WHY I TEACH BHP

Rob Valenti
BHP Teacher, New York, USA

Teaching the Big History Project (BHP) course over the past 3 years at Springville-Griffith Institute High School as a senior capstone elective has truly been the most rewarding experience of my teaching career. At first, 14 billion years of history and science seemed daunting. But as are many things in BHP, it’s all about perspective. From the beginning, one of the goals that I’ve tried to achieve as a social studies educator has been to try and further my students’ understanding of identity—who we are. From my point of view, there is no true understanding of who we are and what the world we live in is all about without knowing our origins. Can you imagine how distorted our perceptions of the future would be without an understanding of the past?

While immersed in BHP, my students grapple with questions about our present, past, and future, and they do this from the perspective of individuals, of members of a globally connected society, and of beings in an ever-expanding Universe. These types of questions and inquiry have led to explosions of bewilderment, curiosity, and the deep motivation of students to search for answers. Class projects, discussions, and work have been rigorous, yet fun, exciting, and meaningful. This has simply been the best classroom I’ve ever been part of. And I have truly been part of the course, because while teaching BHP, I’m a student just as much as those I guide through it. I’m not the master of all the disciplines the course touches on, but rather a facilitator who, with his students, searches for answers to big questions. At the same time we dig and reach for those answers, we spin together the amazing web of connections that constitute the Big History narrative of the Universe.

A BHP Student’s Letter to His Teacher

Big History Thank you

Read the full text of the letter:

6/12/16
Mr. Valenti,

Last year, I was scheduled to take digital photo, but then you and some students came into my APUSH class and gave a presentation on Big History. It looked interesting, so I decided to take a chance on it and drop digital photo to take Big History. This proved to be one of the best decisions of my life, and I mean that truly.

To me, this isn’t just a history class, but something that has given me so much more. The structure of this curriculum has completely changed the way I look at the world. The lens that this course uses to understand the Universe has been very enlightening, and inspired me to share my own way of looking at things. Concepts such as scale and networks between people have helped me understand my own relationship with the world around me.

This class has shaped and had a large influence on my future plans too. It has energized my passion for globalization studies and has motivated me to continue studying the connections between the world’s people and cultures.

You’re a great teacher and I appreciate your encouragement of discussion and questioning. You, in teaching this class, have given me the invaluable opportunity to ask questions and ponder ideas that I never would have thought about before. I have never before taken a class so focused on important ideas and the stimulation of creative thinking as the Big History Project, and I am so grateful I got to spend this year with you in this class.

Thank you so much,
Zachary Cudney

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