Intersections, Crossroads, Linkages: Ways to Connect Big History

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

As 2015 dawned, it also marked a turning point in my school’s participation in the Big History Project—we reached the halfway point in the thresholds of the world! That is an accomplishment for my students. Because I work with 100% at-risk youth, many of them doubted their capabilities and stamina to work with material like this.  One way we have been extremely successful with our students and increasing their capacity for rigorous work like BHP has been to introduce interdisciplinary connections consistently. In this posting I want to give some concrete examples of ways in which BHP incorporates other disciplines and ways that we have also added connections.

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First, some background on how our program works. We use standards-based grading and we break down our standards into learning targets that students can accumulate. We challenge ourselves as staff and as students to work in interdisciplinary connections because our students can work on multiple courses at the same time. For Big History, we have integrated connections to English Language Arts, technology, Biology, Earth & Physical Sciences, and World History.  That may seem like an exhaustive list! But we arrived at a simple conclusion: Big History is too great of a concept to be “silo”ed into just one course. The breadth & depth of the world requires connections to be made regardless of whether or not you are confined by traditional scheduling requirements. You may not have a school program as unique as mine, but BHP has connections for multiple disciplines whether you label it as one or many.

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For example, for the unit 5 Life threshold we spent time analyzing BHP articles using the Three Close Reads reading strategy, more commonly found in English classes. We interpret the text, draw conclusions, and using graphic organizers to organize our thoughts. In this unit, just like others, we often add supplemental texts. The BHP Yammer community is a GREAT source for this type of material. There are always teachers adding articles of interest to supplement every unit.  We also took creative liberties with an assignment that asked students to think of challenges for living on the edge of the biosphere—asking students to write a short story about a character who lives in one of these two environments and what environmental disaster might have caused them to land there. These were fascinating stories, plus rich discussion!

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Another example from this unit was the biology connections we could make. Although it may seem obvious with a threshold labeled “Life”, BHP provided many avenues to deepen the historical science connections. In discussing evolutionary characteristics of species we had students take the graphic organizer about their species and analyze gender-based differences & evolution between species historically. We also spent time debating Darwin and his ideas.  The possibilities are always there!

Don’t feel overwhelmed if you do not know how you can cram in interdisciplinary extensions when you are feeling pressed by the curriculum—the opportunities presented for our school have been organic based on the outcome & input of my students. I look forward to hearing what your students can extend BHP into—the connections are endless!

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