The homeschool history fair was an excellent culminating project for our World War 2 unit study. It let me know that each child had the background knowledge to scaffold an independent research project in the field of study, and it allowed the children to stretch their skills in essay composition and visual presentation. It's also fun for the kids, as it lets them focus on something from the study that genuinely interests them--for Syd, the trench warfare from our preparatory study of World War 1, and for Will, the tank battle known as the Battle of Kursk.
Every time there's an academic fair, I seem to rework the requirements that I set for the children. For this history fair, I asked them to prepare a written research paper (that they would then read during their oral presentation), a tri-fold visual display, and a model.
The models both went in interesting directions. Will put together her first plastic model kit, a Panzer tank:
It didn't come out perfectly, of course, and she elected not to paint it to look more realistic, but nevertheless, for her this was an excellent effort. The model's instructions were VERY obtuse, and it had its fair share of fiddly bits.
Syd elected to make a model of a World War 1 trench in LEGOs. I should have supervised her work more carefully, as her finished model didn't seem to reflect a good understanding of what a trench would have looked like--bonus points for including a LEGO rat, but the trench was very wide, for one thing. I did require her to revise her model, and we both ended up reasonably pleased with her second attempt. If I'd been more involved, I would have encouraged her to build a model of the trench warfare system as a whole, with the machine gun posts, the support trenches, the communication trenches--the works! But for a fourth-grader working independently while I met some writing deadlines in the next room, her revised model demonstrated sufficient knowledge of the subject, so I called it good and sent her outside to play.
We'll study World War 1 again one day, after all. We'll make more detailed models then.
Syd's tri-fold display, on the other hand, was excellent. She included a storyboard of photos from our LARP trench warfare, and that turned out to be quite a fan favorite:
She also wrote a comic book of World War 1 jokes. I've got to find wherever that landed after the history fair and get her to dictate captions to me, because the comic strips that she wrote are pretty great--things like a soldier in the trenches getting bombed several times, but then he gets a paper cut and THAT makes him say "Ow!"
World War 1 humor. Never gets old.
Usually, I permit the children to dictate their essays to me (see my "How to Write an Essay" essay here), as I differentiate rhetoric from mechanics, but Will surprised me by actually writing the second half of her essay herself:
It was a tricky essay, too--I had no background knowledge of the Battle of Kursk, and battles are always full of lots of "this unit went here, while that unit went there, then they did this, and then that," so Will would attempt to interpret this information and put it in her essay, and then she'd read it to me and I'd tell her what I didn't understand. And then she'd go back and try to make it clearer. Repeat ad infinitum.
Neither kid looks forward to their oral presentations, which in my book is all the more reason to make them do them. I am firmly of the opinion that repeating a hard situation desensitizes you, and if you're nervous about getting up in front of people and speaking, well, then you'd better get up in front of people and speak until it is no longer any kind of big deal.
Believe me. In high school I would actually sometimes get a facial tick right before I had to get up and speak--and the last thing that a nervous person needs before they get up to speak is a FACIAL TICK!!! I still wasn't super chill with public speaking in college, but you know what I did after college?
Yeah, I was a substitute teacher. Loads of off-the-cuff public speaking there, often to a hostile audience, to boot.
And then I went to grad school, and taught some more. All the freaking time I was teaching. I still sometimes wince at the stupid shit that came out of my mouth sometimes (and still does), but who cares?
No. Big. Deal.
That's what we're going for, with forced participation in academic fairs and spelling bees and plays and performances. They'll thank me one day, I'm sure, and even if they don't, I won't care, because I'll have adorable videos such as this one:
I can see Syd's nervousness broadcast on her face, and hear it in her voice, but she did a wonderful job. She even recited "In Flanders Fields," although I don't think it was clear that she'd memorized it, as she kept glancing down at her paper in terror.
But afterwards, this is her face, after a job very well done:
Will actually did manage to distill the Battle of Kursk down into a more comprehensible summary, although up to this presentation, and then beginning again directly afterwards, she behaved like the rottenest rotten child who ever behaved rottenly. The history fair took place in the public library, you see. Just outside of this conference room and down the hall are all the books. And was Will being permitted to leave that conference room, go down that hall, and glory in those books?
No. No, she was not.
Hence Monster Child of the Rude Behavior. She refused to sit with the tons of other children and listen to the presentations. Instead, she wandered around, sometimes even behind the presentation area so that everyone could see her actively misbehaving. Mind you, in my homeschooling circle there is a wide range of behavior tolerated, because in a good homeschool group we operate on a strict "live and let live" policy, so really nobody was bothered but me and Matt. I'll mildly quell any misbehaving child in my own personal reach, whether they're mine or no, but this particular child of mine deliberately stayed out of my reach.
It actually took me a few tries to call her over when it was her turn to present, and then she spent a goodly bit of time acting as if she just had no idea where her written report could possibly have gotten to (it was on the table next to her), but eventually she got her act together and gave us this:
Could you hear Syd having her own little tantrum during the presentation? She was sitting on Matt's lap, and he had the gall to put an arm on her shoulder to stop her from leaning forward in front of my camera while I was videotaping Will. From the outraged whispers he was met with, you'd think he'd just told her that he was going to smack her with a stick.
Ah, my two sweet tweens!
You'll be pleased to know that all the other children were just adorable. I was the organizer of this particular fair, and it was my pleasure to help the children get set up, then introduce each one for their turn. After each presentation--some confident, some shaky, one in song--I looked each kid in their eyes and told each one that they'd done an excellent job.
And even though I said the exact same thing to each kid (you never want to say something different to each kid, because something that you say might be better than something else that you say, and kids notice that), I'm hoping that they knew that I meant it equally sincerely every single time, because every single kid always looked pleased, and smiled at me, and thanked me, before sitting down and listening to the next kid's excellent presentation.
It was the best history fair that I've ever been to.