Bringing history to life
While mentioning history to students tends to result in a big yawn,
Treasure Mountain International Middle School eighth-grade history teacher, Kevin Macintosh, is attempting to change that by "bringing history alive" through National History Day’s contest.
For the past six years, Macintosh has made the contest a part of his curriculum by hosting a history presentation night for parents to come and see students’ work and for select faculty to judge which two students will be sent on to compete at the North Salt Lake regional level.
After regionals, students move on to the state level, and from there, two students are selected to represent Utah nationally. National participants have the chance to win awards of $5,000 and university scholarships. "In years past, our projects have placed as high as third and fourth place at the state level," Macintosh said.
His students compete in the junior age bracket for grades six through eight, and they can choose to work individually or as part of a group of up to five students. Macintosh introduced the assignment in the second week of school, but it is an out-of-class project.
Each year, the competition has a new theme on which students base their projects on, but there is no limit to a geographic area or time period. This year’s theme is "conflict and compromise."
While Macintosh does give students an extensive list of topics to choose from, they are allowed to choose their own as well. This year, projects range from the Crusades to Gettysburg to the Jamestown colony to Rwanda and genocide to the Holocaust to Barbies. "They run the gamut," he said.
Once students have chosen a topic, there is an extensive amount of research to be done, and Macintosh said he limits their use of the Internet in doing that research. "They have to use more primary sources than secondary sources," he said.
A primary source is usually the closest source to the origin of information, like an interview or a diary. A secondary source is some form of a document or recording that discusses information that has been presented elsewhere, like a newspaper article.
Students are also required to do research at multiple libraries. "The understanding is much deeper than from simply reading in a text book," Macintosh said. "These students become experts on their topics.
"They learn life skills like time management, how to work with others, how to solve problems, how to compromise in groups, and the differences between good sources and bad sources."
Eighth graders Emily Bregger, Maddie Bollinger, Jane Archer and Julie Patterson did their presentation on the history of Barbie and how the doll has influenced and affected women’s body image.
"It was a difficult to research because there is a lot of opinion out there, but not a lot of fact," Bregger said. The girls said they had to go to a lot of libraries to complete their research, and their time together wasn’t always easy.
"We had some conflicts, but we got over them," Patterson said. "Plus it was hard to get together with all of our conflicting schedules."
Bregger agreed that sometimes it was frustrating. "We realized that we each learn differently, so we had to deal with that," she said.
"We just realized that we had to work together and get it done," Archer said.
Learning about teamwork was something that eighth-graders Marjan Sabour and Emily Preib learn as well when working on their project about Sally Ride, the first American woman to reach outer space.
"It was a lot of hard work, and it took a lot of time," Preib said. "But it was fun doing it."
The pair spent about a month researching and about two months creating their display board, which will be presented during history night.
Beyond the display board, Macintosh said the students get to choose how to present their topics. "Some use music, some use lights, some do PowerPoints or play CDs with their displays," he said.
Students are judged by the faculty based on creativity, the types of sources used (whether they use more primary sources or secondary sources), and the quality of information in their displays.
Students are also required to write up to a 3,000-word essay reflecting on the project, and Macintosh goes above and beyond contest requirements by having the students write about how their project incorporates IB (International Baccalaureate) philosophies. "It really goes well with IB," he said.
The results of the eighth-grade students’ months of hard work will be on display on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Treasure Mountain’s forum, which will be set up like a museum for the occasion.
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