BHP Team


Australopithecus afarensis on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. By reconstruction by John Gurche; photographed by Tim Evanson. CC BY-SA 2.0.

We recently spotted one of our veteran BHP teachers in the online community confessing to never having tried a popular BHP activity. Another veteran teacher responded with this:


So, of course we worked with Joe to gather a list of “True Confessions” from other long-time BHP teachers. The course can be an intimidating one to teach. These “confessions” will make you feel better – and maybe laugh a little!

For the Big History on a Football Field activity: Tried to explain how to get the exact calculation to the students was an epic fail. Luckily this class had students who were doing high school math as 6th graders, so they explained it for me. – Zachary Cain (BHP teacher since 2014)

I still don’t fully understand cosmic background radiation; although my understanding has certainly improved over the years but it’s still not great. – Bridgette O’Connor (BHP teacher since 2012)

I don’t know how to pronounce Austropathicus. I also don’t know how to spell it. Okay – spell check tells me it’s Australopithecus. Five years in and I butcher it every. single. time. – Chris Scaturo (BHP teacher since 2013)

I was terrified to teach Big History. Terrified. Because of all the science. I had never even heard about things like cosmic background radiation or parallax. So, I may or may not have skimmed over the science the first year I taught it. – Jami McLing (BHP teacher since 2013)

I could not understand, and thus explain, CBR and the evidence for the Big Bang last year. It was too overwhelming. So, I assigned everyone the Big Bang Infographic and then secretly studied their infographics to get a better understanding. I had students volunteer as ‘Redshift Expert’ and ‘CBR Expert’ in class so that if anyone tried to ask me a question during the project, I would just send them to the ‘expert’ so that they could ‘practice collaborative learning.’ – Hajra Saeed (BHP teacher since 2016)

Strong force and weak force: ‘One holds atoms together and the other is decay…nope I cannot tell you more. Google it, then teach me.’ I could go on and on. Honestly, it’s a blessing; the kids feel empowered and learn more (and more accurately than they would from me). – Joe Baginski (BHP teacher since 2012)

My first year teaching BH I did not think I would enjoy teaching Thresholds 1-5 and I thought I would rush through them as quickly as I could so I could start human history. I am in my fourth year now and the exact opposite happened. I now have to place hard beginning and ending dates on each of the thresholds just to make sure I finish everything in the given year. I have really embraced the lead learner role in the classroom and I love learning the material in the disciplines I do not consider my area of expertise. – Jason Manning (BHP teacher since 2014)

I can’t say Australopithecus either, so I just say ‘austro.’ I can say it if I practice it at home, but when I am trying to teach, I always forget how to say it. – Hajra Saeed (BHP teacher since 2016)

I relied on my students with great grades in chemistry and physics to help the class through the material. Newbies, your understanding of science will get better! The first year, I didn’t plan my time very well. The Little Big History Project was only worked on the last week of school. I changed that for the second year. – Monte DeArmoun (BHP teacher since 2012)

During my first year of teaching, I relied almost exclusively on the ‘look it up yourself’ approach to tough questions about space. And evolution. And the formation of the Earth. And pretty much anything science-related. – Jenny Holloway (BHP teacher since 2012)

Cosmic microwave background radiation—I still don’t have a grasp on it. Each year I feel like I’m learning with the students. I’ve read all the Exchanges, but I still don’t feel comfortable explaining it. I’m always so relieved when we are done with it. Thank goodness for Yammer! Every year I go back and read tips on how to teach it. – Kathy Hays (BHP teacher since 2015)

During my first year of teaching BHP, I was often a day ahead of students and sometimes I Googled and took notes during early unit videos. I would often say ‘let’s contribute to collective learning’ when I didn’t know how to respond to an question. It became a thing, and later in the year when I would ask students a question that they didn’t know, they would say ‘I think I need to contribute to collective learning.’ – Mike Skomba (BHP teacher since 2013)

Most embarrassing to admit is that I only had a general idea of who Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson were when I began teaching BH. Since teaching the course, I have read just about everything I can that these two have written and spent many hours on YouTube watching clips of their work. I even dressed up as Carl Sagan for a school event and delivered a passionate narration of the Pale Blue Dot. I credit BH with rekindling my appreciation of science and believe more than ever that teaching truly is the best way to learn. – Damian Pawlowski (BHP teacher since 2013)


Damian Pawlowski impersonating Carl Sagan. Courtesy D. Pawlowski.

So, there you have it. What’s your “true confession”? Contribute to this thread in the BHP online teacher community!


