A. Ferguson, BHP Score Team
Arizona State University, USA


Earlier this year, BHP announced a new formative assessment service called BHP Score. The service allows teachers who have incorporated Big History into their classrooms to submit students’ essays for Units 2, 6, and 9. The essays are sent to a team of trained scorers at Arizona State University (ASU) who score them using the BHP Writing Rubric, provide comments to contextualize those scores, and then submit them back to the teachers. Who are the people on the scoring team? The team consists of certified and trained experts who use their backgrounds and skill sets to help assess students’ writing.

Each scorer completes BHP teacher certification and additional training before reviewing student essays. That’s right; each scorer goes through the 9.5 hours of BHP Teaching Big History training. This allows the scorers to learn about the materials and methods that teachers use in the classroom to teach the course. Upon completion, scorers review the content for the unit Investigations. This process involves group discussions about the driving question and texts for each unit. The team also participates in “norming” activities to ensure that they, as a whole, adhere to the BHP Writing Rubric. Although the extensive training prepares the scorers for assessment, they each came well-equipped with prior experience.

Individually, the scorers have various professional experiences that have prepared them for writing assessment and evaluation. Some of the scorers have teaching experience, both secondary and postsecondary. Those scorers have led classroom discussions and facilitated students’ learning and writing. Some scorers are former college writing tutors. Those scorers have experience assessing and evaluating a variety of genres, citations, and writing styles in conversation with both undergraduate- and graduate-student writers.

All of the scorers have relevant educational and professional backgrounds that have prepared them as a team for the interdisciplinary approach of Big History. For example, some of the scorers have English and education backgrounds that inform their understanding of the writing-intensive nature of Big History. Others have backgrounds in history that help them understand the BHP narrative. In addition, some scorers have a background in biology and medical science—a perfect complement to many of the units in the course! Finally, there are scorers who bring their experience in global and interdisciplinary studies—a field that covers many of the themes and concepts of BHP.

The ASU team of scorers is a perfect fit for BHP Score. The BHP certification and extensive training complement the graders’ prior experience and skill sets. The team works hard to provide meaningful feedback for teachers and students. Furthermore, they’re excited to be part of BHP—a project through which they support teachers with the success of their students.


David Burzillo, BHP Teacher
Massachusetts, USA


Life cycle of a sun-like star. ESO/S. Steinhöfel – ESO. CC BY 4.0.

The Star Class activity in Lesson 3.3 is a must-do activity that introduces students to the key characteristics of stars and how they interact. The relationship of a star’s size, temperature, and luminosity is nicely captured in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, a visual that I tell my students is the astronomer’s periodic table. The H-R diagram helps make concrete why hot stars are hot and why cooler stars are cool and why changing any of these characteristics can change the nature of the star.


Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. ESO. CC BY 4.0.

But if I just give my students the H-R diagram and ask them about these relationships, they’re likely to struggle to interpret the data presented there. That‘s why the Star Class activity is so great; it  helps students understand and use the H-R diagram by having them explore these relationships first in a hands-on way.

Students are given 25 stars of varying temperature, size, and luminosity, and are asked to organize them in a variety of ways. Over the course of the activity, students work out the key relationships. For example, students are instructed to organize the stars by luminosity. One group of my students wondered: “How can Spica and Antares be equally bright but have different temperatures?” They quickly recognized that Antares was bigger than Spica and that this size difference helped explain the difference in luminosity.

I like this activity because it combines active learning and collaboration to help students explore the characteristics of stars, preparing them to use the H-R diagram, a key item in the astronomer’s toolkit.

About the author: Dave has taught for over 30 years, more than 25 of them at his current school, a private high school in Weston, MA. For the last 7 years, he has taught BHP to ninth-, eleventh-, and twelfth-graders. His school runs on a trimester system, which gives him about 90 days to cover 13.8 billion years of history in each class. He has 12–16 students in each class. Recently, Dave began offering an online BHP course in the summer. 


Jami McLing, BHP Teacher
Idaho, USA

BHP Score is a thing of beauty: it provides a level of detailed feedback on student writing that would previously have taken me two to three weeks to compile. In addition to time saved, here are three other amazing benefits of BHP Score:

  1. Tool for Teachers: One-on-One Conversations


    Co-teacher Joy Gleave reviews BHP Score reports with students. Photo by Jami McLing.

    BHP Score gives us a tool for having great one-on-one conversations with our students about where they are in the learning-to-write process. My co-teacher and I aren’t writing teachers by training (however, we acknowledge that history teachers are, by default, writing teachers). Although we could read student essays and look for evidence and adherence to the topic question, for example, we’ve always struggled with coaching students on how to be more fluid writers. The comments provided in the Score reports, along with the numeric scores for each of the four criteria in the BHP Writing Rubric, have proven an invaluable starting point for conversations.

  2. Tool for Students: Goal-Setting


    BHP Score report with numeric scores

    BHP Score gives students a concrete tool for making their writing better. When we talk with our students one on one about their Investigations, they use the information from the Score reports (both the written comments and the numeric scores for each of the grading criteria) to identify their strengths and weaknesses. They then create writing goals for future Investigations.

  3. Peer Editing Support


    Students review their BHP Score reports and peer-edit their essays. Photo by Jami McLing.

    BHP Score gives students a tool for learning how to peer-edit. Our students have always struggled with giving honest feedback on classmates’ essays: they don’t ever want to hurt feelings (despite our attempts to teach them that giving a friend the highest score possible does them no service when it’s not truly deserved). But, how are students supposed to improve their writing if they don’t get honest, constructive feedback? BHP Score moves students in this direction. Plus, peer-editing helps them see where they can improve their own writing.

    BHP Score has already changed the way my co-teacher and I approach helping students improve their writing. We LOVE it and are already looking forward (as are our students) to the feedback we’ll get from Investigations 6 and 9.

Learn more about BHP Score.

About the author: Jami McLing has been teaching history at her middle school in Idaho Falls, Idaho, for 10 years. This is her fourth year teaching BHP. She teaches the year-long BHP course to eighth graders in two 50-minute classes per day.