Guiding Students to History Day: An Honest Reflection

At the start of the History Day project last September, the single biggest challenge I confronted was designing instruction to assure that all students ended up choosing a workable topic for a project about a subject they were passionate. At the same time, I wanted them to be open to learning about new things, so I did not want them to select something entirely familiar either. I wanted to see an increase in passion and interest as they progressed in their research.

As I mentioned before, the History Day timeframe allows for an unprecedented amount of time to develop a thesis, and I wanted to maximize this time. Still, my instructional time with the students was only 6 days of 45 minute periods from the open and introduction of the NHD theme and the due date of the Thesis.

I consulted numerous sources for ideas, including the GID Design book and a blog post by Buffy Hamilton regarding “pre-search” strategies.  I was completely overwhelmed with the task of fitting stages of GID from the Immerse to the Gather stages or the full pre-search lesson cycle in the time allotted, so I tried to identify the essential ingredients of both and put a lot of emphasis on reading outside of class.  I wanted the students to begin with the entirety of world history and pick and single individual or group that they felt met the HND Theme criteria for “Taking a Stand” and the stand should be meaningful to the students in a deeply personal way.

Additionally, I was looking for ways to truly individualize and differentiate the instruction so that could guide each student or group toward a better topic and better reading material on their topic.

My plan combined formative assessment strategies using Google forms to checkpoints in the form of worksheets that asked students to back up their current thinking with credible sources of information.

Another aspect of my plan involved a 30 minute meeting with each group. The students would set an appointment with me using appointment slots on Google Calendar. In these meetings I could help groups with any number of issues, ranging from group dynamics to locating suitable sources. This was the most useful strategy albeit a very time-consuming one.

These meetings with students were incredibly revealing regarding the success of my teaching strategies. The truth was that half of the groups did not do nearly enough outside reading on their topic to constitute real inquiry on their part. With the other half of students, I was satisfied that they read broadly enough to select a good topic with sufficient evidence to support a thesis aligned with the NHD theme.

What were the shortcomings of my plan?  While it is tempting to blame the students for being too lazy to do outside reading, I must admit that the students did not all have intrinsic motivation and a clear purpose for reading. My plan certainly lacked good scaffolding for the vital Immerse and Explore stages of Inquiry, and my initial library lessons emphasized skills for the Gather stage.  I also put Gather before Identify.

In spite of my instructional shortcomings, I was immensely proud of the students’ work and can’t wait to see what next year’s group does. Here are a few of the judges favorites.

Webiste: Henry VIII Divorcing a Religion

Film: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Film: Alan Turing: Untold Hero of WW II

I am writing this blog post as a means of reaching out to fellow inquiry fans who are interested in National History Day.  I sincerely hope I have inspired some of you to undertake History Day next year and I would love to have dialog with the GID community refine teaching strategies that help students find a compelling topic and go deep within that topic and create an inspiring NHD project. Thanks for reading.  Please connect via by email or Twitter or LinkedIn.


Neil Krasnoff


Highland Park High School

Plans: When they Fall Through and Making them for the Future

Happy weekend, GIDers! It’s Kelsey Barker again. I hope you have had a wonderful week. Mine was really busy! May always seems to be jam-packed with meetings, banquets and ceremonies, retirement and graduation parties, field trips, and other special events that make it fly by. We only have 14 more days of school here in Norman, and the kids (and teachers!) are feeling the nearness of summer vacation!

I’m so glad that my blogging week fell in May this year; while I would normally be just trying to get through this month, writing about this unit has required me to pause and reflect. Plus, it’s fun to share with like-minded GID lovers around the world. So without further ado: the rest of our unit!


You’ll remember that we left off with students identifying inquiry questions using the Level 1, 2, and 3 questions framework. Their questions were so varied and hit on all periods of history, from Cleopatra to Colin Keapernick. I love that they were able to make connections between their topic and that of their classmates.

In a normal Guided Inquiry unit, I would co-teach with the classroom teacher all the way through the Gather phase. But due to the scope of this unit, that wasn’t physically possible. So I created this document of model Gather session plans to give teachers an idea of how I would structure a Gather session. Some of them followed it to the letter, others used bits and pieces. The important thing is that we provided some structure to our students as they look for information to answer their inquiry question.

