Has the Scientific Revolution Ended? Debatable.

Jami McLing, BHP Teacher
Idaho, USA

Instinctively, teenagers can be argumentative. They think they’re always right and most don’t shy away from a verbal fight. However, their argument often lacks “bite” and consists of opinions fueled by emotion. The debate activity Has the Scientific Revolution Ended? from Lesson 8.3 provides a terrific opportunity for students to learn how to argue with purpose.


Photo courtesy of Jami McLing

Our students love the activity because it’s an excuse for them to practice their argumentation skills, and in the context of a juicy question. They’re challenged to think critically about questions that have seemingly obvious answers (like, “what counts as science?”) and consider their role in historical narratives.

This is the first time many of our students have debated so we are careful about how we set it up:

  1. Ask Questions: After introducing the debate question, groups answer a set of questions.
    a. How do you define a scientific revolution?
    b. What counts as science?
    c. What is a revolution?
    d. How do we know if we are in the midst of a revolution?
    e. How do we know when something in history began and ended?
  2. Research: Students spend a day gathering evidence to support their position using BHP’s claim testers—authority, evidence, logic, and intuition. We check in with each group frequently to remind and encourage them to support their claims with concrete evidence from the Big History site or by using credible outside sources. This is always a fun step because preconceived notions about a position can be changed, much to a student’s surprise.
  3. Debate: Each group gets 5 minutes to present their opening statement, rebuttal, and closing statement. Because this is the first time most of our students have been exposed to debating, we modify the debate format presented in Unit 8. Instead of giving 5-15 minutes for rebuttals, we give 20-25 minutes.
  4. Reflection: After the debate, students vote on which side made the best argument and write up a short reflection on why that side “won” and how they could’ve made their argument even stronger.

Not only does this activity help develop a student’s argumentative, research, and presentation skills, but it also provides an exciting opportunity for them to go head-to-head with their peers and battle it out. After all, who doesn’t love a good dose of healthy competition.

About the author: Jami McLing has been teaching history at her middle school in Idaho Falls, Idaho, since 2007. She has been teaching Big History since 2013. She teaches the year-long BHP course to eighth graders in two 50-minute classes per day.


Kathy Hays, Big History Teacher
Arizona, USA

STRIVE FOR FIVE! That’s our new motto each time we initiate a Unit Investigation. BHP Score has transformed how I teach writing, and how my students approach the writing process. I used to spend weeks grading the Investigations, and by the time they were returned, students had completely forgotten everything about it—my feedback on their writing was shoved into a backpack, never to be seen again. BHP Score, on the other hand, returns constructive feedback much faster and on a more detailed level than I could ever manage with more than 120 students. Since the Investigation writing prompt is still fresh in my students’ minds when they get their Score reports, they have a vested interest in revising and improving their work.


Sample BHP Score class report

My students have now received BHP Score reports for Investigations 2 and 6. In both cases, I’ve built lessons around the reports. After receiving reports for the Unit 2 Investigation, we went over the comments as a class. As students worked on their revisions, I conducted individual meetings to review their modifications. After a peer exchange and review, students wrote final drafts. It was the first time I had taken students through the entire writing process, allowing them to see the progress from first draft to final copy.

As we approached Unit 6, I wanted to craft a lesson that would build even more student investment in the BHP Writing Rubric, and prime them for making revisions to their writing. I was also curious to see how student evaluations of Investigations would compare to those of the BHP Score evaluators. After students submitted Investigation 6 (and were waiting for BHP Score reports to be returned), I printed off a batch of essays (names removed) for students to grade against the BHP Writing Rubric. A few days later, we received the BHP Score evaluations of the same essays. I had students compare their evaluations with the BHP Score ones—it turns out the scores were pretty close! Some students were confused as to why an essay had received a score of “3” when they thought it should receive a “4.” We took time to address questions and ensure everyone was on the same page before I turned them loose to craft a final version of Investigation 6. Using the feedback from BHP Score allowed students to produce quality final drafts.

At some point during the writing process of Investigation 6, we decided to “Strive for Five” on future writing assignments. Advice provided by the BHP Score team in the monthly Writing Exchange in the BHP Online Teacher Community has helped equip me with valuable teaching strategies to help my students. We incorporated the new strategies into the Unit 8 Investigation and saw scores improve significantly. I highly recommend joining the ASU Writing Exchange on Yammer for the monthly words of wisdom.

As we approach Investigation 9, everyone is anxious to “Strive for Five”! Thanks to BHP Score, students now have a vested interest in their writing.

About the author: Kathy Hays has been teaching for 30 years, and this year is her second teaching Big History. She teaches five BHP classes a year, and so reaches about 130 ninth-grade students. Her school is on a semester schedule with daily 52-minute periods. Kathy’s favorite thing about teaching Big History is the opportunity to learn with her students!


Rachel Hansen, BHP Teacher
Iowa, USA

As budding teenagers, our students have a pretty small worldview. Big History challenges them to expand that tiny bubble. Lesson 8.3’s Personal Supply Chain activity especially shatters a lot of preconceived notions students have about the way the world works. As they trace the supply chain of a product they’ve chosen, they find that the process is much more complex than they ever imagined—and sometimes not as transparent as they’d like it to be. Even products manufactured in the USA use raw materials and energy sources from all over the world. Or as one student put it, “Nothing is as local as it seems.”

I absolutely love watching their worldview explode. Here is our approach.


Step One: Made in (Insert Country Here)
To kick off the activity, we start by mapping where our shirts, shoes, electronics, backpacks, and notebooks are made. Then, we analyze the patterns and trends of the distribution of our stuff. We finish up by discussing the implications. Where in the world are our products NOT made? Why does it matter?

Step Two: What’s a Supply Chain?
If you have the luxury of time (like few of us), I highly recommend watching The Story of Stuff. It’s a great breakdown of four key components in the supply chain: supply, manufacturing, distribution, and consumption. If you’re squeezed for time (like most of us), check out NPR’s Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt.

This year, we only had the luxury of 10 minutes to try and get students to grasp the whole supply chain concept, so we handed out fun-sized candy bars and asked students to do some quick research on raw materials, factories, transportation, and forms of energy used in the process. (Side note: The following day, I scolded a student for taking a phone call during class…only to find out he was on the phone with a representative from the Mars company, still unsatisfied with the answers he was getting about their palm oil suppliers. Worldview exploded.)


Student Sample: Burt’s Bees Pink Grapefruit Refreshing Lip Balm. This was the “nothing is as local as it seems” even though it is made in America product.

Step Three: Cut Them Loose!
Once they’ve explored the big picture, students are eager to get started on their own research. They choose an item and trace out its supply chain. Mapping their work is especially enlightening. As an extension, we also challenged students to map electronically using ArcGIS (check out this one of a surfboard). Here are some of the takeaways from our students:

  • “I realize now that certain companies can own companies I never knew of. It surprised me when I found out that SoBe is owned by PepsiCo.”
  • “I learned that there is a lot of money involved. It takes a lot of time and energy to make and ship these products.”
  • “It has opened my eyes to how big my carbon footprint is. I chose a product that I knew was made in America, and it makes me feel better about my use. I want to start using less and reduce my footprint. Because of this project, I know how to help the Earth.”

About the author: Rachel Hansen is a high school history and geography teacher in Muscatine, IA. Rachel teaches the BHP world history course over two 180-day semesters to about 50 ninth- through twelfth-grade students each school year.