PREPARING TO TEACH UNIT 10

Jason Manning, BHP Teacher
New York, U.S.A.

One of the exciting challenges of teaching the Big History course (BHP) is Threshold 9: The Future. However, in preparing to teach “The Future,” educators are faced with this stark reality: How do you teach something that isn’t written? And how do you explain something that hasn’t occurred?

History teachers are driven by facts and look for evidence—or what Bob Bain refers to as “residue”—to explain the events of the past. By examining this residue, we can begin to understand the events of the past as well as our world today. When teaching Threshold 9, though, we no longer have the benefit of this residue—it doesn’t yet exist. This may seem like a challenge not worth taking. The reality is that students will never be tested on the future. However, this is where true learning occurs and the magic happens. This is one of the most important ways Big History differentiates itself from other history courses.  It’s at this point in the course that students’ creativity and imaginations drive their learning.

Here are a few of my personal observations after teaching Threshold 9:

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Let go! One of the hardest aspects of my first year teaching Big History was becoming the lead learner in the classroom and accepting the fact that I was not going to know everything. I had to communicate with the students that I would be facilitating many of the lessons, but that I would also be learning alongside them. Accepting this truth, embracing it instead of being scared of it, was when I truly felt like a Big History teacher. It was this approach that helped me teach Threshold 9. Have fun with it! Allow your students to explore something that piques their interest and allows their imaginations to run wild as they become truly divergent thinkers.

Build upon what you’ve already taught. By this time in the year, students should be familiar with the concept of claim testing. Rather than telling the students they will be predicting the future, tell them they’ll be making a claim about the future based on logic, intuition, and current evidence. Also, because authority of the claim-maker is a theme throughout the course, students should be encouraged to ask the question, “What would be the best discipline (and who would be the best individual), to help me answer the questions I have, or support the claims I am making?” Students can get frustrated with the overwhelming scale inherent in thinking about the future. If this happens with your students, I recommended giving them some guidance. Ask them to make a claim about the future with scale as a factor. “What will the future look like in 50 years, 500 years, 500,000 years, and 5 million years?” A claim about how the Earth might look 50 years from now will be much different from a claim about what the Universe or even Solar System might look like 500,000 years from now. Here, they can use trends and global patterns to make predictions for the near future. By having the students focus on the first 50 years, you’ll enable them to feel more connected to thinking about what lies ahead, and they’ll be better able to frame the problem and perhaps propose solutions to solve it, which is the ultimate goal.  Then, you can unleash their creativity. Once students understand the scale, allow them to think about the next 5 million years. Here the possibilities are endless.

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No one can accurately predict the future. However, we can spot trends and see patterns. Seeing these patterns helps students make predictions based on logic and current evidence. Will students even know what potential problems might exist? The Global Issues and the Millennium Project websites are two great resources that can help students with this research.

Thinking and learning about the future presents a unique opportunity for students to apply the full complement of skills that were fostered over the course of working with BHP’s rich content and meaningful and authentic materials. While no one knows what the future holds, taking an active role in the thought process to begin to conceptualize it provides a powerful and dynamic learning experience for all students.

HOW DOES BHP WORLD EXTENSION ALIGN TO THE NEW YORK STATE WORLD HISTORY STANDARDS?

Mitch Bickman, BHP Teacher
New York, U.S.A.

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In the spring of 2014, New York State released its K-12 Social Studies Framework, which embedded the C3 Inquiry Arc, a frame for teaching and learning. At the heart of the C3 framework are instructional shifts in teaching and learning:

  1. Inquiry is at the center
  2. Interdisciplinary connections matter
  3. Taking informed action is important

If you dive into the Inquiry Arc, you can see that content is still at the heart of what we do. What has changed in social studies instruction since the release of the New York State Framework is that there is a more concerted effort to teach history through the lens of big picture connections over time, which is in fact a central feature of the BHP narrative. Although social studies education has long deemphasized rote memorization and getting bogged down in minutia, New York State has made a commitment to redesign their assessments to test for application of knowledge, rather than more traditional assessments that rip facts out of context. Due to these redesigned assessments, which focus more heavily on historical thinking and skill development, the time couldn’t be riper for the integration of the BHP curriculum. Current eighth-graders in New York State will be the first cohort to take this redesigned test, which focuses on world history from 1750 to the present. This leaves a vacuum in ninth grade in the current course of study, global history, and geography I. Although this content will no longer be directly assessed, New York State is maintaining that Global 9 will provide a foundation and the background knowledge to better understand the second half of the course taught in tenth grade. What we have seen firsthand is that the BHP World extension is strongly aligned to the New York State Social Studies Framework.