We had students start out using the resources provided by National History Day before moving on to databases and web searches to find more resources. Due to the range of topics covered by their inquiry questions, they often had to look for their own resources to help them find answers.



We provided students with a choice board and rubric they used to create their final products. I was amazed at how many students opted for one of the low-tech products like a poster or skit. This could be a testament to their frustration with the age and lack of reliability of our school computers, or it could be that they spend all day connected and wanted to do something different. I’d love your feedback on this, readers!



We had planned to set up a gallery walk in the library for one week where every student displayed their product for the rest of the school to see. Due to time constraints, this is not going to happen this year. Instead, students shared their products in class through presentations or displays. Some students who created digital products asked me to publish them on YouTube or other sites so they could share them with their parents. In future iterations of this project, I would love to create an online NHD museum where students and parents could view student work all in one place!



Back in their inquiry journals, students journaled in response to prompts about the content and process of this unit. They also were asked to describe how their idea of what it means to take a stand changed through this unit.



As with any unit, there were aspects of the NHD project I would want to change for next year. We designed the unit to stretch through the year in part because of our lack of computers for students to use. Next year, our district is going 1:1, so that thankfully won’t be a problem! I would love to complete this unit in one month to help students keep up momentum and engagement. In the future, I would also like to be sure to make the Share phase a big deal for our students; they deserve the opportunity to show off their incredible learning.

However, a lot of good came from this unit as well: we can say that every student at Longfellow has completed a Guided Inquiry unit this year, which I don’t think many other schools can say! We developed a common language around questioning and the GID process, and we definitely worked out some kinks and had feedback I’ve already been able to apply in units with other subject areas. And overall, I think our students really enjoyed the process, especially being in control of their own learning. With a couple of units under their belts, I’m so excited to see what this group of kids will be able to accomplish next year. But first, summer vacation!

In Which I Become a YouTube Star

Happy Wednesday!

It’s Kelsey Barker again, back to give you an overview of the first half of our National History Day (NHD) Guided Inquiry unit. Before we get started, here’s a little background: in September, the Longfellow social studies department chair told me that the social studies curriculum coordinator for Norman Public Schools had encouraged secondary teachers to use the NHD program in their classes. The department chair clearly understands the value of a teacher librarian because she came to me about facilitating student research! After some discussion about the depth and difficulty of NHD, we settled on restructuring it with the Guided Inquiry process to make it accessible for all students. Even though no one in our social studies department had been through the Guided Inquiry Institute and I was brand new to Longfellow, the entire department took a leap of faith and agreed to try it. I think that is a testament to the open minds and incredible passion of these teachers!

In order to facilitate this unit on such a large scale, we built a website for the social studies teachers to use as a resource to guide them through the process. A page for each phase featured the purpose of the phase (critical for untrained teachers), a general timeline, estimated duration, resources including anything that students used, and an activity outline. That website can be found here. If there is anything here that is useful to you, please feel free to use it… and let me know how it worked for you! I’m always happy to share resources.


Because the concept of this unit (and the NHD theme for the year) was “Taking a Stand,” students viewed videos from a series called “What Would You Do?” featuring difficult social situations. In groups, they discussed the following questions:

  • Who in the video took a stand?
  • What could have cause them to do so?
  • What would you have done in that situation?

The students were dramatically indignant watching some of these videos! This introduced them to the idea that there are many ways to take a stand.



Considering the concept of Taking a Stand, students journaled in inquiry journals about people in everyday life who took a stand, including themselves. Looking back, I would have loved to give them more of an experience: perhaps a guest speaker who took a stand for something significant. But that’s why I love this blog so much: it’s a great opportunity to reflect and learn and grow!



The National History Day organization has an excellent list of curated resources available on their website, and we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel! In Explore, students dipped into these resources and looked for topics and themes that interested them. We created a NHD Google Doc that students would use through the rest of the process. We have since duplicated this inquiry log/journal/chart combo for multiple units, so our students have become used to the format.

At this point, different grade levels had different expectations for their students. Some required a set number of boxes filled in during Explore, and some were less prescriptive about this phase. The unit was designed to be flexible depending on the teacher, grade level, and individual students.



