Pacing Challenge is a Small Price to Pay for these Teaching Moments

Shawn Bean
Big History Teacher, 9th Grade
Chicago Heights, IL

We were warned.  This summer when we were preparing for the Big History Course, we were told several times to be careful not to get to bogged down on the first 5 units if we were doing the World History version of BHP.  And yet, it’s the middle of November and I’m several weeks behind my schedule.  It’s tough though when you are having teaching moments, so I’ll learn to live with not being on schedule.  So far, there have been some ups and downs, so here you go:

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Since I’m an optimist, let’s begin with the positives.  There is no greater way to describe what my students are experiencing than to say that there levels of engagement are off the charts.  Every day I walk into my classroom for BH, I have several kids who ask me “so what are we going to learn today?”  It’s simple, but it leads to a bigger point, the students are seriously interested in the topics we talk about.  Another great example, I was observed the other day by my department chair.  My students were preparing for my unit 4 exam, so we were playing an interactive review game.  I couldn’t have been prouder than when several of my students didn’t even notice he was in the room, they were so involved in discussing Big History to make sure their group got the right answers.  Another example of a great positive has been the activities.  My students at first acted like they were too cool for the accretion activity, but once we were outside and they were running around me they really understood the process.  And the last highlight, for the first time my world history course is aligned with biology.  Currently we are working out the details for a small assignment where the students will use their BH background knowledge to come up with a plan to terraform either Mars or Venus for human settlement.  A few of my students were so excited they already started on their projects, and we haven’t even told them most of the details.

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There have been some difficult obstacles though; I’m not all sunshine and rainbows.  One of the biggest obstacles has been transfer students.  As one could expect, it is quite difficult to join a course such as this in the middle of unit 4.  These students are forced to play catchup, and they quite naturally struggle at first.  Usually I make them take the quizzes as they will need to know that information, I just don’t count them as a grade.  The other problem that I have with is with a few of the readings.  I love the different Lexile levels that are available for the students, but some of the background information doesn’t seem relevant.  Not a big deal, we skip most of that.

Overall, it’s been a great experience, and I can’t wait to see how the year plays out.

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