As the start of the new school year approaches, it is time to start planning for participation in National History Day again. Here are a few suggestions to help you get excited about student research.
1) Get to know the theme.
The theme for National History Day 2016 is Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange. This theme provides a number of options to pursue. Read the theme essay, look over the sample topics, and start brainstorming your own ideas. If you spend some time thinking about the theme, it will be easier to share with students. Look for a new way to introduce the theme. How will you encourage thoughtful topic selection? This year I was inspired by the Wisconsin Historical Society to create a theme introduction with state specific examples.
Challenge students to create a list of possible topics. This year we started by having students compare time periods and fields of history they were interested in to create brainstorming groups. Ask students to draw on their own interest. While a topic may see risky or unappealing to you may appeal greatly to your students. Student engagement in research is vital to success. I have had students successfully pursue topics that were unfamiliar to me. Their passion sustained them.
3) Introduce a New Avenue for Research
Show students different options for research. You can introduce special online services like Google scholar or databases available locally. You can encourage site visits or interviews. Visits to museums and historic sites are fun and enjoyable ways to further your research. Share schedules for regional research facilities with students as well. Facilities can be quite welcoming to young researchers and may have planned events. During Archives Month in 2104, research facilities open their doors for visits by National History Day participants.