Immediately, I knew that the Identify phase was where teachers would need my assistance the most. In my experience, the most difficult part of GID for teachers to grasp is that students are writing their own inquiry questions. To facilitate this, we had the Gifted Resource Coordinator, classroom teachers, and myself on deck each day of Identify. Looking back, it’s amazing what we accomplished with 750 students and 5 teachers who had never written inquiry questions before!

We decided early on that we needed a structure for questioning that would become common language across the school. We agreed on Level 1, 2, and 3 questioning, a framework loosely based on an AVID strategy and adapted to fit our needs. I did a day of leveled questioning practice with every single class before we started writing inquiry questions, and due to the scope of the project, made this video about Level 1, 2, and 3 questions to use as a review. Now that video has over 700 views on YouTube… wow!

I’m a believer that conferencing with students is critical at the Identify phase in middle school. There is so much growth potential when a member of the learning team can work with a student one-on-one to craft the best possible Level 3 question that also draws that students’ interest. We continued to use this model in later units.

To this point in the process, we kept the activities very simple. I wanted the classroom teachers to have a positive first experience with GID. It was also the first Guided Inquiry unit for many of our students, so we were all learning together.

Come back on Friday to hear about the last four phases, the lessons we learned for next year, and how I managed to teach 750 students at one time!

Kelsey Barker

Teacher Librarian

Longfellow Middle School

Guess who’s back, back again…

Hello again, GIDers!

I’m Kelsey Barker, teacher librarian for Norman Public Schools in Norman, Oklahoma. You may remember me from the last time I blogged with the incredible Buffy Edwards around this time last year. Now I’m back with another year of GID under my belt and lots to share!

This year, I transitioned from my position in an elementary to a middle school in the same district. Middle school has always had my heart, and I’m so happy to back with this strange, delightful, hilarious age at Longfellow. Despite moving up, I’m still a huge advocate for Guided Inquiry in elementary school, and thankfully connecting with librarians across the US on Twitter has allowed me to keep talking about my passion for GID at all ages (shout out to Jen and her team in Wisconsin!).

Working with a new set of students isn’t the only thing that has changed since the last time we talked. I’ve been lucky to have become a Guided Inquiry Coach last summer, and I was thrilled to be among the first ever Guided Inquiry Trainers when our district implemented this program with Leslie Maniotes in February. My GID journey has been incredibly fulfilling and more fun than I could have imagined, and I’m only getting started!

Here are the first NPS secondary trainers: That’s me squinting on the left, followed by Cindy Castell, Amanda Kordeliski, Martha Pangburn, and Leslie Maniotes, Professional Developer for GID.

Additionally, my new school, along with two others in Norman, was chosen to be a part of a half-million-dollar IMLS grant that will study Guided Inquiry and Makerspaces in schools. These last few weeks have been full of ordering Makerspace materials, planning two new Guided Inquiry units, and working with our learning team on what exactly it looks like to teach four full-scale Guided Inquiry units in one year in 7th grade Language Arts.

I have been living the GID life this year, and I wouldn’t change a thing. At Longfellow, we have had 16 teachers participate in 6 Guided Inquiry units this year with plans to expand next year. Every student at Longfellow has experienced at least two GID units this year, and a lucky handful of students have done up to four Between our widespread implementation, coaching and training, and the IMLS grant, I definitely have a lot to say about GID… way too much for a week’s worth of blog posts!

So I’m going to be sharing just one unit, and it’s our most ambitious unit of the year: a whole-school, year-long unit designed around the National History Day program that every single student participated in through their social studies class. With a learning team of seven and not one social studies classroom teacher trained in GID (yet!), it was an exercise in preparation, faith, and flexibility. I can’t wait to share our successes, failures, and lessons learned along the way.

Until next time!

Kelsey Barker

Teacher Librarian

Longfellow Middle School

My GID Prologue

Like every respectable epic story, my tale begins with a prologue.  My name is Andrew Holmes.  If my Twitter profile is to believed (@aholmes1517), I am a philosopher, instructional designer, innovator, educator, prolific reader, technology enthusiast, and engaging speaker. I am also beginning my second full year as a Ph.D. student in the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, which, incidentally, has recently been afforded tier I research status (that’s impressive)! In addition, I am the Instructional Technologist (Instructional Designer) at Milwaukee School of Engineering University.

