Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Regional Contests: Halfway There

Whew! Mark and I are running all over Washington, it seems, attending regional contests. We're thoroughly enjoying seeing old friends and meeting new ones, judging projects, and generally getting in the way of the fabulous regional coordinators.

On the way to Bellingham last week, History Day Advisory Committee member Gwen Schweitzer and I were talking about judging in general (she's a judging machine, having helped at two contests so far with more to come). Gwen had a great insight that I've added to my judging orientation, and I think it's useful for coaches and students, too.

She said she tries to differentiate between fixable and non-fixable problems when she's evaluating projects. For example, an exhibit with too-small font is fixable. A documentary that doesn't include brief credits for images and video used in it is fixable. A performance that includes too much background and not enough findings is, I think, fixable.

So what's not fixable? Well, the big one this year is a project that isn't really about an innovation. The Innovation in History theme is a challenging one, and we're seeing that at the regional contests. Most projects are about a physical innovation (the cotton gin, the microprocessor, blood plasma, unicycles). A few are about ideas (Communism, wilderness). And some are really about the innovator, not the innovation.

For example, a project that purports to be about the light bulb but is really a biography of Thomas Edison, or one whose title suggests it's about heart transplants but is really a profile of Christiaan Barnard. Be careful! It's tempting to focus on the individual, and certainly their background has something to do with the innovation. And we are a society focused on the accomplishments of individual people. But it's important to avoid this trap.

Projects should be about the innovation, not the person. And the theme ends with "Impact and Change"--so projects have to show both. How did it make a difference? Why was it important? What happened after the innovation came on the scene?

Whether you're heading into regionals or prepping for state, take a hard look at your project. Is it about an innovation? Does it show both impact and change? Can you express that in an interview with judges? And it is clear in your process paper? Ask someone else to look at it, too--friends, parents, teachers are all great sources of feedback.

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