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National History Day Works

January 27, 2011

“NHD students are better writers, who write with a purpose and real voice, and marshal solid evidence to support their point of view.”

“NHD Students outperform their non-NHD peers on state standardized tests, not only in social studies, but in reading, science and math as well.”

“NHD students learn 21st century skills. They learn how to collaborate with team members, talk to experts, manage their time and persevere.”

These are just some of the findings from the newly published evaluation report on the National History Dayprogram. The study, which took place in four states across urban, suburban and rural demographics, concludes that NHD students are consistently better writers, develop stronger critical thinking skills and are more prepared for college and the real world upon high school graduation.

History Day also motivates students by challenging them to work beyond the traditional setting of textbook andtest taking. Today’s students are not interested in reading about topics on which they have no choice, in textbooksmandated to their teachers by the school district, written by a corporation which they have never heard or cared about. When learning becomes irrelevant to the student then we’ve lost their interest and all too often theirpotential for success. History Day is a way to bring them back. I see it all the time on school visits: “We have a guest speaker today? Aww man, I don’t want to do a project.” And then they see the pictures of the 1966 Texas Western Basketball exhibit, or the Marie Antoinette exhibit, or the NASA Challenger Explosion exhibit, or the Ryan White documentary, or the 1899 Newsboy Strike performance. That’s when the questions change to “Can I do my project on Jackie Robinson? Anne Frank? My Vietnam veteran grandfather?”

NHD follows a project-based learning model shared by many emerging and successful programs today, like Edutopia and New Tech Schools; except History Day has been doing it since the 70s. NHD supersedes social studies and is proven to advance skills and improve grades in reading, math and science. It provides students with a choice on what topic they want to research and what skills they want to develop, be it Web design, film making, theatrical or writing. History Day Works because History Day students learn by doing work that historians actually do,and this study proves that on paper.

Will you help put it into practice?

View the independent evaluation firm Rockman et al’s findings here.


Matt Durrett is coordinator, National History Day in Indiana. Usually laconic and reserved, he has recently acquired the nickname ÒThe Quiet StormÓ around the office for his rare yet tempest-like outbursts.

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