BHP Staff

It’s that time of year again! If you’ve been around awhile, you now expect (and love) it. If you’re new to BHP, get excited. Each year, we take a hard look at existing BHP course content and support materials. We review feedback from teachers and scholars that we’ve collected all year, and then carve out a good chunk of time for implementing suggestions. All in the name of keeping Big History the best course in history.


New materials include Crash Course videos, Investigation writing, and Causality activities.

The changes are enough to keep the course exciting and relevant, but we draw the line at doing anything that would throw veteran BHP teachers for too big a loop. Fear not: any content that appears to have been removed from the course can usually be found in “Other Materials” at the bottom of each unit.

So without further ado, here’s what’s new for the 2017/18 school year! Take a look and let us know what you think in the BHP Online Teacher Community.

Summary of updates (‘cuz scrolling can be hard):

1. Investigations and Investigation writing activities
2. Crash Course Big History videos
3. Causality: A new essential theme!
4. Clever integration — COMING LATER THIS SUMMER —
5. Coaching! (via BetterLesson) — COMING LATER THIS SUMMER —

1. Investigations and Investigation writing activities

Soon after we introduced of BHP Score, our free essay-scoring service, we realized a couple things:

• Writing is hard. Teaching writing is even harder. We need our instructions to do more and align across activities. We also need to mention BHP Score in the lessons themselves.
• Teachers need a writing baseline earlier in the course (enter Investigation 0).

We tackled both issues. The Investigation instructions are still long, but consistent. Students get a better idea of which writing skill they’re working on with each activity. Teachers get better info on how and when to submit for free scoring.

Heads up! We’ve added an “Investigation 0” to the end of the first lesson. It is intended to be administered the first week of school so that you get baseline data on your students’ writing. It is the same essay as “Investigation 2,” and that’s intentional. By having two data points on the same essay (one from the first week of school, and one from a few weeks later), students will be able to see where they’ve grown and where they need to improve. Hopefully, they’ll begin to see writing as a journey of continual improvement. Investigations 6 and 9 are also eligible for evaluation by BHP Score, so students can look forward to clear and consistent feedback on their progress throughout the year.

We’ve developed new activities to better support students with a journey of continual improvement as related to Investigation writing and BHP Score:

• Lesson 1.3: Analyzing Investigation Writing – Thesis/Major Claim and Structure
• Lesson 2.2: Analyzing Investigation Writing—Using Texts as Evidence
• Lesson 3.2: Analyzing Investigation Writing – Applying BHP Concepts
• Lesson 4.3: Revising Investigation Writing – Constructing an Argument
• Lesson 5.3: Revising Investigation Writing – Using Texts as Evidence
• Lesson 6.0: Investigation Writing – Constructing an Argument
• Lesson 7.0: Investigation Writing – Using Texts as Evidence
• Lesson 8.0: Investigation Writing – Applying BHP Concepts
• Lesson 9.1: Investigation Writing – Peer Review

2. Crash Course Big History Season 2

We’ve been watching what you’re watching and Crash Course Big History has been a hit! So we went back to our friends at Crash Course and worked on another season of BHP videos. This year, Emily Graslie (host of The Field Museum’s amazing YouTube series, The Brain Scoop), asks questions, like:

  • Are we in the beginning, middle or end of the story of the Universe? Whoa. Check out Why Cosmic Evolution Matters.
  • Are humans causing the next mass extinction? Also – we often learn about the extinction of the dinosaurs, but why should we also care about an earlier mass extinction of bacteria? Dig in to Why the Evolutionary Epic Matters.

*Note: the new Crash Course Big History series will air on YouTube first, and will be added into the BHP course later this summer. Here’s where the videos will live within the course, once added:

• Lesson 2.1: Why Cosmic Evolution Matters*
• Lesson 3.1: Why Star Stuff Matters*
• Lesson 5.1: Why the Evolutionary Epic Matters*
• Lesson 6.2: Why Human Evolution Matters*
• Lesson 6.3: Why Human Ancestry Matters*
• Lesson 8.1: Why Early Globalization Matters*

*These will air on YouTube, and will be added to the BHP course later this summer.

