02 May 2016

History Education is Alive and Well in Michigan

Sometimes, we only hear the negative aspects of what our educational systems are doing, or not doing.  I had the pleasure to see what is good about our system on Saturday, April 30th.  I was a judge for the State Finals of Michigan History Day, held at Bay City Central High School.

Michigan History Day is an annual competition run by the Historical Society of Michigan.  It is part of the National History Day program.  The students compete at two levels before they get to the State level.  The students had to win their school competition and district competition before coming to be judged at the state level. The state level, grades 6-12, winners in each category go on to compete at National History Day at University of Maryland-College Park.

The students choose a topic of their interest that relates to the theme for the year. The 2015-2016 theme, "Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History" was a broad theme that students could interpret how they wanted.  The students did not have to choose a topic that fit all three elements; they just had to tell or show how it related to the theme.

The students could competed in one of five categories:

  • Individual papers
  • Individual or group exhibits
  • Individual or group performance
  • Individual or group documentary
  • Individual or group website
Groups could be between two and five students.  There are three divisions: Youth (grades 4-5) or Junior (grades 6-8) or Senior (grades 9-12).  Judging teams consisted of three-four people.

I was part of the Junior Division Group Exhibits team.  I was blown away to say the least.  The entry's were spectacular. I wasn't sure how we were going to pick two finalists and one alternate, but we had to, so we did.  The Junior group exhibits were divided into three judge teams, with seven exhibits per team.

The judging team's job was to evaluate the entries based on the historical accuracy (60%), relation to theme (20%) and clarity of presentations (20%).  The judges had a 15 minute time frame to review a process paper, interview the group, and jot down notes.  We were busy from the time our feet hit the gym floor, where the exhibits were held.  The main goal of the day was "to encourage the students to keep learning by providing constructive feedback in a positive environment."

These were the seven entries I had the pleasure to judge.  The quality of these exhibits was outstanding.  The meat of the exhibits was in the written word, which is hard to see in the pictures, but believe me every one of the seven exhibits conducted research at an advanced level.

 A River Runs Through It: From Fur to Freighter
An exhibit about the fur traders in the Bay City, Michigan region and its relationship to Native Americans, the lumber boom and shipbuilding along the Saginaw River.

Apollo 8
An exhibit showcasing Apollo 8's mission and showing that "It was possible to send man beyond Earth".

The Evolution of Basketball: From a Game to a Sport
This exhibit showed the "creation of basketball and its evolution". 

 The Transatlantic Slave Trade: The Trade That Brought Different Cultures To American

This exhibit explains the slave trade during the 16th century and its travel from West Africa to North America.

 The Assassination of Lincoln: The Killer, John Wilkes Booth
An exhibit analyzing why "John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln and how he convinced his group of conspirators to participate in the plot, as well as how Booth escaped for twelve days before he was gunned down"

James J. Strang: How He Became King of Beaver Island While Encountering the Irish and Exploring the Land
An exhibit defining who James J. Strang was and his role of 
settling on Beaver Island.

Phrenology: Exploring the Mind
An exhibit showcasing the pseudoscience of Phrenology and its "starting point for neuroscience".

Aren't these all excellent exhibits?  Which one would you pick?  I had the advantage of being able to read the exhibit material and interview the students, but trust me the exhibits were well researched and presented.  One of the things that we were told before judging was not to be swayed by 'glitz'. The content was the important part.

After the interviews were conducted we came to an agreement among our team and chose the top two of our group. We headed back to the gym and met with the other two judging teams to determine which two exhibits would be our finalists and which one would be the alternate.  A good deal of discussion ensued.  This is where the exhibit had to stand on its own as the other group's judges didn't have access to the interview.  There were many superior exhibits and I believe it came down to which ones addressed the theme effectively.

The Winners Were:
 The Evolution of Basketball: From a Game to a Sport
Presented by two young men from 
Grand Rapids Northern Hills Middle School

Matthew A. Henson
A group of one young man and one young lady from Marshall, Michigan


Apollo 8
Presented by a group of three young men from 
Hartland Farms Junior High School in Brighton, Michigan

Congratulations to the winners and to those who made it to the State Finals. Michigan History Day shows what is good about the educational system in Michigan. I was proud to be a part of it.


No comments:

Post a Comment