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History comes alive

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Woodbury Middle School took a step back in time last week.

On Feb. 25 the school held its first-ever National History Day Showcase.

"All too often history becomes a staid, dry recitation of facts from a textbook," social studies teacher Allissa Bagley said. "History Day motivates students to immerse themselves in history and realize that history isn't just something found in a textbook lying on a shelf."

National History Day, which began in 1974, is an interdisciplinary research project that uses history as the vehicle to engage students in history through individualized learning.

Students select a topic based on the different theme each year. This year's National History Day theme is "Exploration, Encounter and Exchange."

"It uses history as a vehicle to engage students' minds as they learn about different topics and different passions in history," Bagley said.

After selecting a topic, students research their topic and then create either an exhibit, a website, a documentary or a performance.

To help with student's research, Bagley took her students to the library at the University of Minnesota where they had to look at both primary and secondary texts, such as journals, books, newspapers and more.

"They couldn't just use websites," Bagley said. "They go through a lot of analysis and critical thinking."

Some students even conducted one-on-one interviews with sources.

Making history relevant

Research topics selected by Bagley's sixth-grade students included a wide range of topics such as: the impact of Title IX, Palestinian refugees to Minnesota, the spectacle of Monday Night Football, mining strikes in the Iron Range, Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, 3M,

Alcatraz, the California gold rush, Louis Armstrong and even Star Wars.

WMS sixth grader Kate Overstreet did her History Day exhibit on Title IX, which is part of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 that states that women can't be excluded from any educational activities, including sports.

"Sports takes up most of my life," said Overstreet, who plays soccer, "so it's interesting to look at how it was before."

As part of her exhibit, Overstreet invited Olympic hockey player Karyn Dietz, who lives in Hudson, Wis., to attend the showcase.

"When kids take the time to do a project like that," Dietz said, "how can you say no?"

Dietz, formerly Karyn Bye, competed in both the 1998 and the 2002 Winter Olympics on the first-ever U.S. women's hockey team.

Overstreet said she really like participating in National History Day.

"It's an opportunity for students like me to create a project on a topic that is meaningful," she said. "It allows me as a student to gain a deeper understanding of how even the simplest things we love have importance in history even if it is not obvious."

As part of National History Day Bagley invited members of the community to see students' projects.

"They deserve the opportunity to convey their knowledge to someone in community other than just me," she said. "They can speak as a community expert about their topic."

Another component of National History Day are regional, state and national competitions for projects.

At WMS, Bagley sent nine individual exhibits, four group exhibits, eight websites, three documentaries and six performances to the regional competition, which is being held March 10.

Bagley said WMS' first National History Day Showcase turned out to be a huge success because it inspired students to look at history differently.

"Everything is history," she said. "History is a part of us, it's all around us, it's living and breathing."

Bagley said she would like to continue participating in National History Day.

"Students get to see the deep historical roots of modern events firsthand," she said. "They become an expert in something and learn how to think like a historian."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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