Chloe Simons
BHP Teacher, Tasmania

One of the reasons that this course is so powerful is its significant capacity to engage students. The story of the creation of the Universe and everything in it is a weird and wonderful tale with many twists, red herrings and surprises. If you get it right, teaching BHP to your students will be life changing for them.

Big History Project timeline
Big History Project timeline

A lot happens in 13.8 billion years (download PDF timeline, 18mb) and Big History is creatively sculpted to allow students to make sense of a huge range of information. Here are some thoughts on maximizing student engagement;

  • Don’t get overwhelmed or ‘bogged down’ by teaching lots of content—keep coming back to the narrative or the story of Big History. If you teach the skills of critical thinking, research and claim testing, students will be able to follow up on extra content that interests them outside of class time.
  • Take opportunities to pause and reflect on how the story of BHP relates back to the individual students themselves. Discuss the ‘lucky breaks’ for humans over the 13.8 billion years. For example, we can say how lucky we are that we have just the right amount of gravity in the universe for atoms to form, or how the big asteroid was unlucky for the dinosaurs but great for us. Making events relevant to how the students themselves came to be here can help keep them engaged in the story.
  • Vary your delivery of the course. The web site is engaging and visually interesting, with videos, text readings and infographics, but also make good use of the practical activities. I like to keep things dynamic—I wouldn’t spend a whole lesson doing text readers or watching movie clips—mix it up a bit and try to include many opportunities for students to engage in interactive or hands-on activities. I also encourage students to be as creative as possible when they demonstrate their understanding of concepts in BHP. Some examples could be:
    • Unit 3 Stars and elements: Get students to make up a “Guess my Element” game show to demonstrate their understanding of the chemical elements—make it as cheesy as possible!
    • Unit 5 Life: Write a diary from the point of view of a small mammal after the dinosaurs became extinct due to the asteroid. Explain how they had to adapt and survive and why this event was important for human evolution.
    • Unit 7 Agriculture and Civilization: Students create a ‘living museum’ where they dress up as people from different periods in time and explain and act out historically significant events.
    • Unit 10 The Future: Connecting globally—students connect with another school to investigate environmental or humanitarian issues.
    • All Thresholds: Students film a ‘mocumantary’ or short news report about a threshold moment as if it was a breaking story in the media.
      • Media posts: Students create weekly Big History tweet or blog post about an event that is important to them.
      • Create and Build: models of DNA using jelly snakes and marshmallows; use a 3D printer to re-create a historical artefact; use digital media to create students’ own infographics or a coding program like Scratch to create an animation of an historic event; build a model contrasting an ancient city and a modern city or use a 3D computer drawing program to design a ‘city of the future.’
  • Finally, model the joy of learning. It’s OK to tell your students that you don’t know the answers to all the questions—it would take hundreds of experts from all fields of knowledge to do this. Work through finding out answers to questions together with students and share their excitement at finding out new things.

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