3. Causality: A new essential theme!

The Big History Project course is all about change. And about helping students learn to describe, analyze, and connect changes that take place over vast expanses of time and space. After just a few lessons, students become adept at using the thresholds of increasing complexity to make sense of the history of the Universe, where we are today, and where we’re going.

But we want students to be able to do more than describe change over time—we want them to be able to evaluate and make claims about the causes and consequences of change in history, science, and the world around them. That’s where causality comes in.

Cause and consequence is critical to the work of historians, scientists—any expert working to better understand the world around us. The analysis is as complex and dynamic as history itself. However, research shows that students typically view change over time as links in a linear chain – that is, the most important cause or consequence is the one closest in time and space.

To help students develop their ability to understand cause and consequence—an important critical-thinking skill—we’ve added four new activities . These activities introduce vocabulary, categories, and techniques that experts use to analyze causality. Students will learn how to identify different types of causes and consequences and map the relationships among them.

Here’s the full list of the new causality activities (our favorite features Alfonse the Camel):

Note: Unit outcomes have been updated to reflect causality. For example, the outcomes for Unit 3 now include: Identify various types of causes and consequences, including short-term, long-term, and triggering events.

We hope you find this addition to your students’ critical thinking tool chest helpful. For more on causality and how you might approach it instructionally, see this Teaching Big History video featuring Big Historian Professor Bob Bain .

4. Clever integration

If you hate keeping track of multiple passwords and using them to sign-in to multiple websites, multiple times a day, your school probably needs Clever. It helps sites like ours make sign-in easier for you. If you’re already using Clever, you will now be able to integrate it with the Big History Project and simplify your life a tiny bit more. Details will be available in August.

5. Coaching

What if you could have a former Teacher of the Year on speed-dial to answer all questions Big History? Next year, that will be a possibility for a select few BHP teachers who are interested in rising through the ranks of our leadership development pipeline. Coaching services will be offered through BetterLesson. More details on the application process forthcoming—stay tuned!


Michael Cromie, BHP Teacher
California, USA

I’m a seventh-grade social studies and ELA teacher at a technology magnet middle school in Ventura, California. I’ve been with the district since 2006, but have recently returned to the classroom after a stint as a technology integration specialist at a technology magnet elementary school.

Stepping back into the classroom was very exciting at first since our students are all issued their own netbooks and we learn in a 1:1 environment. However, after a few weeks I was very disappointed with the availability of district-adopted digital curricula and found myself trying to adapt outdated traditional textbook and workbook materials. This process was very time-consuming and was not producing very good results. I was desperate for something to turn the year around. Enter Big History Project.


One of the sixth-grade teachers at my school showed me how she was using some material from Unit 7 of the Big History Project course to supplement her ancient civilizations course, and I was immediately drawn to the multiple Lexile levels available for each article. I teach a mix of readers—from GATE students reading at a 12+ grade level, to general and remedial students reading at a 2nd-grade reading level. I was intrigued and decided to research the BHP course for supplemental reading material.

I quickly saw that BHP is much more than leveled articles and supplemental material—it’s an interdisciplinary and unified approach to teaching history. I decided I would do the “Teaching Big History” training over our fall break so that I could come back and teach the course over the remaining three quarters of our school year.


During the training, I joined a number of very supportive BHP Online Teacher Community groups on Yammer. Our district uses Google’s G Suite for Education so I was specifically interested in the Google Docs group and some wonderful people there who were willing to share their resources. Once I started implementing the course, I realized that I needed to really differentiate for the wide variety of learners I teach. I was able to take the resources on the BHP site, combine them with what I was getting from the teacher community, and cobble together unit after unit with very little time spent outside of the work day. Here we are in Unit 8 already (which aligns nicely with our state content standards) and I’m confident that we will make it through most of the material even though we began in the second quarter.

The best part of BHP has been the cohesiveness of the units and the recurring activity types and routines, such as Three Close Reads, Driving Questions, Claim Testing, and Investigations. I love how the course reinvigorated my teaching, allowing me the opportunity to learn about topics like the Big Bang alongside my students. I also found the various course planners especially helpful. My school is on a block schedule so the one from Bridgette O’Connor was great because it gave me an idea of what was essential, what was necessary, and what could be considered optional.

