NHD2018: Competition and Creativity

Friday is one of my favorite days of the year.

National History Day!

Well, it is the Grand Strand Regional Competition. Students work for months researching and creating History projects that will be displayed and evaluated during the competition. Participants have so many choices when developing the project. They can:

  1. Work individually or in small groups of up to 5 (Collaboration!)
  2. Select 1 of 5 categories (documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, or website)
  3. Select their own topic. I require mine to match my curriculum, but that is still all of American History.
  4. The best projects are the ones where students have a personal connection.

What is truly exceptional about NHD though is that the projects do not need to fit a specific rubric. The judges do have an evaluation form; however there is not a single ‘correct way’ to build the project. Students need to develop an evidence based argument that supports the annual theme – 2018 is Conflict and Compromise – but within some general size and time limit rules there is a great deal of freedom! Check out nhd.org for more information, examples, and evaluation forms.

The point of this post is not just about NHD but about how the competition enhances the other gamified elements – specifically creativity. By definition this competition will breed winners and losers but it is the journey along the way that matters. During last weeks WellPlayed Pod the Reflection Time Quote was:

I think this competition breeds this mentality. I want to share a small example of this from one of my students.

This is an individual exhibit. This student was really interested in art and in particular Banksey. After some discussion what she was really interested in was street art and after I showed her some pictures of the Berlin Wall she was hooked. The product above was version 5 or 6 (iterate till its great!). It is also now completely digitally after v1.0 was all cut and paste. She learned how research an uncommon topic, manipulate digital mediums, cite sources, and arrange materials to develop an evidence based argument. This is good Historic Skills learning.

But this is about creativity.

My favorite part of this project is elthe East-West divide. She read that the West side of the wall was covered in graffiti whereas the East was dull and drab. Her spark was to make the “west side” of the project colorful and interesting and the “east side” drab to reflect this truth. The original hit the viewer over the head with this but she revised to make it a bit more subtle for the viewer. Its not perfect, bit she was engaged and she became an expert.

Tomorrow will be filled with examples of creativity that was sparked by competition. Some will be big ideas like my two Hispanic performers that are showing the impact of the DREAMer status on a family through the evolution of their speech patterns. Some will be subtle like my student examining gender roles through David Bowie’s fashion. I know though that this creativity would not have been sparked if there was not the possibility of walking across the stage to get a medal and recognition. Yes, some students will be upset they didn’t win but they will always remeber the Documenatary they made about Mickey Mouse or performing in front of the judges about the Stonewall Riots.

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