Sunday, March 21, 2010

Boys Will Be Boys

March 21, 2010

When kids are young, they engage in a lot of imaginative play, creating worlds and scenarios to explore. They try on personas and personalities and adventures and learn about who they are, who they can be. I always loved watching my kids play pretend when they were little, but there was one line of role-play that I tended to steer them from. Gun-play, cops and robbers, cowboys and indians--I could just never get behind seeing my kids pointing guns, even pretend ones, at each other in the name of fun. There were so many other avenues to explore that I never felt they'd feel deprived if they didn't have guns to play with.

forward several years. Nicholas is now in 7th grade, and as fortune would have it, his Academic Block teacher is the History Day advisor. As an avid watcher of the History Channel, Nicholas' interest was piqued when she talked to the class about the County History Day competition. The kids could choose to put together an exhibit, or create a website, or film a documentary, write a paper, or perform a dramatization. The theme for this day's competition was "An Innovation that Made an Impact in History." After brainstorming and looking at several possible topics, Nicholas committed to developing an exhibit that would showcase his findings. His innovation of choice to study? The Gatling Gun.

I wrestled briefly with this, honestly. Yes, it's an innovation, and yes, it modernized warfare, but I still wasn't thrilled with him spending weeks being drawn into the world of war and weaponry. To be frank, it wasn't just about him, either. Knowing what I know about the extent of the requirements of the History Day project, including guiding research and citations and annotated bibliographies, I knew that I myself would have to be sucked into that world as well, as I helped him through the process, a prospect I was not particularly interested in. (No joke, I actually had a nightmare about annotated bibliographies while I was trying to teach him correct MLA formatting for the information he'd gathered. There were angry historians and books that came to life involved.) Ultimately, though, if he was going to invest that much of his time and energy into a months-long project, I knew it had to be something that he really wanted to study. The Gatlin gun it was.

I won't go too much into the details of the project, but I will say there were some long nights, some procrastination issues, and a little bit of frustration on Nicholas' part that his mom is an English teacher who actually wants him to accurately cite his research sources. I think he must have been envisioning reading a little bit, surfing the web, and gluing a handful of Gatlin gun pictures up on a foam board when he first signed on to this project. Needless to say, it was slightly more involved. In the end, though, he came up with a project he could be really proud of. I was very proud of him, too, for his perseverance and hard work. He learned quite a bit, and as a matter of fact, so did I.

The actual competition was a great experience for him, too. He was interviewed about his project and his research process, which I think is wonderful experience for the kids. His coach and his principal were there to support all of their History Day kids, cheering them on and offering encouragement. We also got to see all kinds of fascinating projects and presentations, some of which were truly amazing. Since this was his first History Day, it was an opportunity for us to really see the potential for what these projects could be. Although he didn't win any kind of a prize, he is already wondering what the theme is going to be for next year, and what else he'd like to learn about. That, my friends, is what I consider success.

Nicholas' project:
Some of the other projects we saw:


  1. That is so excellent. I hope my kids have that thirst for knowledge as they get older. Great work, Nicholas (and Mom!!)

  2. I was appalled by toy guns with my first son, but it is such an innate part of them - to defend, to protect (probably to hunt and provide also) that 5 sons later, one son does archery and I would like my sons to learn how to use fire arms.

    Those projects are amazing that you showed. I love it when students get an opportunity to produce high quality, inner-motivated work!

    Congratulations on mastering citation. I taught it for years at the college level, reteaching students who were taught incorrectly. I'll be doing a post on it in about a month at