Bob Bain
University of Michigan
Big History Project

Students in Big History Project course learn to make warranted claims, a vital element in critical thinking and rational discourse. Since at least the time of Aristotle, this has been a valued goal of teachers and teaching, though it was philosopher Stephen Toulmin who, in his seminal The Uses of Argument (1958), best articulated the elements entailed in making strong claims. A claim, Toulmin “claimed,” is an assertion of fact, judgement, or policy that is grounded, supported, or tested by empirical evidence, credible authority, or reason (ah, BHP’s claim testers). The justification that connects the supports to the claim Toulmin called the warrant. Thus, warranted claims show how the support – the evidence, authority, logic, or even intuition — is sufficient to accept the claim.


BHP claim testers

BHP provides many opportunities for students to learn how to make warranted claims and to evaluate the claims of others. Their scores on unit Investigations show significant growth in BHP students’ ability to use evidence, logic, and disciplinary concepts to reason toward credible conclusion.

However, one of BHP’s greatest instructional strengths is the opportunity it provides for teachers to make warranted claims about what their students are learning in the course. With BHP Score grading the Investigations, teachers can now easily make data-driven claims about what and how well students are learning.


BHP Score – individual student report

Three things make this opportunity for teachers to use the data on their students’ thinking and writing increasingly important.

First, it helps teachers effectively and easily meet a growing demand that schools use data to assess what students are learning, and by implication, what and how well teachers are teaching. Over the past 15 years, since 2001’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act, federal and state policy have promoted the use of data to guide decisions about instruction and about teaching at the district, school, and classroom level. This has forced districts to update their data systems while placing new expectations on teachers to gather and interpret data.

BHP Score goes a long way to meeting these expectations by offering timely information on student performance, information that is easy to comprehend, interpret, and access since we send it directly to the teachers.

Second, and more important, since BHP is evaluating students’ essays at many points in the course, it is providing teachers information that is typically not readily available or is difficult and time-consuming to gather, yet is necessary to understand changes in student thinking. Thus, BHP is enabling teachers to make data-based, warranted claims about the relative growth in their students’ disciplinary thinking as well as their ability to structure arguments; weigh, evaluate, and use evidence; and apply concepts.

In short, since the BHP data does not come from narrow, fragmented learning objectives tested only through multiple choice exams at the beginning and end of the year, it offers teacher the ability to make more nuanced claims about student learning, claims that really reflect the valuable “stuff” they are teaching.

Last, BHP data is flexible. Teachers can group or aggregate the scores in multiple ways to show how individual students, groups of students, or entire classes develop over an entire course or at different times in a course. For example, teachers might wish to give priority to changes in students’ use of evidence or application of disciplinary concepts, to identify places in their teaching that generate the most gain or places where students plateau. This enables teachers to make claims about what and how effectively they are teaching and use information as feedback to identify areas of instructional strength or areas in which they might improve. Or, teachers use the data to identify students for whom such thinking and writing comes easily and those who struggle, to surface relative success of a set of lessons or activities on these different “types” of learners.


BHP Score – class report

Many BHP teachers have begun to use BHP Score and the Investigations to meet the data demands of their districts. Some teachers report great value in using BHP data to supplement — or is it to counter? – the required information their district draws from standardized multiple-choice tests, while other teachers exclusively use BHP reports to assess their teaching and student learning.

Either way, one of BHP’s residual benefits has been the opportunity it offers for teachers to make warranted claims in addition to the opportunity provided for students to learn about claims and claim-testing.


Des Hylton, BHP Teacher
Sydney, Australia

The Lesson 3.1 activity Is It in There? asks students to identify whether certain elements are found in a list of everyday objects – ranging from cell phones to blueberry muffins. It’s a good one for introducing students to the prevalence of chemical elements in our everyday lives.


I know social studies teachers sometimes worry about their knowledge of chemistry, or the fact that students might struggle to find all the answers. I like to think that the primary objective of this activity is not to complete the worksheet, but to develop more complex skills and connections, like:

  • Developing information search skills and reflecting on search strategies that worked best (for example, coupling of keywords).
  • Building background knowledge (finding out other interesting facts about uses of elements)
  • Investigating the complexity of many elements and their multiple uses
  • Having the conversation about what they found and what surprised them

I extended this activity by giving kids sticky notes to label the elements found in items around our classroom. Students loved this and did the research themselves. They identified elements in items that even I wasn’t aware of –and that’s with a degree in chemistry! Even my laptop wasn’t spared!  😉


Elements in a laptop. Photo by Des Hylton.

About the author: Des Hylton started teaching BHP in 2013. He currently teaches the course at an independent preparatory-through-twelfth-grade school in Australia, but he’s actually a science teacher by trade. At his school, BHP is taught over two years to year 7 and 8 students as part of the history/geography curriculum. Des teaches the class in five 50-minute sessions per two weeks. His average class size is 28.