Students Present Research at Teachers College, Columbia!
May 22, 2014
A warm hello to all you awesome people and inquiring minds,
It's been a while -- much too long in fact! -- and I certainly apologize for the lack of updates. But, to make up for it, I have so much exciting news to report and share in regards to this work! We had a wonderful end-of-the-year culminating event where the YHH students presented their research at Teachers College, Columbia University, and it was a massive success; these high school students impressively shared their slides and discussed the merits of their research to a packed room of community members, graduate students, and professors. The ability of students to truly take on the "hat" of a historian and of an authentic researcher in this collegiate space had come to fruition, and it was stimulating, empowering, enlightening, and just plain awesome. Click here for photos from this event!
First, however, picking up from my last update in March, the students were entering the final phase of their projects as they worked with (self-selected) primary sources to acquire additional research. All of April, then, students primarily worked independently to gather research, create outlines of their projects/papers, and begin creating/writing. One of the key elements that YHH intends to promote is independent work; not only must students learn to work independently and carry on lengthy research projects to be college-ready, but becoming confident and reliable independent workers is essential to life and critical thinking at large. Students became more and more comfortable working independently on their projects, and the nature of students working on "their" projects that revolve around self-selected topics was key. Although I had always told the students that they would present their work at the end of the year, the specifics were a bit vague -- it was not until the end of April that I announced that students would need to prepare 5-10 minute PowerPoint slide presentations in front of folks at Columbia. For some of the students, this was quite a jolt! It was one thing, they said, to do this research and present their work to each other (and to me), but to do so in this professional setting was daunting and scary! However, as I told them, to be a "real" researcher and historian, they must share their work -- even if it was not "finished" as research never truly is -- as this step is a major part of the YHH paradigm. In education today, rarely are students given the opportunity to actually "be" true scholars; we throw out the term, but real scholars interact with each other in dialogue about research, and students needed to do that too. Most of all, students are more than capable of doing this (and they showed their brilliance at this event!). Educators consistently under-estimate the brilliance and ability of youth, and this step of having students present their work at Columbia was monumental for both the students themselves and for the program at large. In regards to the former, learning how to create presentations and communicate thoughts promotes so many important real life skills that will serve students well in the short- and long-term. Going through the cognitive thought process of picking and choosing certain information to write on a slide, framing certain ideas, and then actually communicating this information and these ideas undoubtedly stimulates the academic literacies that we all want to promote. Frankly, educators do not need to create worksheets to promote critical thinking, per se, as creating a research presentation like this does that automatically, in a sense. Second, with regards to this program, the idea that high school students can actually engage in historical work with historians at institutions of higher learning is relatively unprecedented (although it shouldn't be!); it was important for students to present their work to document how the YHH curriculum is a viable curriculum that has tangible outcomes, such as these presentations.
Therefore, in the first two weeks of May, students participated in a presentation mini-boot camp, working super hard to create PowerPoint slides and prepare their research for the large event on May 12th at Columbia University. Some students spent over 10 hours the weekend before working on their presentations! Then, on May 12th, over 40 people came to Columbia University to hear the students speak. I spoke briefly about the program, the work the students have done this year, and their on-going evolution as researchers and how they were presenting their works-in-progress. As insiders for making this project possible, I've included my personal notes for what I talked about during this event. Following my brief words, eight of the nine students (one of them was in the hospital at the time and could not attend) presented their research via the PowerPoint/Google slides to the audience, followed by a quick Q&A session. (I initially promised the students no questions, but, people in the audience had questions about their research and as authentic researchers and experts on their topics, they were more than capable of answering them!). Finally, we concluded with me handing out plaques to each student acknowledging their work this year. It was truly a special event, and while students were hesitant when I first announced they would be doing this, after, all of them said it was "fun" and enjoyed sharing their research (it was a total 180!). This event proves to me, at least, that we must massively re-think the way students interact with history to increase important skills and empower students.
Overall, it was truly a special afternoon, and all praise goes to these Youth Historians who were magnificant -- and took a giant leap into becoming authentic and powerful historians and researchers. I am humbled to be a part of it and to work with these bright and emerging scholars!
I hope to provide one final update in a month or so once students complete their final papers. Enjoy the photographs below from the May 12th event!