National History Day and the JMM Judge

Posted on February 19th, 2015 by

NHD logoFor the second consecutive year, the JMM education department was invited to participate as judges at various school-level competitions for National History Day. For those of you who don’t know, National History Day (NHD) is a lot like a science fair, but for history. According to its website over half a million elementary and middle school students participate in the competition each year. Students can work by themselves or in small groups to research an historic topic that fits each year’s theme. They can then present that topic in a number of ways: an exhibit (the classic trifold), a poster, a website, or even a theatrical/dance presentation. A winner is chosen from each participating school, who then goes onto regional competitions, and then finally, the national competition, which is held each year at University of Maryland’s College Park campus.

The contest encourages students to develop not just research skills, but also critical thinking and presentation skills. I think it’s a wonderful idea for getting kids excited about history—since they get to choose their own topics—and to practice or be introduced to these crucial skills that are often skimmed over in schools that are strapped for resources and time.

Similar to last year, JMM was invited to judge at several of our partner schools, including Morrell Park and Mount Washington Middle. We are truly honored that these schools consider us to be such an important part of their communities!

Last year, Ilene Dackman-Alon and I both participated as judges in the Mount Washington Middle School contest, but this year, Morrell Park’s conflicted with it, so we divided to conquer. She went to Morrell Park, and I went to Mount Washington.

Being a veteran judge was helpful this time around. I remembered that I’d run out of space to write my notes last year, and so I made sure to have some spare paper to write on. The teachers at Mount Washington also found their experiences from last year to be helpful because they announced some organizational changes this year that definitely helped make things go a bit smoother. For example, this year, instead of being assigned to judge several different types of presentations in different rooms, my team of three judges was assigned to judge only exhibitions which were all housed in the gym.

Theme Book CoverIt was clear that the school had made an effort to reach out to all kinds of community partners for the event, which was great to see. Just in my little team, we had an educator from the Maryland Historical Society as well as the Director of Programs at the Baltimore Urban Debate League (BUDL).

As always, I had a great time seeing what these students could accomplish! The year’s theme was “Leadership & Legacy”, and there were even a few students who decided to be very creative with that theme. One in particular stood out because the group decided to research McDonald’s as an example of bad leadership and legacy! Their project detailed how McDonald’s was a leader in the fast food industry by peddling cheap and very unhealthy food, which in turn was affecting the national childhood obesity rate. I was impressed with their ability to look at varied sources and to create a supportable, but still interesting, argument.

Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in my duties as a judge (it’s not easy!) that I completely neglected to take pictures!

abby krolik A blog by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

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National History Day Competition comes to Baltimore City Public Schools…

Posted on February 17th, 2014 by

This past week, Ilene and I had the honor of being judges in a National History Day Competition at Mount Washington Middle School (Ilene actually was a judge at several other schools’ competitions as well, but I was only able to attend this one). The competition has existed for many years, but this was the first year that Baltimore City public schools have participated, which we learned when three different schools asked us to volunteer as judges for their school’s competition.

Each year, elementary and secondary school students can participate by selecting any topic in history that relates to the annual national theme. This year, that theme is “rights and responsibilities.” Students can work by themselves or in small groups to research and present their topic as either a small “exhibit” (think science fair presentation board), a paper, a performance, a documentary, or a website that they design. They must make use of both primary and secondary sources and make connections not just between their topics and the theme, but also to current events that demonstrate the topic’s relevance. The first step is the school-level competition. The winner from each school goes on to the local competition, and the winner at that level goes on to a state-wide competition, and then that winner proceeds to the National History Day competition, held each year at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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Mount Washington Middle School is one of our newest partner schools. One of our favorite teachers, Ryan Kaiser, just moved there this year from Patterson Park Public Charter School, and it was he who invited us to be judges for their school level competition. The judges were pulled from various educational institutions across the city–teachers from other schools, educators and administrators from the District Office, the Maryland Humanities Council, and us, the Jewish Museum of Maryland!

Ilene and I were assigned to work together. We were handed folders with the names of the students whose projects we’d be judging as well as the rubrics and rules for grading. As a first time judge of anything, it was a little overwhelming, so I was very glad that the folder also included a list of suggested questions to ask the students, such as “Why did you choose this topic?” and “What was the most important thing you learned from this?”

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The projects we saw covered a wide range of topics, including Nelson Mandela, Child Labor Laws, and Grave Robbery. As expected, there was also a wide range of ability, but given that this was probably the first big research project many of the students had undertaken (many of the students we were judging were 6th graders), we were both impressed by the scope of each student’s project and also by their clear enthusiasm.

We were especially impressed by one girl’s project which compared the murders of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin. Not only was she able to make a connection between an historical event and a current event, but she was also able to articulate other comparisons between the two cases. Her exhibit included sections on two different, flawed systems of justice that existed, or still exist, in the U.S., as well as how the two cases influenced and inspired contemporaries.

Overall, the experience of judging the History Day competition was a very positive one. I wish we’d had more time to look at other projects besides the ones we were assigned to judge. And I’m already looking forward to judging again next year!

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