Bridgette Byrd O’Connor, BHP Teacher
What better way for students to research early civilizations than to figure out what made them rise and thrive—and then create a museum exhibit to showcase their chosen civilization’s legacy? (Oh, and then “prove” that they were the “best” early civilization.) Early Civilizations Museum Project from Lesson 7.1 of Big History is one that generates a ton of enthusiasm from my students, year after year.
Students really go “all in” as they work in groups to create walk-through museum exhibits on different agrarian civilizations (such as Babylon, Egypt, the Inca, Rome). They produce a variety of assets for their exhibits—written pieces, videos, interactive elements—which means the creative potential is endless. There’s something of interest for all learners, and each group member can play to their strengths. It also helps that groups are competing against one another in order to prove that their civilization was the “best.”
Students not only research the history of their chosen civilization, but also its cultural legacy—including art, architecture, literature, and science. I also make sure students include information on the social and gender hierarchies of the civilization. My classes have created music videos, news reports, interactive games, and stunning visuals.
In order to up the stakes, I usually offer a prize to the group that is voted as having the best civilization. Students aren’t allowed to vote for their own group, but I’ve found that they actually vote based on which group has the most compelling argument—rather than for their friends. You might also involve the entire school in this project by setting up a museum exhibition for other classes to explore and having other teachers and administrators judge the presentations. This has consistently been the project that my students have rated as the best Big History activity.
About the author: Bridgette’s been teaching BHP as a semester-long history course since 2012 . She teaches ninth and twelfth graders at Saint Scholastica Academy, a private school for girls. Bridgette teaches 120 students a year in three 90-minute sessions per day.