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National History Day competition held on campus

Monday, April 7, 2008  
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By Aaron Askew

This past Tuesday, Oklahoma Christian University was flooded with middle school and high school students participating in National History Day on March 25.

This academic competition was for students grades 6 through 12. History Day is meant to provide students the opportunity to work with and analyze historical documents and other primary source material.

Tuesday was the Oklahoma District Five competition and the winners will move on to the state and possibly national competition. 157 students from six schools, plus home schools, competed in 75 entries this year.

"The students were required to have a process paper and an annotated bibliography in addition to an exhibit.  It was obvious that the majority of the students had spent many hours on their project," event judge Jack Skaggs said.

The students must complete and submit a project from 14 different categories either individually or with a group of two to five people.

Some of the different categories include papers, exhibits, performances, documentaries and Web sites, although not all categories were represented at the District Five contest.

"Students put together a display on a tri-fold background on some particular event in history decorating their display with documents, maps, charts, time lines and pictures," event judge Matt McCook said.

The competition has eight different themes rotating through each year. This year's theme is Conflict and Compromise in History.

Other themes included in the rotation are The Individual in History, Innovation in History, Geography in History and Turning Points in History.

This year's theme asked students to view history through multiple perspectives.

Students may choose to focus on a conflict or a compromise, but if the topic includes one as well as the other, the student is expected to address both sides of the theme.

"History Day is unique among secondary performance competitions in that it allows students to take ownership of every part in the production process," event judge Barrett Huddleston said.

John Maple, Department chair of History and Political Science, has been the coordinator of History Day for Oklahoma District Five for 20 years.

Oklahoma Christian has been hosting the competition for the same amount of time. The judges are made up of faculty and staff from Oklahoma Christian, as well as other educators, attorneys and public historians from off campus.

"Part of their score is based on the visual appeal of the display, but content is a weightier part of the score.  I admit that my scores are often heavily influenced by the answers students can provide when asked about their display regardless of its visual appeal," McCook said.

The judges work in teams of three to evaluate the entries and decide the winners.

"This year the winning display in the individual category happened to excel in all categories," McCook said. "The young lady, a seventh grader, really knew the Salem Witch trials backward and forward and her display was also eye catching."

The top three students or groups in each category advance on to the state contest at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.

This year's state contest will be held on April 30. Winners there go on to the national contest at the University of Maryland in suburban Washington, D.C.

Beyond the trip to D.C. for national contest, there are various rewards including a full four-year scholarship to Case Western Reserve University.

"History Day really teaches time management and work ethic.  To work for so long on one project can be really tedious, but knowing the rewards in the end really makes you work for it.  In order to win any award in History Day, you can't start the week, or even the month before the competition; it takes working for a long time and managing your time to succeed," sophomore Kayla Saffell said of her past experience in history day.

Each year, more than half a million students nationwide participate in the National History Day contest.

Students choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites.

After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics' significance in history, the student finally presents their work at the competition.

"It's fun to see a few of them really excited about learning before their peers have convinced them that it is 'uncool.' So, as the epitome of cool, I try to encourage them to keep pursuing their curiosities about history," McCook said.

In addition to discovering the world of the past, National History Day claims to also help students develop attributes critical for future success such as critical thinking and problem-solving skills, research and reading skills, oral and written communication and presentation skills and a sense of responsibility for and involvement in the democratic process.

"History Day brings many outstanding students and their sponsors to our campus and allows them to interact with our students, faculty and staff.  It is a good experience for everyone involved," Skaggs said.

The competition has its own Web site,, where students desiring to compete, their teachers and parents can find out more information.

The Web site states that the contest aims to motivate students through the excitement of competition and through recognition for their work, provide a framework for hands-on and student-centered learning that guides classroom teaching as well as continuous professional development, and to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will help students manage and use information effectively now and in the future.

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