Engaging K-6 Students in History: The Nutley History Fair
Hank Bitten,Executive Director, New Jersey Council for the Social Studies
The Nutley Academic Booster Club (ABC) (http://www.nutleyabc.org/) provides an opportunity for students in their K-6 elementary schools to participate in a science and history fair in alternating years each March. The article below reflects on my observations as a judge in the 2018 History Fair for K-6 students. I judged the student entries for Grades 4 and 6.
The History Fair is held in the high school gymnasium with tables for students in each grade to display their research based projects. Students arrive before 9:00 a.m. to setup their displays with their parents and program begins at 10:00 a.m. with judging the K-1 and 2-3 students. Judging for the students in grades 4-6 begins at 11:30 a.m. and the program ends by 2:00 p.m.. The rubric allocates the majority of points on an interview with students about their research and knowledge of their topic:
- Understanding and Clarity (30%)
- Historical Content (30%)
- Creativity (30%)
- Technical Skills (10%)
There are two teams of judges who interview each student. The students have an opportunity to engage in a conversation for about ten minutes with the judges about their project, what they learned, their research, and why their subject is important to world history, American history, New Jersey history, or local history. Exhibits include posters, demonstrations, media, and experiments.
Some of the exhibits I judged were on the history of ballet, gymnastics as an Olympic sport, the life of Katherine Johnson, Sally Ride, the inventions of Thomas Edison, the history of Lego, the culture of death in China, Brazil, and Africa, the Aztec civilization, Anne Frank, and the architecture of the Taj Mahal. At several exhibits, the students were dressed in historical era clothing or as a gymnast, ballerina, or entrepreneur.
Parents are permitted to guide their children and work with them on their project but each student must explain the story and historical information on their own. The Nutley Academic Booster Club (ABC) recognizes the top three student winners in each grade and there is a public recognition at a later date. All students receive certificates.
Research for young students leaves a positive impact and nurtures their interest and engagement with history as they are talking about their topics with their families for several weeks, learning how to make an abstract topic into a visual presentation, understanding the importance of asking questions, using print and non-print resources, books and websites, interviews and museum resources, and speaking with adults about what they learned.
In the gym, the Nutley Historical Society has displays of local history, including information about the public schools, teachers and relatives observe and take hundreds of pictures, and there is plenty of food and fun contributing to this memorable experience. Even though only a few students in each grade receive one of the top three awards (there were 21 prizes for about 100 entries), every student developed a special and positive relationship with their person or historical event.
Consider planning a history fair program in your school or public school district!