BHP’s Impact On My Classroom Communication and Attitudes

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

Greetings from the great white North! I’m sure this could describe many places right now, but it currently describes the view outside of my window. I thought I would take some time to discuss how my students communicate—due in part to the type of educator I have become through BHP, and how the curriculum strengthens and supports my role.

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To refresh readers of my blog entries, I approach the Big History Project from the lens of an unconventional educator. I teach in a blended learning program that targets at-risk students. We run BHP as a traditional class that meets 3 hours per week but we also follow up and meet with individual students to push them through the course objectives and assignments.

BHP’s interdisciplinary approach to history means diving into subject areas that, I must admit, I lack full conceptual understanding. It’s been refreshing to share moments of confusion, curiosity, and wondering with my students. Anecdotally I have found that my students are much more candid about what they are struggling and confused about when I also share that I am not an expert in all the fields that Big History touches. My students are used to feeling disenfranchised by school so when they feel empowered by the topics and ideas discussed in BHP, it leads to greater connections. In unit 5, we didn’t just talk the evolution of humans, we talked about where humans could evolve too, which led to a discussion about technology and its role in our biological evolution—sophisticated talking points!

For example, let me share with you the story of Jacob. Jacob (not his real name) is a student who should have graduated last year. He has been homeless at times, struggled to attend school, lacked a family support system, and blamed school for failing him. He was a reluctant add to our Big History program and at first he wasn’t coming regularly. But then, as we like to say, the light bulb of learning popped on! First, he started waking up early before BHP workshop began. Then he made sure that he was doing the work on days he wasn’t at BHP. He also began participating in class and drawing his own conclusions about the investigations. He shared with me that participating in BHP has been the first time he has felt like he is making connections and creating new knowledge. He feels invested in what he is learning.

Communication should be a foundation of any classroom, and BHP is opening up communication avenues to students that I did not anticipate.

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