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.

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