Kicking off the year with scale and a field trip

A visit to your local planetarium is a terrific complement to any Big History course. Kathy Hays from Mesa, AZ talks about taking her students to Arizona State University.

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Kathy Hays
Big History Teacher
Mesa, AZ

I was approached about teaching Big History in November 2014 and immediately fell in love with the curriculum.  From the moment I received approval for the course, my teaching world has been the Big History Project.  In February, my husband and I attended Night of the Open Door at Arizona State University.  This is a huge open house with hundreds of hands-on activities for all ages.  Here, we had a chance to visit the School of Earth and Space Exploration and to look at the work they had done with NASA and the Mars rover.  While there, we noticed there was a 3-D show about to begin.  Over the next 60 minutes, all I could think about was how this show aligned perfectly with the time and scale lesson outcomes in Big History! It would be a perfect follow up to the “Powers of 10” video and activity, and would really help students to grasp this huge concept.  Our school is located just five miles from the ASU campus, but most of our students have not been there.  There was no money for a field trip, and I do not like having students miss class, so my options were limited.  I am a firm believer that parental involvement is essential to student success, and I wanted my students’ parents to understand Big History, so I did the only thing possible; a Big History Family Field Trip.

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In June, I went to ASU to find out if this would be possible.  I was given the contact information for the theater manager and sent him an email explaining Big History, my goal to have students and parents experience the college environment, and inquired about a Saturday field trip. He responded immediately letting me know they would love to have our students and parents come on a Saturday.  He gave us a discounted price of $5.00 per person, and said if we had enough people, they would open up more of the area for students to explore the mini museum in the building.  My challenge was that the date I scheduled for the field trip was only ten days after the start of the school year, which is very short notice for families.  We had Open House two days before school started, so I was able to contact some families a little earlier. Information about the trip was also put on my school web site. The weekend before Open House, I sent out a mass communication to our families about the field trip.  This system does not always work, but I got lucky.  Parents came to Open House asking for information about the trip.

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We started school on a Wednesday, and by Friday I had over 60 students and parents signed up to go.  This was better than I expected.  By Monday, my numbers were at 100.  When I called ASU to let them know the total, they put a group of people together for a conference call.  They wanted me to explain Big History and the learning outcomes for the unit.  They wanted to make sure all of the concepts were incorporated into the narration.

On Saturday, the entire staff was waiting when I arrived. They gave me a desk to check in students as they arrived, and made a point of welcoming the students from Dobson High School, which made our kids feel pretty special.  He interviewed one of the students, asking her to explain Big History.  I’m not going to lie, I held my breath while she spoke, hoping she would provide an answer that sounded intelligent.  She did a great job, even using some of our key vocabulary to explain the class.  I was so proud!  As the narration of the journey began, students and families were encouraged to ask questions throughout the 3-D journey to the edge of the Universe and back.  The 60 minute show was closer to 75 minutes due to the questions.  Some of the graduate students stayed after to speak with our students about their work and answer any additional questions. On Monday, several students said it really helped them understand what we mean when we say the universe is big.  They loved the visual images, the 3-D glasses, and getting to see the museum.  Several asked if we could go back sometime during the year just for fun.  It was better than anything I had imagined back in February when I first dreamed up this crazy idea.  Next up:  contacting the planetarium at the community college. It is free on Friday nights and only a mile from the school.  What a great compliment to Threshold two.

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Start your journey as a Big History teacher, visit the Big History Project website to register for a free teacher account and access to our curriculum.

HERE ARE 3 WAYS YOU CAN TEACH BHP AT YOUR SCHOOL

BHP Team

Teachers around the world are interested in teaching Big History, but we sometimes hear they have trouble finding the hour in their schedule to fit it in. To help teachers overcome this challenge, we’ve created three sample course – the year-long course plan, the semester course plan, and the BHP World course plan. Each of these was developed in partnership with our Teacher Leaders so that they reflect the reality of the classroom. Of course, none will be perfect. These are intended as examples, not rigid pacing guides. The following course plans are available:

BHP Year-Long & Semester Course Plans

Big History is comprehensive yet customizable. The images below illustrates one way to teach Big History over a full year and semester. Use our ready-made pacing guide and lessons, or create your own using our robust content library. You know what’s best for your students better than anyone else. We strive to provide the support and flexibility you need to deliver.

If you want more detail than this overview, click here to see the full year-long course outline, and here to see the full semester course outline.

BHP World Course Plan

What can the birth of stars tell us about agrarian civilizations and colonial empires? What patterns emerge throughout the global conflicts of the 20th century? BHP World includes selected World History topics and utilizes the Big History framework to surface new questions, insights, and world views. A perfect prep course for AP World, use our ready-made pacing guide and lessons or create your own using our robust content library.

If you want more detail than this overview, click here to see the full BHP World course outline.

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Start your journey as a Big History teacher, visit the Big History Project website to register for a free teacher account and access to our curriculum.

Thinking across different scales: How I use BHP to teach historical analysis

Joe Jarvis
Big History Teacher, 9th Grade
Granby, CT

Thinking across different scales of time and space is critical in Big History and historical analysis, and is one of the three essential skills in the Big History Project (along with integrating multiple disciplines and claim testing). The course asks students to adjust their thinking to encompass the largest scales they have ever considered, like the 13.8 billion year history of the Universe, to some of the smallest scales they have ever considered like how DNA contributes to the evolution of life. This is something that I am very intentional about teaching and practicing in my classroom. When we shift the time and spatial scales at which we examine historical and current problems, it yields new insights and allows us to ask different questions. Thinking across scale in terms of both time and distance helps us to frame our experience at the levels of the individual, family, community, nation, human, and planet.

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My favorite Big History activities that really get at the heart of the issues surrounding scale are “Big History on a Football Field” found in lesson 1.1 and “History of Me” in lesson 1.4. The discussions surrounding how the student’s individual timelines fit into the timeline covering the history of the universe are rich and eye opening. Here, the groundwork is laid for their future understanding of scale.

This course asks students to grapple with the very weighty, sometimes unanswerable questions that are inevitable in content as rich as BHP. When my students feel that they have a good enough understanding of the content to answer it, or at least participate in an intellectual discussion surrounding it, I generally throw them a curve ball and ask them to think about the topic in a different scale. For instance, when a student explains that one early agrarian civilization was stronger than another, I tell them to scale out. It is then possible to discuss the different networks of exchange and trade between world zones, which led to sharing of ideas and technology. Evidence suggests these networks were more robust in Afro Eurasia than they were in the Americas, for example. Then I tell them to scale out more. The discussion might possibly shift to early human migration patterns and how plate tectonics and environmental factors largely influenced where people travelled, settled, how much interaction they had with other groups, and what resources were available. One more request to scale out could yield a discussion about the formation of our planet and how certain metals and other elements were deposited in Earth’s layers. I continuously challenge my students by asking them to think about their answers using different scales.

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Scale is one of the things that makes Big History unique, and it’s a critical skill in historical analysis. Scale in the course is constantly shifting in and out and so should my student’s thinking. This is not a concept they have practiced before and it is not easy to get them to think in this way, but when it happens, it is magical and it is really what the course is all about. When we look at things at different scales we ask different questions, get different answers and involve different disciplines, yet all of it, be it at the universal or atomic scale, contributes to out collective understanding of the world around us.

Feel free to hit me up with any questions in the BHP Yammer community. We are all in this together, and through Yammer we can all get the support we need to bring the best possible experience to our students.