But, my Guided Inquiry Design journey begins much earlier. Continue reading

Wisconsin Reflections

Collaboration – I took the lead as the main presenter and grader. The Dean and I discussed the assessment process and grades. I shared all PowerPoints in a Google Folder with students, Dean, Social Studies teacher, and Special Education Teacher. The Dean was new this year and appreciated being a partner. The Social Studies teacher added knowledge and credibility, as he was a former National History Day Judge. A current National History Day Judge came to campus and mentored our students on how to narrow their topic. We all learned from her tips. The reference librarians at the public library were invaluable guides for our students when we spent a day there gathering information.  The Dean, social studies teacher and I sat down after the project was completed to reassess time commitments for next year, school calendar, and what need to be tweaked as far as content and process. Next year we want to include a day at the Wisconsin State Historical Library because they have a huge amount of primary sources and they encourage high school students to come there. They will give our students an orientation when they arrive.

Third Space – Every student chose their topic based on a passion they had for a seminal event or person or groups of people that impacted history.  They had much to learn about the importance of primary sources and citing them. Many thought they could just report on their prior knowledge and information they got from secondary sources. They learned how to analyze their sources and how to create meaning from all their notes. They had choices on how they would  share out. The research topics were as varied as the students:

  • The impact of psychedelic drugs in the 1960’s on artists’ creativity;
  • The Saturn Project;
  • The Challenger Disaster;
  • Rosemary Kennedy and her impact on Special Education laws;
  • Ballet;
  • John Deere;
  • Trench Warfare;
  • Animal Testing;
  • The Little Rock Nine;
  • Jamestown Virginia and the tobacco industry;.
  • Homer and Greek Warfare;
  • World War 2 battles with Japan and China;
  • Hawaii and the impact of the Protestant Missionaries and the Pineapple Industry.

Their choices. Their passions.

The projects that competed at Regional National History Day competition in Madison Wisconsin were:

Individual Exhibit, Trench Warfare: A Death Sentence for Thousands

Individual Exhibit, The SLS-51-L That Failed The Tragedy That Haunts Humanity

Individual Exhibit, Apollo Program: Changing the World for Half a Century (This project advanced to state competition)

Group Web Site, Animal Rights: Testing in Experiments (This project advanced to state competition)

Student Questioning – this was the biggest challenge as the students did not have previous experience with creating higher level questions, historical analysis, and building a strong thesis. I used the work from New York State as a guide. Empire State Information Fluency Continuum.

Technology – all students have a Mac Book Pro. This is a 1-1 school. It was a challenge to have them not use Google. I guided them to curated resources that I included on their school’s online catalog. If you want to see these resources click on and then click on Rock University High School . We encouraged them to use Noodle Tools. It  is such an efficient tool for building bibliographies, note taking, and outlining. I need to learn more about the capabilities so I can better inform the students. They were not motivated to view the Noodle Tools tutorials. They wanted to “get er done!” I had the students share their Noodle Tools work and their work they completed in Google Docs with me. I commented within 24 hours.

Parents Comments at Open House and a Regional Competition

We judged the final projects at an Open House for parents. All parents came to the Open House. In many cases, the parents commented that this was the first academic challenge their child had ever participated in. The parents were extremely proud of their teenager’s work. As we judged the projects, based on the National History Day Judging Criteria, we had conversations with the students and their parents. We wanted as many students as possible to consider entering their work at Regionals. It was their choice.

One parent stated, “I could not believe how involved he was. I never once saw him using his computer to just watch You Tube music videos. He wanted to do such a good job.” This student made it to the State competition.

What questions do you have about our project?

What tips do you have that you would like to share?

What projects do you work on with teachers?

What are your challenges?

Thank you for participating in the BLOG postings. Keep up you dedicated work.

