If you havenʻt heard of National History Day (NHD), think of it like science fair, but for history. There are NHD competitions in all the US states and territories, and even foreign US military bases. Hawaiʻi’s History Day program is considered one of the stronger competitions, with students placing high at the National competition most years. Right now the district fairs are happening – Honolulu district History Day was last week. I first competed in NHD in 2004, but there was a long learning curve for me – NHD has its own criteria for which projects move on to the state and national competitions.
Kamehameha has been an up-and-coming school over the past few years, made up of a core team of teachers including myself. We gained ground on perennial NHD powerhouses Mililani and Kahuku. Last year, KS-Kapālama won first place at state in four of the five categories (research papers, documentary videos, websites and exhibits – the final category is performance) This year, we had our fourth school-level fair with about 300 projects entered. Of these, 40 moved on to the Honolulu District fair. At the fair, Kamehameha took 10 of the 15 available slots to move on to Hawaiʻi History Day (states) – two of those were my students.
History Day is fairly brutal competitively, with many excellent projects left behind as they move up through the rounds. But the skills that are learned along the way, we feel, make it well worth the effort. Students prepare a 20-source annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and gain a level of expertise on their topics that few ever reach. They gain skills in graphic design, computer applications such as Adobe Illustrator, video production skills, acting and writing. One of the judges at the Honolulu fair on Saturday said she couldnʻt wait to get the NHD students in her classes as they were “light years” beyond the average college freshman in terms of research skills, whether they made it to states or not. If you have a child in 4th to 12th grade, consider having them do a History Day project – the benefits are long-lasting. The future depends on citizens with a strong grasp on history, regardless of the fields they enter. As one of my former NHD students, now in college, stated:
In the two years I participated in History Day, it prepared me for the intensive college research I am currently doing. It takes a lot of detail and attention to formulate a project that encompasses a lot of information into a concise, coherent, and complete argument.