Intimidation, Failure, and Success – Big History in a 1:1 Classroom

Sarah Giddings
Big History Teacher, 9th – 12th Grade
Ann Arbor, MI

When you first hear of the concept of a “Big History” approach to learning, even as a National Board certified teacher in history, it sounds intimidating. I have always felt that world history is one of the toughest subjects to teach because you are attempting to cover the birth of the Earth until the present… but I never actually started with the Earth’s birth as an educator. Really, who did? The Big History Project is the first curriculum I have encountered that has been organically shaped by educational minds with educator input about these topics. The Big History approach teaches students to critically think and explain the cohesive nature of world events through an interdisciplinary and investigative lens.

Starting this summer I am embarking on a journey to reshape my own practice and pedagogy as a Big History thinker. I am also attempting to teach Big History in a non-traditional interdisciplinary format and I hope to document my successes and failings this year through these blog posts. There is definitely going to be a learning curve so I hope you bear with me through this year and learn from the trail I am blazing!

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I want to explain how my school program works because I will be referring to how it fits with the goals of BHP throughout the year. Currently I serve students in a multi-school public alternative blended-learning program called the WAVE program. Participating public schools in our country range from the top ten in the state to schools designated as “failing” by NCLB standards. Students from all of these area schools come to complete their high school requirements in a non-traditional flexible learning environment and many are behind in credits. Currently I serve as the curriculum coordinator as well as a social studies and ELA teacher. We use a competency-based model where students have to demonstrate their proficiency and mastery of national and state standards. Student projects are designed to be interdisciplinary and students can earn credits in multiple areas with the same project at their own individualized pace.

Due in part to these roles I am always on the lookout for interdisciplinary project ideas that will challenge our students and push them to develop curiosity, logic, and reasoning. I am adopting BHP to our individualized paced format where our students will be earning credit in multiple areas – science, social studies, English, and technology. Therefore, I will be talking about BHP through the teaching of all of these subjects. Since our program is self-paced, students will be required to do more of their learning on their own, however we will have thrice-weekly workshops for delivery of more challenging instructional content, group discussions, and 1:1 support. We will be heavily utilizing the Khan Academy partnership BHP has developed. Throughout this year I will talk about the successes and challenges of teaching in this environment.

Learn with me, grow with me, and follow along with me as I chart a course BHP-style through the school year!

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