Rachel Hansen, BHP Teacher
Iowa, USA

Rachel Hansen presents the Unit 8 driving question to the class.

Each unit of Big History begins with a compelling driving question (DQ) activity. I find that the open-ended DQ questions provide a clear framework for student thinking. In my class, we open each unit with a discussion about the DQ; throughout the unit, students document in their DQ Notebooks any changes in their thinking related to the DQ. I let them use these notebooks when they write their Investigations at the end of each unit.

Unit 3: Stars & Elements begins with this DQ: “How can looking at the same information from different perspectives pave the way for progress?” This one really floors students when they first see it. Often, they’re not even sure where to begin! This is pretty normal. Our first stab at answering a DQ is rough. We try relating it to something we know. For the Unit 3 DQ, I ask students, “Have you ever changed your mind about something or someone because of some new information? Can you think of a time in history where two people had different perspectives on the same issue? How did it contribute to progress?” The goal is to get them to attach the question to something concrete that they can reference—such as an example from science, politics, or history.

In the end, students come up with some pretty enlightened thinking. Here are a few of our “ahas” from the Unit 3 DQ Notebooks:

  • “Organizing information in a new pattern may bring light to an old topic.”
  • “When you keep looking at the same information, it can cause curiosity.”
  • “One way to reach new conclusions is gathering and using new evidence.”
  • “Even if you think you know everything, you should still always try to leave room in your work for people in the future to add their knowledge to your work.”
DQ Notebook drawer

Note: I have my students write about DQs in notebooks, but you might have another way you prefer to organize student work. For example, the DQ activity for each unit is downloadable as a one-page PDF, which would fit nicely in a binder.

About the author: Rachel Hansen is a high school history and geography teacher in Muscatine, IA. Rachel teaches the BHP world history course over two 180-day semesters to about 50 ninth- through twelfth-grade students each school year.

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