting to do documentaries can feel the same frustration if they choose a topic with few available images. Steer them toward thinking about where they might get resources, the kinds of sources they might use, and some avenues they might not have considered, such as university professors.

And finally, have them do a preliminary explanation of how their topic relates to the theme. If they explain that their topic is, in fact, called the American REVOLUTION, and therefore relates, have them go a little more in-depth so you can see that they know what a revolution entails.

Some links to get students thinking about a variety of topics:

  • This Day in History, HISTORY. Each day includes a list of several topics, broken down further by subjects such as wars, arts, disasters and sports. For fun, have students check their birthdays to see if they can find anything that relates to Revolution, Reaction, Reform.
  • American Experience, PBS. These PBS documentaries showcase various aspects of American life, and many of them focus on people, places and events in American history. Students can watch the documentaries, and search them by subject or time period.
  • Minnesota History Topics, Minnesota Historical Society. This list of topics, provided by the library at the Minnesota Historical Society, is broken down by subject and offers suggestions for primary and secondary sources in the MHS collections.

Before There Was a Web, There Was a Book

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

There is a PBS children’s show, “Super Why,” where the premise is that four friends, who all live in a sort of Fairy Tale Land, encounter a life problem each day. The four, called the Super Readers, attempt to solve the issue as a group. When they talk about finding answers to their problem, they all say in unison: “We look in a book!”

How many of today’s students go to a book first when looking for answers? Some do, certainly, but the majority will likely head straight for the Internet. The Internet of 2011 is far superior in both quantity and quality to the Internet of 10 years ago, and there is no doubt that students can find really great stuff from some very reputable sources.

But the Internet’s ubiquitous presence often means that students will rely heavily on websites when doing research in the same way that previous generations relied on books, often forgetting that print materials are similarly helpful and reliable. Books are still one of the best ways to find good information and shouldn’t be overlooked as students dive into their History Day projects. Libraries exist in just about every community — school libraries, public libraries, university libraries, and specialty libraries — and with libraries come that wonderful human resource, the librarian.

Some students may argue that books are not as convenient as websites: you have to physically find them and check them out, you might be put on a waiting list to check out a particular book, you may need to purchase them while many websites are free, and some things on the Internet are just not available in the same format in a book (such as primary source documents).

These points are all valid, but with books comes something that is absent in Internet research: a tactile experience. Books open doors to learning about indexes, finding sources on library shelves, and working with librarians or archivists. And since publishing a book is generally a more rigorous process than publishing a website, you can bet that most books are pretty reliable sources.

It is a digital world we live in now, but books are not history just yet. Encourage, or even require, your students to find answers in places other than the Internet. They’ll be learning a lot more than simply the content within.

Check out our Library Resources for more information on how to get kids into libraries.

History Day in Context of the 9-11 Attacks

Monday, September 12th, 2011

The Minnesota State Fair is over, which can only mean one thing: the school year has begun! And with the school year comes another season of History Day in Minnesota.

The 2012 theme is a re-run of an old favorite: “Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History.” The last time this theme was used was 2002, which means that teachers approaching this theme for their school year were at this time reeling from the very recent September 11 attacks. As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks, it’s important to reflect on how times have changed since that day and how those changes affect our current crop of students. Here are some things to think about as you look out at your History Day kids this year:

  • This year’s History Day students were anywhere from one to eight years old when 9-11 occurred. The attacks may or may not be a part of their collective memory. Does that mean they can reasonably look at that event, or other recent events, as “history”?
  • In the last 10 years, the way we communicate has changed dramatically. Social media, iPhones and an increasingly digital culture has shaped the way that many children have grown up learning to communicate. How will this affect their speaking, reading, researching and writing?
  • Since 9-11, certain rules of life have changed, such as regulations in airport security. Kids of the post-9-11 generation accept these as having “always been.” Consider students’ understanding of now v. the past as they approach their topics. Help them move beyond their 21st-century world.

As always, check out the History Day website for information regarding the theme, events and contact information.

Blog Resource of the Week: “Understanding 9/11: A Television News Archive”