BIG HISTORY PROJECT IN THE BIG EASY – NCSS 2015 PART 1

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New Orleans, Louisiana montage” by Infrogmation (talk). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

There’s nothing like meeting face-to-face to share ideas. Yes, there’s the Yammer Community available 24×7, but it’s not the same. Participants can’t see facial expressions, share laughs or debate with the same enthusiasm and detail.

NCSS 2015 is coming up November 13-15 and the BHP team is looking forward to some face time.  Because the last time we gathered was at the cluster meetings. Ever been to a Big History Project summer cluster meeting? These are free regional training sessions for teachers in key locations throughout the U.S. New and veteran teachers are invited to get ready for the next school year. This is a chance for teachers of various experience levels to connect face to face with each other, and with some of the folks involved in creating the Big History Project and its course materials.

Last summer in San Francisco, CA, guest speakers included expert course contributor, Professor Bob Bain and historian and author, Cynthia Stokes Brown. Professor Bain talked about the core concepts of the course and the 2015 research results. Cynthia Stokes Brown shared her teaching experiences and how her dissatisfaction with typical history courses inspired her to adopt and contribute to Big History.  The agenda also included “lab time” that teamed workhorse veterans, BHP team members, and enthusiastic new teachers to complete Big History Project activities in friendly competition style. This surfaced some challenging questions and new perspectives on classroom activities for new and experienced teachers alike.  It’s a chance to find out what tips, tricks and modifications other teachers, in other schools are using to keep their kids inspired and engaged.  Plus there was good food, and a lot of laughs and good-natured ribbing.

Big History is unique in that it connects curriculum creators and authors with the teachers who have to sling their stuff in classrooms every day. This allows teachers to dive deep into where Big History comes from and where it’s going as a course.  And what results to expect from students and how to get them. Teachers get to discuss and debate and inquire with the source, why Claim Testing, and Origin Stories, and those challenging Investigations matter and how they develop the critical thinking kids use for a lifetime. It’s an opportunity to ask the questions that came to mind while in the middle of a lesson or activity.

These gatherings also greatly contribute to Big History Project’s ongoing teacher-driven evolution. The questions, complaints, challenges and small victories shared go right back in to course improvements and keeping it fresh and relevant.

So, we’re really looking forward to connecting again at NCSS 2015 in New Orleans. Throughout the conference, BHP will be in the Exhibit Hall at NCSS Booth #805. Come by and get a free poster, find out what’s new, and say hello.

BHP is also featured in the Saturday November 14, 3:45p.m. session titled, The Big History Project: Examining our Past to Explain our Present and Imagine our Future. Veteran teachers Bridgette O’Connor, Todd Nussen and Scott Henstrand, along with BHP team member, Bob Regan, will bring the cluster meeting to the Big Easy with course updates, stories from the classroom, tips on how to get results, and hands-on activities to get folks new to BHP up to speed fast. Whether a veteran teacher or new to BHP, attendees will come away with new ideas for the classroom. Room 215. An offsite happy hour will follow the working session.

Next week on the BHP Blog, find out what Professor Bob Bain will be up to at NCSS.

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Not yet a Big History teacher? Register for a free account on the Big History Project website to access the entire curriculum.

UNIT 3 CLASSROOM NEWSCAST GETS STUDENTS THROUGH THE MID-TERM MEH

Cindy Jannett,
BHP Teacher, Washington, USA

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This is channel 13.82 billion news and we have breaking news! An incredible event has just occurred!

Unit 3 introduces students to many new concepts such as how stars form, the life cycle of stars, and the formation of elements. As we were nearing the end of unit 3, I couldn’t help but wonder, are my students “getting” the connections and the impact that this has on our world today? As February is a sort of a “slump” of a time in the year, I really wanted an engaging fun activity to get students motivated and involved. What better way for students to “report” what they have learned than by creating a newscast!

The activity consists of 2 news anchors that open up the beginning of the newscast, 1 interviewer and 1 interviewee that bridge the “middle” of the report, an “on the scene” reporter, and finally a special guest to talk about the impact on today. I really wanted all students to be involved and giving them a specific structure really helped to assign roles to every student.

Students chose a topic from a list and were given a day (85-minute class block) to put their research and scripts together. At our high school we are really lucky because we have one-to-one technology so students were able to return to the BHP website, browse the web, and access materials to help them write a script.

It took about a 60 minute period for students to present all their newscasts and they got really into it! They developed characters, accents, props, and of course backgrounds on the smartboard for the news anchors to sit in front of. We had Barbara Walters, Darth Vader, and James Franco as special guests and of course, several reports from the “surface” of the sun.

Students really showed and applied their knowledge by creating analogies and finding creative ways to present their understanding. Students performed their newscasts live in front of the class and some of the “characters” were carried through other presentations for the rest of the year. This activity can be modified, extended or condensed to fit your classrooms specific needs. Good luck on your newscast projects. This 13.82 billion news. Good night!

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Not yet a Big History teacher? Register for a free account on the Big History Project website to access the entire curriculum.

DOCUMENTING LEARNING WITH SKETCHBOOKS

Alex Johnson
BHP Teacher, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

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I believe that with so many classes that students take, they learn some fantastic material and then go home for the summer and a lot of the finer details just seem to seep out of their brains, never to be seen again. So much of the content that we are learning in this course is stuff that is incredibly important for them to retain in their heads in order to be scientifically literate and have a firm grasp on the natural world around them and how it all fits together. To help retention rates, I wanted my students to have some kind of tangible record of what they learned through Big History that they could take with them after they finished out the year. I decided to have students use sketchbooks as a way to accomplish this.

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At the beginning of the year I order a sketchbook for each student in the course. As we move through a unit, students come up with a list of the most important key concepts and skills we have learned about in class and do a one page entry that details each concept with summaries and illustrations. I encourage them to be creative in their entries and to try and use a variety of medias. Overall I have been simply blown away by the quality of their work and their creativity! Students have incorporated everything from comic strips and photography, to symbolic entries and collages. It is also easy to incorporate any digital projects that students create by linking them to QR codes that can be printed and pasted into their sketchbook entries. To create these, just simply take the link from whatever their digital project is and paste it into a QR code generator (I use qr-code-generator.com) and then print! Some students decided that that they didn’t want to write out the process of natural selection, so they created a podcast instead. All you had to do to hear it was scan the QR code with your phone and hit play.

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With this long running project, students seem to be really engaged with the information when they work with it in this way. Allowing students to express their understanding in a wider variety of methods can give a clear sign of what they have truly taken away from each unit, something that I believe quizzes and tests can often fall short on.  I highly recommend this to other teachers in the Big History program!

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Not yet a Big History teacher? Register for a free account on the Big History Project website to access the entire curriculum.