Students as young as fourth grade defended their positions on historical events to college students and professors Saturday as part of a competition aimed at getting youngsters excited about researching history.
About 350 students from across the state showed off their research in the National History Day competition at the University of Kentucky.
The event is a bit like a science fair, only focused on history. There are divisions for elementary, middle and high school students, and projects can be presented in the form of an exhibit, website, documentary, paper or performance.
“The process is all about original historical research,” said Cheryl Caskey, state coordinator for the competition. “It’s all about finding something that fits the student’s interest and learning style.”
The top two winners in each category among middle and high school students are invited to participate in the national competition, to be held at the University of Maryland in June.
The theme for this year’s competition is Taking a Stand in History, and Colin Horn, a seventh-grader at Martin County Middle School, said it inspired him to create an exhibit on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident.
“What I learned from Bonhoeffer was that taking a stand doesn’t necessarily mean violence,” he said. “It was fun. Even if I don’t place, it was a good experience.”
Colin’s dad, Jimmy Horn, said the project helped Colin make connections “that made real sense to him.”
“It got him a little more interested in history,” he said.
A group of high school students from Paducah Tilghman High School interviewed members of their community to produce a documentary about the process of integration in the Paducah Public Schools in the 1950s.
After screening their film for a panel of judges, the students explained to them how the school board’s leadership at the time smoothed the transition and has had lasting repercussions.
“We have so much pride for our school, said Olivia Ellison. “If they hadn’t made that decision in the ’50s, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
This is the third year the state contest has been held at UK.
Kathy Swan, a professor of social studies education who cohosts the event with Ryan Crowley, assistant professor of social studies education, said the event is a good way to help future teachers understand the value of allowing kids to investigate questions on their own “in multimodal ways.”
Students in the UK College of Education serve as judges.
“This day is unequivocally proof that students are capable of what we think they are,” Swan said. “They can be ambitious teachers and not just sit up in the front and lecture.
“For me, it’s our proudest day of the year.”