Each spring, middle school and high school students, along with their history teachers, look forward to History Day. After many students had spent hours on their projects, they feared that History Day would be cancelled this year due to the coronavirus. However, teachers around the state “put their heads together” to find a way to continue the tradition. With the help of Trampas Alderman, Curator of Education and Public Engagement at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee, the anticipated event was able to take place.
“Continuing this year’s Florida History Day state competition was a team effort involving students, teachers, and judges from across the state as well as Florida Department of State staff and National History Day staff,” stated Alderman.
However, organizers, as well as the students who competed, had to make a number of changes in order to comply with quarantine regulations and safety measures. Along with those changes came challenges that tested the students’ creativity and ingenuity.
Projects such as documentaries, websites and papers were easy to adapt to a virtual setting. However, exhibits and performances, which are meant to be viewed in person, were more difficult to present virtually.
Ellie Brannan and Hayley Crews, juniors at Weeki Wachee High School, were already working on a performance to present their project, entitled “Hey Siri, Open Google Translate,” when the pandemic struck.
“Instead of taking the time between districts and the state competition to make improvements to the project, like usual, we became stagnant,” Hayley confessed.
“So, when they finally announced that the competition would still be held virtually, we had to scramble to quickly make improvements to our script and project to get it in shape for the state level.”
Ellie added, “Working together last year, we could easily plan to get together in order to work on our project and being able to speak with each other in person made it easy to understand each other’s vision. Working on our project through FaceTime was not something we were used to.”
Although Dylan Karnow, Evan Pearson, Nicolas Anile, Riley Staller and Walker
Keller-Henderson, who are all freshmen at Weeki Wachee High School, finished their project before the coronavirus outbreak, they still met with some challenges. Their website project, entitled “The Visionary Flight of NACA: Changing Ideas of Aviation Through the Sound-Breaking Flight” details Chuck Yeager’s history-making achievements.
Dylan Karnow commented, “Figuring out the website builder was difficult because it was different from last year.”
Nicolas Anile added, “Organization and choosing everyone’s roles were hard in the beginning, but we quickly overcame them.”
Obviously, it was a disappointment to both groups of students not being able to go to Tallahassee to present their projects in person, after having qualified for the state competition. In the end, despite the challenges, their hard work paid off. Ellie and Hayley placed third overall in Tallahassee. Dylan, Evan, Nicolas, Riley and Walker placed sixth at the state level against stiff competition.
Developing a plan for how to judge the projects was another challenge for the organizers. Judges’ interviews with the contestants, an important part of the competition, could not take place. History Day staff and judges exchanged thousands of emails during the course of the judging.
“Our biggest challenge was communication. With students, teachers and judges scattered across the state, email became our main method of communication. With the school closures, teachers were having a hard time reaching their students. In the end the plan worked with only minor issues,” Alderman remarked.
Both Hayley and Ellie are seasoned History Day competitors and have worked on projects together in the past. They chose the topic of language translation after learning about the Rosetta Stone in humanities class.
First, they did research on the Rosetta Stone. Discovered in 1799, it dates back to 196 B.C. and was used by archaeologists to crack the ancient hieroglyphic code. It also pioneered modern translation technology. They emphasized the continuing struggles of language barriers, culminating with Google Translate.
Use of primary resources, as well as secondary resources, is one of the research requirements for all History Day projects. This presented a challenge for the girls.
“Because our topic dates back to 196 BC it was difficult finding primary sources while doing our research. In addition, stores and museums closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, made it nearly impossible to interview historians and shop for things to improve our costumes and props,” Hayley stated.
Additional work was required because the girls had to submit their full script, along with a lengthy breakdown of scene-by-scene details including dialogue, costume description, backdrop description and a list of props. All told, the pair spent four months preparing their performance.
The boys worked on their website for approximately two months. They had previously worked together on smaller projects, so their familiarity with each other made the process smoother.
In their research the group discovered quite a bit about the efforts that went into the flight that first broke the sound barrier. They depicted this on their website.
“[The project showed] all the barriers that were broken through the flight. Both the physical barrier and also the mentality that it could be done. We also covered the technological and aviation advancements made through the flight,” Dylan commented.
They decided to do a website rather than an exhibit or other format partly because Dylan had done a website for a previous project.
“We thought that in doing a website we would be able to better tell the story of supersonic flight and through the use of things like photography, audio and video we would be able to relate to the theme better,” Nicolas stated.
Despite the challenges and the disappointment of not being able to participate in person at the district and the state level, there were still rewards and the students gained a lot from their experience.
“This year was rewarding because it showed how well everyone was able to still stay strong and adapt considering the pandemic and a switch to the virtual competition,” Hayley remarked.
“I felt most rewarded to hear our judges’ feedback about our performance. It felt good to know that, even through a virtual competition, the judges were still able to appreciate our hard work and understand the overall message we were trying to convey,” Ellie concluded.
Unfortunately, there is no video to view online of Ellie and Hayley’s performance. However, if you want to visit the website that Dylan, Evan, Nicolas, Riley and Walker created go to https://site.nhd.org/73833441/home
Perhaps it’s symbolic that the theme of the 2020 History Day was “Breaking Barriers in History.” This year has been one of facing many challenges and breaking many barriers.