Students begin work for History Day

February 12, 2010 — by Christine Bancroft and Kim Tsai

Saturday morning rolls around and a group of students wearily trudge up the steps to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. library in San Jose. Junior Grace Kim, Synthia Ling and Kevin Mu are here to complete research on the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. They are working on a short document about her life in time for History Day in June.

The school competition portion of the nationwide research tournament, History Day, kicked off on Feb. 24. About 15 students will be participating this year in the project, which is headed by history teacher Matt Torrens. In the competition, students receive a topic––this year is “Innovations in History”––and create a research project on a subtopic.

“It’s a great experience because it gives people the opportunity to research something they’re interested in, a topic that they have a passion for and that they are curious about,” said Torrens. “They get to work with their friends and they get to compete with other schools. It’s kind of exciting.”

Last year, several History Day participants who advanced went to the statewide competition in Sacramento, where they were judged over one weekend. Senior Layla Daryan competed at states with students from all over California.

“It’s kind of like a science fair, but instead, it’s history,” Daryan said. “Mr. Torrens said that not many people go to states at this school, so I was pretty excited.”

The first semester of work consists mostly of signing up for the competition and doing research, while second semester is when students create the project itself. It can be anything from an exhibit board, a research paper or what Daryan and her partner, senior Haley Zarrin did: a model of a house designed by their subject, architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Students can work in groups, partners, such as Zarrin and Daryan, or alone, as did senior Cindy Chang.

“I think it was a really valuable experience; I learned a lot. There’s a lot of stuff you can do and it helps you explore new levels of influences that you wouldn’t have thought about before,” Chang said.

After signing up, students will work for months on their projects before they enter the competition, which functions almost exactly like better known science fairs.

“There’s a school competition [this month],” Torrens said. “Then there’s a county competition which will be held next month, then there’s a state competition. For each level you have to be chosen by judges to move onto the next level.”

None of the students have gotten to the national competition yet, but Torrens says, “[The school has] had a lot of students go to the state competition.”

“My friends and I really want to [get to the state competition],” Kim said, “but we’re not sure with the work. We still have a lot more work to do.”

Students, to get ready in time for History Day, have to be focused and dedicated to their project. Junior David Wang chose to not participate in History Day because “it takes a lot of time.”

“The researching part is the most strenuous I’ve done,” Wang said. “It’s a different learning experience.”

Students seemed to think the experience was a fun one.

“Seeing people that are actually really interested in history, it’s kind of cool,” said Chang.