Make your NCHD website come alive with these tips from a former judge

One of the great things about National Capital History Day is that it allows students to explore history through their favourite platform, and if you’re the kind of person who loves the creativity of designing things online, then the website category is for you.

By now, hopefully you know about the incredible offer from Carleton’s Professor Shawn Graham, who will come to any class interested in NCHD and do a workshop on how to incorporate a history video game into your website.

But even if you don’t plan to have any interactive elements in your website, there are still some important things to consider when you are in the building stage. We spoke to one of last year’s website judges, Matthew Brash, to get some tips.

Matthew Brash was one of the judges who evaluated websites at last year's National Capital History Day. He says it's especially important for students to stick to the annual theme when creating their projects. Photo courtesy of Matthew Brash.

Matthew Brash was one of the judges who evaluated websites at last year’s National Capital History Day. He says it’s especially important for students to stick to the annual theme when creating their projects. Photo courtesy of Matthew Brash.

“It’s important that the creators of the website follow the given guidelines in terms of layout and theme,” says Matthew, who is a math teacher at St. Francis Xavier High School but was an educational consultant in learning technologies at the Ottawa Catholic School Board at the time he was a judge last year. “The site should carry this theme throughout, whether it be in visual or verbal form. Consider a themed birthday party — the tablecloth, hats, plates and food all carry that theme.”

Matthew says it’s also a good idea to try to be creative with titles and subtitles — remember that you want to catch the judges’ eyes with your visual presentation, but also with compelling words.

And don’t forget to give credit where it’s due.

“Citing your references for materials is extremely important. Unless the content was created by the authors of the website, credit needs to be given to the original author or source,” Matthew adds. “Failure to properly reference or provide a list of sources is similar to academic fraud. Furthermore, hot-linking to outside content is a bit of a no-no. If the material is going to be on your site, it should be hosted on your site.”

Finally, Matthew advises that students should take care to make sure their sites are complete.

“The criteria for this category is very clearly laid out for participating teams,” he says. “Teams hoping to receive full marks for their site should try to follow and complete the required portions. Leaving a section out or having it listed on your main site with zero content is an easy way to count yourself out of the running.”

And Matthew also says that students have nothing to fear when it’s time to sit down with the judges and discuss their work. Interviews are informal and judges really just want to have a chance to hear about your research and all the work you put into the finished project.

Matthew Brash and his fellow judge, Katie Lewis-Prieur, deliberate in the judges' room at National Capital History Day 2014. Photo by Jana Chytilova, National Capital History Day.

Matthew Brash and his fellow judge, Katie Lewis-Prieur, deliberate in the judges’ room at National Capital History Day 2014. Photo by Jana Chytilova, National Capital History Day.

“Come in, sit with the judges, discuss your decisions, and let’s chat about your site!” says Matthew. “The judges are nice people (perhaps I’m biased) and they really want to express their appreciation for your hard work, while giving constructive assistance and suggestions.”

Don’t forget that the deadline to register your website is March 13, which is also when you have to submit your URL (you’ll get instructions on how to do that when you fill in your online registration). Websites addresses will then be given to the judges and your site may be evaluated any time after March 13, so we ask that you do not make any changes to your project after you submit it for the contest (this is the honour system, but keep in mind that your site could be evaluated immediately after you submit it, so any changes you make after that point may not be seen, and judges are instructed to ignore any improvements they see on May 1 that were not present during their initial evaluation).

Here are the main pages of two award-winning websites from the National History Day contest in the United States:

"Solving the Enigma: Legacies of a Secret World War II Code," received first place in the Senior Group Website category at National History Day in the U.S.

“Solving the Enigma: Legacies of a Secret World War II Code,” received first place in the Senior Group Website category at National History Day in the U.S.

"Samuel F.B. Morse: Artist to Innovator, A Turning Point in Communication" received second prize in the Senior Individual Web Site category at National History Day in the United States. Be sure to check out NHD's exemplars to see more award-winning student websites.

“Samuel F.B. Morse: Artist to Innovator, A Turning Point in Communication” received second prize in the Senior Individual Web Site category at National History Day in the United States. Be sure to check out NHD’s exemplars to see more award-winning student websites.

For more website exemplars, please see some of the winning entries on the National History Day site (but keep in mind that they reflect a different annual theme). And if you’re not sure about this year’s theme for National Capital History Day, which your site must reflect, there’s info on that here. Finally, make sure your website complies with all the rules by carefully reading the section about web entries in our rulebook — you can download that here.

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