Kathy Boguszewski

National History Day Project inWisconsin

Recent Project: The GID Process

In the 2015-16 school year, after participating in a Guided Inquiry summer institute, my partners at the Charter School: the social studies teacher, the Dean, and I decided to implement the Guided Inquiry Design Process throughout all content areas. We started with the National History Day Project. I created a student journal that the students used to capture their thoughts. I collected the Journals daily and commented. The student journal is an adaptation of a journal that Leslie had teachers use when we participated her GI Institute. The students commented that they appreciated not always having to use technology to compose their thoughts.  I created PowerPoints for each session. I added all the PowerPoints and other documents to a Google Folder and shared the folder with the students and my teacher partners. I also encouraged the students to email me any time they had questions. Several students, who were not able to make it to all the classes, appreciated that they could keep up with the class lessons in this manner.

The Open session was our most challenging as we never took the time before to open students’ minds: to get them excited about the journey they were starting. After participating in the Institute, we wrestled with different ideas.  In one of Leslie’s posts on her Guided Inquiry Design Facebook page we found some great suggestions. We mentioned the theme, which was Explore, Encounter, and Exchange in History, and that we would spend more time with what the theme meant in the coming days. We viewed the Sir Ken Robinson video Changing Education Paradigms. The students took notes using guided questions in their Journal. They discussed in Inquiry Circles how that video spoke to them. How did Sir Ken explain the historical context of education reform today? How did he captivate them while exchanging his ideas? I was surprised at how many students were diagnosed with ADHD when they were younger. They could really relate to Sir Ken.

Historical context is often difficult to understand. One of the suggestions in the GID Facebook page was to have them watch and discuss a more current topic to which they could relate. They watched History of Apple and the First iPhone: RIP Steve Job. . Many students had not seen this video. Time passes so quickly. Most of them had mobile phones and historical context started to make sense. Again, the students took notes using guided questions in their Journal and shared their thoughts in Inquiry Circles.

The reflections in their journal gave us an insight into what they were wondering about at this beginning stage.

The Immerse Stage was also a challenge. Students had never taken the time just to discover content while they built background knowledge. We spent time viewing and discussing a National History Day winning video. The Tiananmen Square Massacre: A Government’s Encounter with It’s People. They again took notes from guided questions in their Journal. We also immersed the students in political cartoon analysis. Most students had no background knowledge of the what political cartoons were and how to analyze them. They are excellent primary sources for understanding historical context. Some student’s reflections revealed they were changing their thoughts on topics. That was a good thing.

The other stages: Explore, Identify, Gather, Create, Share, and Evaluate had challenges also since this was my first year implementing GID within the National History Day Project. I was determined to implement the process with fidelity. However, to do that we needed to take the time during class. They spent time looking at exemplar National History Day past winners. They also spent time Asking the Experts in the Google+ Hangouts. These sessions were invaluable during the Create stage. Determining which category they were going to enter, in order to share what they learned and how to write up the Process Paper were a challenge they had not encountered in previous research projects. They studied the judging criteria, which set the expectations.

National History Day requires an Annotated Bibliography. The students who used Noodle Tools had no problem with this requirement.

The students shared their project several weeks ago at a Parent Open House. Homemade punch and cookies were an added appeal. Later on in the BLOG I will share the parent’s reflections. The students shared their thoughts throughput the entire process through reflections and dialogues in Inquiry Circles and with the entire Inquiry Community. They also gave input during the final Evaluation Session. Common themes were:

  • Students learn more by listening, communicating, and working with peers;
  • They relish input from their peers;
  • They desired to dig more into their topic because they chose the topic based on a theme.

Next year the theme is “Taking a Stand”. I am already looking forward to working with the students next year. Every year I learn and the next year benefits from that learning.

For the next project I will be working with the seniors on their Global Issues Capstone Project. They choose an international problem and after thorough research they present solutions from their informed point of view.  They will follow the GID process. They will connect with an expert mentor in the field as a resource. They will write a paper. Then they will present in a creative and meaningful way to an authentic audience who gives them input. Often times their expert mentor will also give them input during the evaluation component of their final project. Voice and Choice are key actions for personalizing learning. Voice and Choice are also critical motivators for them to stay engaged through an extended timeline.

If you questions, I am happy to reply in the comments section. In the end students commented they were never prompted to think and share their thinking with their peers before. They gave this project very high rating when they communicated on their successes at the school. This project provides rigor within a guided process.

Kathy Boguszewski