Dan Marsh is used to the collective groan he gets from his Columbus North High School history classes when he announces a semester-long project. But then he watches reluctance turn to passion.
He has made history more exciting for his students — and he’s being recognized for it.
Marsh was selected as a 2013 Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year. The award recognizes teachers for developing and using creative teaching methods and their commitment to helping students. He is one of 50 winners nationwide, receiving a plaque, a $500 check and a featured spot on the organization’s website.
“Behring teachers are the best of the best,” National History Day Executive Director Cathy Gorn wrote in a letter praising Marsh.
National History Day is an academic program in which students conduct research and then present their work in an original manner. “It’s a science fair with a history approach,” Marsh said.
He’s seen it make a difference in the approximately 325 students who participate.
Students gain an increased sense of ability, confidence and accomplishment, he said, adding, “This is no small project.”
He believes in the project and curriculum so deeply he gives up a large chunk of his classroom time. Every Friday is dedicated to History Day projects. Students may use that time to research or seek help.
“I’ve seen my worst-performing students do very well because they’re finally able to explore what they’re interested in,” he said.
This year’s theme requires students to explore rights and responsibilities in history. Marsh has seen some promising topics, including John F. Kennedy’s visit to Berlin to oppose Soviet oppression, the opening of Japan to the western world and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Marsh coordinates a school contest and invites judges from the community to critique projects in March. He does not require students to move on to the local, state or national contest, but encourages it with extra credit.
“Kids like to compete,” he said. “It drives them to do better.”
It also teaches his students advanced skills they can use in college, Marsh said. Students are encouraged to look beyond Internet research. Some students have traveled as far as Dayton, Ohio, to visit the National Museum of the United States Air Force or the Tennessee Valley Authority.
And he reminds his students to use more than one source. “They need to learn to eliminate the bias in history that is always going to be there,” he said.
Most importantly, Marsh said, the project has helped students make interesting discoveries about the past and taught them that history is not dead.
“History is more than just names and dates,” he said. “I want my students to remember that history is us, we are history. If we forget our past, we are bound to repeat the same mistakes.”