Yesterday I was proud to judge a number of our group website entries for our History Day competition. Three of our history teachers use History Day as a project-based learning opportunity for all of their students. These students have their projects judged in their different categories by going through the process of oral presentation in front of a panel of teachers and administrators. From this group is selected those who will represent our school at the next level of the competition.
It was fascinating seeing my own students through a different lens. Groups of students came in front of my panel, some in suits, and some in the tuxes they perform in for orchestra, to present their websites. The theme this year was “Actions and Legacies: Individuals in History.” We saw websites about everything from Rockefeller to Ho Chi Minh.
The students for the most part used either Google or Synthesite to develop their free websites, which in regards to a competition is a little bit of a concern in that many competitors use more elaborate, paid-for sites that look far sexier. But our kids did what they could with what they could and the sites, for the most part, look good. And considering that they probably taught themselves how to create the site, the students should be commended.
We evaluated everyone’s site based on the visuals and the content. In general, there were notes that we gave that were universal. For one thing, the use of visuals to highlight specific points was an important concept the students needed to understand. Without multi-media, for instance, a website might just as well be an essay. It’s the visuals, the links, and the multimedia aspect of them that make them websites. Timelines, for instance, that combine both primary sources and links, are a great opportunity for visual impact.
In regards to content, there seemed to be an overarching lack of commentary. For middle schoolers, writing personal response can be hard. But what we’re trying to emphasize is that just delivering the facts is not an analysis. And if we’re looking to teach high-level thinking, there must be present that next step of information delivery – the evaluation.
Many of the students delivered the facts, but added no judgment. They were missing the higher levels of Bloom’s. They neglected the commentary.
When teaching history, it is vital that a teacher not just teach the facts, but give guidance in pulling back the lens and evaluating the bigger pictures. How did this figure fit into history and amongst their contemporaries? What is the impact that they made on those who followed them? What is your opinion of their contributions given your expertise in their accomplishments?
Commentary comes in many different ways, but including it is the difference between information regurgitation and true, deep comprehension.