MAKING ROOM FOR DEEPER DISCUSSIONS

Melissa Keele
BHP Teacher, New York, USA

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Time. In the realm of this vast universe, time may be obsolete, never ending, perhaps doesn’t even truly exist. However, in a high school classroom, time is precious and lacking. No matter what classroom you enter into, what grade level teacher you ask, time is the biggest constraint and detriment to each teacher’s lesson on any given day. With a course like Big History Project, where each lesson can spark day’s long discussions, incorporating reading, writing, and discussion is a serious challenge. As you peruse the big history website, looking for readings, lessons, and videos to use, the question any teacher asks themselves is: do I have the time to fit this all in?

Being that my degree and certification is in history, it has been challenging for me to incorporate all of the science necessary to teach the Big History course in my ninth grade social studies classroom. In order to accomplish this, I must assign readings from the Big History Project website for homework. These excellent readings, which are available in different reading levels, allow me the time to have robust and meaningful discussions within the classroom. For example, in Unit 3, the vignettes about scientists from the past offer a window into the contributions to the foundation of Modern Science, and an opportunity to connect the past to the present. The night before these lessons, I ask the students to complete the readings off the website and answer guiding questions I have made for them. Here’s the handout for Marie Curie, and for Dmitri Mendeleev. In an ideal world, we would be able to ask the students to just read the article and be prepared to discuss. The truth is, the students might not actually read the article if there is no guided assignment. These questions allow for the students to pick up on the more important and interesting information that we will go over in class the next day. For example, it is imperative for the students to understand the amazing work of Marie Curie in the study of both chemistry and physics; however, I also include questions on her background and how difficult it was for her to establish herself in the world of science.

When the students come in the following day, they are prepared and ready to discuss these individuals. For example, when we are ready for the lesson on Marie Curie, we spend half the period highlighting her contributions to science, and then the other half we compare her experiences with other women in the world of science (Henrietta Leavitt). I often assign different scientists to each student and have them complete an expert activity where they teach one another about their scientist. This extra time within in the classroom not reading the article allows for discussions on Curie overcoming both gender and economic inequality to make a name for herself in the world of science, during a time when men dominated this arena. I implore all Big History teachers to utilize these readings on each scientist as a springboard for discussion and debate within their classrooms.

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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.

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