Raphael Zadey
Big History Teacher, IB Middle Years Program
Adelaide, Australia

It’s not often that a teacher, regardless of the country or system within which they work, is offered the opportunity to travel overseas and work with a dedicated educational opportunity.

Yet that is entirely what happened. Along with colleagues Nick Gillies and Jarrod Chave, I travelled to Seattle, WA, in order to participate in the bgC3-sponsored Big History summit of 2014. This summit brings together the Big History educational community in order to organise approaches to and consistency around the delivery of an integrated history course that reconciles scientific theory with historical concepts.


In addition to meeting some incredibly enthusiastic practitioners and genuinely nice people, we were given our first opportunity to take a closer look at the program, and to consider ways in which we might introduce it to Blackwood High School. For those unfamiliar with Big History, the course explores the nature of the Universe, life, and the human experience through an abbreviated and yet quite profound study of a series of key events (thresholds) in history, including but not limited to the Big Bang, the formation of the Solar System, the development of life on Earth, the evolution of humanity, and the increasing complexity of the human experience. The program concludes by posing questions about the human experience going forward.

The program presents our team with a two-fold challenge; that of aligning the program into the International Baccalaureate’s Middle Years Program (IBMYP) while at the same time incorporating it into the an already crowded syllabus, a syllabus that is currently being re-written in accordance with a federally mandated curriculum. These challenges are by no means impossible to overcome. By working with an IBMYP pilot team, comprising partner schools from the US, the UK, and India, we are confident in our ability to map Big History to the interdisciplinary course contained within the IBMYP. As for the crowded curriculum; here we expect to take a leaf from our US colleagues’ book, incorporating the program into a Year 10 History or Science elective. The course would be delivered by two teachers, an historian and a scientist, via a paired teaching program, alternating according to our areas of expertise.

The nature of the course is its strength, not only in the knowledge it will provide our students, but also in the mindset it engenders, an understanding of our Universe and our place within it, as well as an openness to rational and evidence-based thinking. The program’s essential skills and core concepts are entirely compatible with the aims, capabilities, and values of both the IB and Australian Curriculum. An initial take on the course highlights three strengths:

  • The challenge it presents teachers and students alike to test the ways in which they construct their understandings of the world and their place within it
  • The effective and critical use of source material
  • The opportunities it provides to enhance student literacy

What next for the Blackwood team? We will meet in early August in order to identify the vehicle by which we will introduce the program, while at the same time working closely with the IBMYP project group in order to generate our course document and maintaining close contact with the Big History team. It’s an exciting time and we’ll be sure to keep everyone posted on our journey.

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