On Wednesday morning last week, Middle School Social Studies instructor Josh Austad stepped in front of a group of High School students, community members, and some members of the school staff gathered in the Media Center to share some information.  While Mr. Austad was making his comments, the RMS gym, just across the hallway, was being converted into a showplace filled with projects developed by ROCORI seventh grade students.

Mr. Austad was explaining History Day!  The students were bringing the 2018 version of projects together for adjudication.  The grading process on the projects was complete; the value to this day was to determine the top projects at ROCORI Middle School to allow them to advance to Minnesota History Day’s regional contest.

Because History Day involves every seventh grade student in the Middle School and it exemplifies much of what we are working hard to accomplish in teaching and learning in the District, I wanted to take time to explain our participation in History Day.



As Mr. Austad shared with the judges, the ROCORI School District has participated in History Day with seventh grade students for more than 25 years.  Mr. Austad has either helped or coordinated the event for most of that time!  With our enrollment over the years, he pointed out the numbers mean between 3500 and 4000 seventh grade students have completed History Day projects!

History Day, but moreso the academic work related to the project, constitutes a significant part of the seventh grade curriculum from November to February.  Collaborative efforts, particularly between the Social Studies and English/Language Arts departments, make the projects cross academic disciplines. 

For seventh grade students, many different skills are required to fulfill the expectations of the project. Reading, writing, research, and note-taking skills are enhanced through the work.  The work of History Day demands organization, problem-solving, and analytical skills.  Presentation, communications, artistic, and collaboration skills are also required to effectively complete the History Day projects.



The National History Day (NHD) website explains the purpose of the event and project.  “Every year National History Day frames students’ research within a historical theme. The theme is chosen for the broad application to world, national, or state history and its relevance to ancient history or to the more recent past.

“The intentional selection of the theme for NHD is to provide an opportunity for students to push past the antiquated view of history as mere facts and dates and drill down into historical content to develop perspective and understanding.

“NHD is not a predetermined, by-the-book program but rather an innovative curriculum framework in which students learn history by selecting topics of interest and launching into year-long research projects. The mission of NHD is to improve the teaching and learning of history in middle and high school.

“The most visible vehicle is the NHD Contest. When studying history through historical research, students and teachers practice critical inquiry, asking questions of significance, time, and place. History students become immersed in a detective story.”



The theme for this year’s National History Day project is Conflict and Compromise in History.  “The annual theme frames the research for both students and teachers,” offers the NHD website. “It is intentionally broad enough that students can select topics from any place (local, national, or world) and any time period in history.”

Within the broad theme, students identify their own specific topic and then have a responsibility to demonstrate how their topic meets the parameters of the theme.  To start, students must, within this year’s theme, identify some kind of conflict that occurred at some point in history.  The second part of student responsibility was to demonstrate how some kind of compromise was involved in resolution to the conflict.

“Beginning in the fall,” the NHD website explains, “students choose a topic related to the annual theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research. After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students present their work in original papers, exhibits, performances, websites, or documentaries.”



As students conduct their research, they must also make decisions about how they will share what they learn.  There are five different presentation formats in which History Day projects may be developed.  They include the Documentary, Exhibit or Stand-up Display, Paper, Performance, or Website.  The descriptions of each category below are offered by the National History Day (NHD) website.  The descriptions are written in a manner as if the History Day site was talking directly to a student to guide them in the format.

Documentary:  “A documentary should reflect your ability to use audiovisual equipment to communicate your topic’s significance. The documentary category will help you develop skills in using photographs, film, video, audio, computers, and graphic presentations. Your presentation should include primary source materials and also must be an original production. To produce a documentary, you must have access to equipment and be able to operate it.”

Exhibit or Stand-up display:  “An exhibit is a visual representation of your research and interpretation of your topic’s significance in history. The analysis and interpretation of your topic must be clear and evident to the viewer. Labels and captions should be used creatively with visual images and objects to enhance the message of your exhibit.”

Paper:  “A paper is the traditional form of presenting historical research. Various types of creative writing (for example, fictional diaries, poems, etc.) are permitted, but must conform to all general and category rules. Your paper should be grammatically correct and well written.”

Performance:  “A performance is a dramatic portrayal of your topic’s significance in history and must be an original production. It should be scripted based on research of your chosen topic and should have dramatic appeal, but not at the expense of historical information.”

Website:  “The website category is the most interactive of all NHD categories. A website should reflect your ability to use website design software and computer technology to communicate your topic’s significance in history. Your historical website should be a collection of web pages, interconnected by hyperlinks, that presents both primary and secondary sources and your historical analysis. To engage and inform viewers, your website should incorporate interactive multimedia, text, non-textual descriptions (e.g., photographs, maps, music, etc.), and interpretations of sources. To construct a website, you must have access to the Internet and be able to operate appropriate software and equipment.”



By the time the project gets to History Day, usually at the end of February, the various elements of their work has been graded within the classroom.  Different teachers are involved and different parts of the project receive particular grades.  By the point of presentation on History Day, the projects are “judged” to determine advancement to the next levels of competition.

Mr. Austad does an excellent job bringing in community members, other school staff, and students from the senior high to serve as judges for the projects.  This part of the process is an excellent collaboration between school and community!

The judges are assigned in groups.  As much as Mr. Austad is able to do so, the judging groups include a senior high student, a school staff member, and a community or business representative.

The work of the judges is to look at the completed project and hear from the students about their work and learning.  Guidelines from National History Day provide criteria including historical quality (60% of the assessment), the project’s relation to the theme (20%), and the clarity of the presentation (20%).  All projects must comply with the rules of National History Day.



History Day is a very engaging and demanding part of the seventh grade year!  I was able to serve as one of the judges this past Wednesday for the 2018 event and it was a very rewarding experience!

As a former Social Studies teacher, it is exciting to see and understand the work the students put into the project!  In addition, it is very encouraging to hear students talk about their learning, share the meaning and importance of their work, and see the confidence or skills students have gained in the process of completing the projects.

History Day is an annual project engaging every one of the ROCORI seventh grade class.  We can always use additional judges and observers as we conduct our project presentations.  If you are interested in the high quality work done in our classrooms, consider serving as a judge for the 2019 (and beyond) National History Day projects!