Here’s why:

  1. The BHP course focuses on skills development and strengthens students writing and reading comprehension.
  2. The course perfectly aligns with the C3 shifts, beginning with the assertion that inquiry is at the center of teaching and learning.
  3. Interdisciplinary connections leverage the power of teaching a more complete narrative, weaving in insights from various courses of study so that subject knowledge is no longer in a vacuum.
  4. BHP supports the authentic application of knowledge (taking informed action). Students will be equipped to solve the problems of today and the problems that don’t yet exist by becoming out-of-the-box thinkers.

Ultimately, the BHP World extension will instill in students a skillset and framework for thinking and learning that will prepare them for the redesigned New York State Regents exam. Students will experience a more engaging and dynamic course through the lens of Big History, because BHP’s true interdisciplinary nature leads to a richer dialogue in class, and a more cohesive and interconnected narrative.

BIG HISTORY PROJECT: INTRODUCING BHP SCORE

A free essay-scoring service for BHP teachers

Since the launch of Big History Project (BHP), we’ve partnered with the University of Michigan to carefully study the curriculum’s impact on student writing. The results have been remarkable. Across public, Title I, and private schools, students have shown significant gains over the course of the school year. The secret of this success is simple: Writing skills are foundational to BHP. Students taking the course write a lot, receive consistent feedback, and have many opportunities to act on that feedback. By offering a wide variety of texts, Investigations (which are similar to DBQs), and exercises, teachers can regularly and purposefully help students develop their writing skills. To date, the research study has focused solely on providing us with insights into the efficacy of the program. Individual submissions have been anonymous, and school- and student-level results have not been shared with teachers or students.total-tba-baseline-to-final-800

As the program has grown, the chorus of teachers who want access to individual results has grown louder. The more they’ve seen the research results, the more they’ve wanted to use the individual scores to develop specific improvement plans for their students. We’ve heard this chorus. In response, we’re introducing a new service—BHP Score. Together with Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Michigan, we will offer BHP teachers and students direct access to writing feedback, which will create new formative assessment opportunities without placing increased demands on already overloaded teachers.

BHP Score: Free, High-Quality Feedback

Here’s how it works: Students write responses to the Investigations in Units 2, 6, and 9, and then submit them via the course website. When all of the students’ essays are in, the teacher submits them via the website. A short time later, the trained evaluators at ASU will return a report that includes a result for each student, measured against the standard BHP writing rubric. The report also provides a class summary, as well as a page detailing each student’s score in four areas: content knowledge, use of evidence, construction of argument, and writing mechanics.

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A Teaching Assistant for Your Classroom

We know that it can take nine hours to grade the essays of just one class. There’s a limit to how much more you can do. At the same time, we feel strongly that students would benefit from additional formative feedback. We realize that in order to provide that formative feedback, we need to provide support to teachers. This is what we hope to accomplish with BHP Score.

The best assessment of student work comes from the teacher that knows and cares about that student. BHP Score doesn’t change that. What it will do is create opportunities for a teacher and student to talk through the writing feedback and identify areas and strategies for improvement. This is a formative assessment program, not an entry in the grade book. The evaluators at ASU will be trained by the team at the University of Michigan, the Big History Project team, and ASU faculty. To maintain a high level of quality, scoring will be reviewed to ensure consistent application of the standards.

How to Enroll

BHP Score will become in late June 2016. It will only be open to teachers of the Big History course, so be sure to register at: http://school.bighistoryproject.com. Registration is free, fast, and easy. If you’re interested in learning more about BHP Score, email us at score@bighistoryproject.com.