All in all, I am so thankful that I found this course! It has been very enjoyable to become a “lead learner” with my students as we studied how we are all made from elements that were created from supernova explosions billions of years ago and have been increasing in our complexity and interconnectivity ever since.

About the author: Michael teaches social studies and language arts at the DeAnza Academy of Technology and the Arts – a middle school in Ventura, California. His Big History sections are on a block schedule with 100-minute periods. He started teaching Big History partway through the 2016-17 school year.  



Fizza Kachwala, Big History Teacher
Mumbai, India

Dear New-to-BHP Teacher,

Your first year facilitating Big History can be much like a roller coaster ride. I know: I write this blog post as I round out my own first year teaching the course. You’ll have your doubts about making it through the ride and you’ll worry about how prepared you are for what’s in store for you. It is exciting, thrilling, even scary at times. But all you need to do is gather yourself and embark on the ride. Then you’ll see and enjoy multiple views of the track you’re on. And as you speed through this joyride, you’ll be glad you decided to be on it in the first place.


Roller coaster ride. CC0 Public domain.

Gearing Up for the Ride

The first thing you should tell yourself is to be open-minded. This means having the ability to see things from multiple perspectives. It means being accepting of views, although not always agreeing with them. Accepting multiple perspectives will allow you to question your own thinking; you’ll find yourself liberated by the metamorphosis of thought.

You might be worried about having to don many academic hats—an understandable concern. The first half of the course can feel science-heavy, but keep in mind that those first units aren’t about the mechanics of science, but rather about how our evolving understanding of science informs our understanding of our past. Moving out of your comfort zone will be easier with the incredible support system found in the BHP Online Teacher Community. You’ll find it your “go-to” place, the place where teachers share their ideas and where veteran teachers will help you make BHP a success in your classroom, whatever the set-up.

I personally found it helpful to plan my coursework in advance and personally attempt the activities I was asking students to do. So, my planning was always two weeks ahead of what I was executing in class. This way, I knew exactly what was in store, and could help steer discussions or successfully clarify doubts—and keep the coherence of the course narrative in mind. Doing the activities myself before teaching them in class also helped me know what modifications I’d need to make for my students’ varying skill levels and interests.

Three …Two…One…Blast Off!!

Once the course takes off, a good way to keep on top of the latest news and discoveries is to connect with the Big History Project on Twitter. The posts are relevant and informative. Using Twitter will also help you connect to your social-media savvy students.

Another liberating exercise is to invite experts from the school community into your Big History class. We’ve had a geography expert talk to students about plate tectonics and an English expert take them through the BHP Writing Rubric. Not only does it ease your anxiety of handling areas where you have limited expertise, but it provides the additional benefits of bringing to life the interdisciplinary nature of the BH course, and letting students know that hat one person does not have to have all the answers.

End of the Ride

Just as happens on a roller coaster, when the ride is about to end, you will feel a mixed bag of emotions: pride about what you just got through successfully; mild sadness that it is over; and, if you did it right (and a reminder here that there are many “right” approaches!), excitement to embark on the ride again with a fresh perspective.

I am confident that not only will you be a new person by the end of the course, you will find it rewarding when you see the skills and principles translate into your students’ work and thinking. I recommend at this stage (when you’re looking ahead to your second year teaching Big History) revisiting your coursework plan and highlighting everything that worked and anything that needs to be modified. That way, you will be better prepared for your next turn on this adventurous ride.

Oh–always try to squeeze in a small celebration to bring in the school community and allow students to present their learning. You could do this at the end of every unit or midway through the course.

I think you’ll agree with me that facilitating Big History turned out to be the most envious opportunity that any school teacher could ask for–one that fills you with a great sense of pride and accomplishment.

Best of luck!

Fizza Kachwala

About the author: Fizza has taught high school biology and middle school math and science at the Bombay International School in Mumbai, India, since 2008. The 2016/17 school year marked her first teaching Big History, which was offered to Grade 7 (12- and 13-year-old) students. Her class follows the 80-hour (semester) course plan