I’ve written a few times about the various social studies fairs I have held over the years (“National History Day: The Best Thing I Do” and “My Students Solve the World’s Problems”). Over at Education Week, I write about the formula that makes these events successful:
I’ve led an annual social studies fair for six years now. These events bring out my students’ best efforts and showcase their authentic intellectual work. Here are my suggestions for ensuring that students get the most out of these public displays of learning.
• Give students maximum choice of topics.
Whenever possible, I let my students choose their own research topics—within limits. When I taught government this year, for example, students chose a public policy issue they wanted to learn about. And when I’ve coordinated with National History Day, students chose any topic connected to its annual theme, as long as we had previously studied the topic in class.
I always tell my students that selecting a topic is the most important decision they make for a major project. Students who find topics they are genuinely interested in have transformative experiences; others wind up doing just another class project. We spend a full day in class brainstorming subjects and exploring possibilities. Once students decide on a topic, they must prove to me in writing that they care about it….