Utilizing the Community to Teach Origin Stories

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

September is such a busy time of year for me, as I’m sure it is for everyone. We are full speed ahead with the Big History Project. As you may recall, I teach and coordinate curriculum for a year-round countywide blended learning program that gives students an alternative to traditional local public high schools while they are still attending their home school (the graduation requirements are the same).

Purple Wave

Two hallmarks of our program are that coursework is flexible and self-paced. Students carry out interdisciplinary projects that can earn learning targets in multiple areas, which means an essay about a biology topic that demonstrates English learning targets could earn credit in both subjects. These tenets of our program, which students love and appreciate, also contribute to some of the biggest challenges of implementing Big History Project. We (I’m co-teaching BHP at my school with two other teachers) set up our course workshops with a block on Wednesdays and Fridays, with individualized and small-group support in between those times.

One of our first challenges was dealing with a stream of new students. Just when we thought we had a consistent group, another new student would be added to the class. As a result, we taught the first unit–Welcome to Big History–for two weeks in a row!

One way we dealt with the challenges of new students was by creating BHP binders and a class website. A turning point was the day we taught the BHP Origin Stories lesson. I felt like I was starting to have that “click” with the material. You know the point, right? When you feel like your class has finally stabilized and you’re more than one step ahead. I relish the challenge of Big History because it is pushing me to develop my social scientist view of history (emphasis on scientist!). During the Origin Stories lesson, I used a suggestion from the BHP Yammer teacher community and started the lesson with origins of superheroes.

Although the Origin Stories lesson was a success and the number of students has stabilized, we are still having the ongoing pacing struggle, particularly with students used to flexible scheduling. BHP requires a tighter timeline. We are struggling with when to shorten and when to pause. Just today we had to extend the lesson on thresholds to a second day because we feel students need more time to apply the concepts. However, almost all of these nontraditional students are sticking with our vision, which is really neat to witness as an educator. In fact, we have had enough interest from students–even though we have repeatedly warned about the challenge of the material–that we are going to start a second BHP wave in November with students who enrolled too late to take advantage of the course the first time.

Here’s to the fall frenzy of education–I will be checking in again soon.

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