Real World History students judge Deal Middle School History Day competition

March 27, 2015

(Photo: Sammy Magnuson/Center for Inspired Teaching)

On March 13, members of the Real World History class were invited to judge the Deal Middle School History Day competition. Real World History is a Center for Inspired Teaching course that combines academic coursework with internships at historic DC sites, bringing together high school students from across Washington, DC.

Below is a reflection on the experience written, with student input, by Cosby Hunt, Inspired Teaching’s Manager of Teaching & Learning and the creator and instructor of Real World History.

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It was still dark a couple Fridays ago when I picked up the first student in Northeast DC, and I hoped that the rumble of my 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee wouldn’t wake up her neighbors. My student, her classmates, and I are part of a class called Real World History, DC’s first citywide history course, and that morning we were on our way to serve as judges for Deal Middle School’s History Day competition.

I wanted my students, high school juniors and seniors, to serve as judges so that they would be exposed to quality history day projects, have the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned about the practices of historians, and have an deeper understanding of the judging process they will undergo when they enter their own projects into the citywide National History Day competition on April 30. The whole purpose of Real World History is to make history come alive for students as they learn to act as historians, building meaningful connections between past events and their own lives today. What could be a better way for students to test these skills than by helping to evaluate the historical analysis of their younger peers?

national-history-day-logoAfter arriving at the competition, the Real World History students and I spread out immediately, moving to where our assigned categories were. Some students judged performances and websites, while others judged exhibits. One of my students and I served as judges in the documentary category. The short films we saw explored topics ranging from Alfred Hitchcock’s work to the birth of the Global Positioning System (GPS).

This year’s National History Day theme is Leadership & Legacy in History, and 20% of the overall project evaluation comes from students’ ability to clearly connect that theme in their work. I agonized over the best way to consistently evaluate how each Deal student met this goal, and I wondered how my own students were handling this task.

At the end of the day, I was pleased to hear from Deal’s History Day coordinator that the “awesome” Real World History students had risen to the challenge, earning “a ton of compliments from the other judges” for their analysis, reasoning, and thoughtful conclusions. A few days ago, I caught up with several of the students who participated as judges, asking how they felt about their experience. Here are a few of their takeaways about what’s required to be a good judge:

Stay focused because every project deserves your attention.

“Deciding was really tough! All the projects were good, so you had to focus on the details. Every little detail counted.”

“The most difficult thing was concentrating on what each student’s project was about – not forgetting or mixing things up.”

“Be prepared to listen hard to things you may not be interested in. Take notes on each one.”

Treat all the competitors with honesty, fairness, and respect.

“You need to be open-minded without keeping any favorites. Be positive!”

“Don’t be harsh or critical just to do it.”

“I was inspired by all the work I saw. Students had such good ideas, and you could see how much time and energy they put into their work.”

“I enjoyed learning certain things I didn’t know about and getting to interact with the students.”

Being a judge means you have power; use it wisely.

“Deciding who gets to go to the next level was really challenging.”

“It puts you in a spectator’s point of view. It made me want to see what would happen next, what the students would say.”

“I felt nervous at first because I don’t like telling people bad news, but after a while I warmed up to it.”

“It felt good to serve as a judge. It was as if I had a decision and choice impacting someone else’s work – whether it continued to the next round or not.”

I hope my Real World History students use this experience talking with and evaluating young historians as a valuable resource as they finalize their own History Day projects. In our class time together, we focus on the ways historians bridge the past and the present, and on that day at Deal Middle School, history was alive, vibrant, and all around us.

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