Student Merges Technology with History Documentary Claims Spot in National Event

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Heidenrich Daily Herald Staff Writer

With today's technology, class projects no longer consist only of research papers, posters or papier-mache models.

Stevenson High School senior Clayton Johanson went the high-tech route with a history project - and it took him all the way to national competition.

The Hawthorn Woods resident combined knowledge of video technology with his interest in railroads and thirst for historical knowledge to create a presentation that won a spot in the National History Day competition at the University of Maryland earlier this summer.

Johanson, 16, made a video explaining his findings on the railroad's effect on migration to Chicago and the suburbs. With interviews, statistics, film footage and narration, the video resembles a documentary.

On its way to the national competition, it was judged one of the two best projects in the school, qualified for two regional competitions and was judged the state's best in the individual media category.

"As a student-created documentary, it was very good," said Barry Bernstein, who coached Johanson in the project and was his history teacher.

He praised Johanson as a scholar who takes criticism well, strives to do better and is "just a terrific kid to work with.

"I am enormously proud of Clayton and very happy for him," Bernstein said.

The video began life last fall as a class project. Johanson and his classmates were instructed to focus on anything about Chicago history. He picked railroad history but gradually shifted it to the railroad's effect on migration in the Chicago area so it could compete in the national theme of migration.

Trains are a family interest, as shown by the decorations in the Johanson house: A Milwaukee Road sign, a painting of a McHenry train station and a Midnight Express poster hang on the walls of the Johanson's family room.

Johanson shares the fascination. "They are large machines and they helped the United States grow in its infancy," he said.

Johanson said he did "significant" research.

For the school competition alone, the project had 40 sources. Among the sources for the finished product are Amtrak and Metra train officials, three historians who teach at Stevenson and the special collections curator at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

Johanson also pored through his father's railroad magazines for information and reviewed five to six hours of video for clips to illustrate and spruce up the video.

As the project moved through the competitions, it went through some changes, such as the addition of sources. In the four or five months before the national competition, Johanson was spending every day doing research and talking to his teachers about it. …