Frank Valadez is Executive Director of Chicago Metro History Education Center.
“History Fair taught me how to think critically and how to turn a confused pile of evidence into a coherent, meaningful argument. I’ve seen how it’s empowered my peers; the pride they have in their work. And I think History Fair really does create more empathetic, engaged people.” Olivia Daniels, History Fair Participant
For the past 35 years the Chicago Metro History Fair has given local students the opportunity to study history the way professional historians do—by identifying important historical questions and conducting research to answer them. The 2012 History Fair is currently under way, and students in grades six through twelve, representing about 120 schools from across the city and suburbs, are developing their projects. Unlike the traditional history class, in which students read the textbook and take a test, students who participate in History Fair select topics that are especially important to them. To complete these projects, students conduct research in local libraries, archives, and museums as well as on the internet and through oral history interviews. In so doing, they take their education beyond the classroom and into the community. When completed, students will present their projects to public audiences as research papers, exhibits, websites, dramatic performances, and video documentaries (like the projects highlighted below).
Studying history in this way provides many benefits to students. Guided by their teachers, students learn how to develop historical questions as well as how to create a research plan to find answers. Students learn to find, analyze, and critically evaluate primary and secondary sources. They learn how to use the evidence provided by their sources to craft a well-supported thesis. Finally, they learn how to present their findings in a logical and compelling way.
Students themselves recognize the value of History Fair. Surveys show that more than 95% of students find History Fair to be a valuable experience. They also report that they develop many important skills from their participation in History Fair. Chief among them are the ability to think critically, including developing a thesis and making an argument based on evidence. Many students find the work difficult but rewarding, and some students report deep personal growth. As one student recently said, “History Fair, compared to other projects, was a lot more work but also much more exciting.” Another added, “When you do a History Fair project, it is something deep and emotional. I don’t think this happens with any other project.” A third said, “It was an unforgettable experience. I loved it. I feel helpful now. I know more about my community’s history. I could apply so much of what I know now in other areas and help others.”
These videos provide excellent examples of high-quality student research projects. They are thoroughly researched, which is evident in the sources that the students present. They address historically significant events, such as religion and public education, free speech for unpopular groups, and sexism. Also, each presents a logical, well-organized argument. We expect to see equally impressive projects in this year’s Fair!
Below you can see three exemplary documentary projects from 2011.
“McCollum v. Board of Education: Debate and Diplomacy in the Argument
over Religion in Public Education” by Daniela Flax and Stella Mensah
of Lincoln Park High School
“Nazi March in Skokie: Freedom for the Speech We Hate”
by Marissa Howe of Quest Academy in Des Plaines
“The Playboy Effect” by Takahana Miller of Taft Academic Center
Tags: chicago, history, high school, middle school, research, students, public education, religion, free speech, nazi, skokie, playboy, sexism