Alex Johnson
BHP Teacher, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


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.


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 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.


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!


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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