BHP Students Excel on NY Regents History Exam

BHP Team

In New York State, students must pass Regents Examinations—statewide, standardized exams in core high school subjects—to graduate high school with a Regents Diploma. At the end of tenth grade, New York students take the Global History and Geography Regents Exam. At Oceanside High School, teachers found that the group of students who had taken the Big History Project course (BHP) the year before, as ninth graders, achieved a higher passing rate compared to the subset of students who had not.

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Can you feel the focus?! © Getty.

For the June 2016 Global History and Geography Regents Exam, 89 percent of Oceanside High School tenth-grade students passed (432 out of 483 students). This group of 483 included Regents-level students, as well as those with disabilities, English Language learners (ENL), and other students with learning accommodations. This group also contained 96 former BHP students with a similar mix of learning levels and needs.

In the 2014/15 school year, these 96—who were then in the ninth grade—completed the year-long BHP course. The following school year, they progressed to tenth grade and the Global History II class. They were randomly assigned to one of twelve sections taught by one of six different teachers. At the end of the school year, all tenth graders sat for the Global History and Geography Regents Exam.

High Expectations Met with Success
After the Regents Exam results came in, BHP teachers wanted to know: “How did the former BHP students’ exam performance compare to those who did not take BHP?” So with some confidence but also fingers crossed, they calculated the passing rate for the group of former BHP students.

“We were prepared with explanations like ‘It was only our first year teaching the course’ or ‘Give us a break, we’re the first school on Long Island to do this.’ But we didn’t have to use them,” said BHP teacher Jason Manning.

The results? BHP students had a 96 percent passing rate on the Regents Exam, outperforming their non-BHP peers by 7 percent.

“It’s rewarding to know that implementing a course that we’re excited about led to quantifiable student success,” said BHP teacher Todd Nussen.

Engaging Course Builds Skills
Why did this happen? Mitch Bickman, Director of K–12 Social Studies for the Oceanside School District, believes that because the course narrative is more engaging to students, they are more motivated to learn. The course also offers more opportunities to hone literacy skills. “Students focus heavily on historical thinking skill and application of knowledge and are better prepared to authentically apply that learning across different mediums.”

Teacher Jason Manning believes the big difference is that in BHP, there’s teaching and learning that builds more than a fact base.

“I used to teach facts such as which Roman emperor built the Coliseum. Now we learn how to question, how to think about problems and critically consume information. Students walk away with an understanding of the conditions needed to build such a structure and the impact it had on history. These skills also improve the students’ writing, and even the smallest gains here can have a major impact on their scores.”

Perfect Timing for More Rigorous Exam
This is a particularly important time to focus on curriculum efficacy as changes in the Regents Exam are ahead. In the next few years, the exam will be based solely on the tenth-grade Global History and Geography II content, and will focus more on skills and less on content recall.

Mitch Bickman is optimistic that Oceanside students will be ready for the more rigorous format.

“As of 2015/16, we’ve entirely replaced our Global History and Geography I course for ninth graders with Big History. This is a great opportunity for Big History teachers to share the academic benefits of this course with New York State social studies teachers, as many will now be thinking about ways to either modify or replace their Global History and Geography I course so that students develop the skills they need to pass [the Regents Exam]. Based on these results, we feel we made the right choice.”

Download the case study here.


Bridgette Byrd O’Connor, BHP Teacher
Louisiana, USA

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.

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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.


Big History for All Learners

Todd Nussen, Big History Teacher
New York, USA

It seems like there’s more material, more time periods to cover, more terms to remember, and more complex ideas to understand. If the Big History curriculum is overwhelming, why would we bombard students with it?


A selection of BHP resources.

This is a valid question. Those of us who have been teaching Big History to students with diverse learning needs and abilities know that this dynamic curriculum can allow all learners to master advanced writing strategies, evaluate and utilize new information, and discover the connections between science and the humanities. BHP course resources and activities are adaptable and shareable, and help teachers meet the needs and abilities of students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). I’ll outline a few of my (and my students’!) favorite features.

Each Big History article is available in at least four Lexile levels. Special-education teachers, speech-language pathologists, and hearing specialists at my school love this feature. So do students—they can challenge themselves by reading the same article at higher levels, or lower the Lexile level, if needed. And they can do this with just a few clicks (or taps) from their student view of the course. I like that students can check out the readings in higher levels—it gives them a goal to shoot for, while providing some of the steps for getting there. For students who are visually impaired, each unit comes with a text reader file, a Word document that contains all of the unit’s articles (in all Lexile levels). This text reader document is compatible with text-to-speech tools.

IEP accommodations often allow students to request a copy of class notes. The downloadable unit slides help with this. The unit slides outline the key ideas and terms for each activity, article, and video in the unit (in both PDF and PowerPoint format). If a student is shaky on a concept, they can refer back to these (or support staff can help them to do so). The course website also allows students to download the articles, vocabulary lists, and infographics used in class. In addition, each unit includes “Other Materials” and “Web Links” Sections. Even if you don’t wind up using material from these sections in class, special-education teachers and support staff will find that they provide additional resources that help reinforce ideas and vocabulary.

BHP course videos also have useful scaffolding features built in. The ellipses icon on each video leads to the transcript, notebook, and Text Genome tools. Students can download transcripts from their course view, or teachers can print them out ahead of time. You can get creative here—I’ve instructed students to use transcripts before, during, and after viewing videos. It’s a good way to encourage close and active reading of video content. It also conveniently includes time stamps to help students follow along, and highlights key vocabulary terms. The notebook tool offers the same transcript, but includes an area students can use to take notes and answer guiding questions. Text Genome reports help students make sense of critical words by pointing to the cluster, semantic network, and word family of each. There are vocabulary activities in each unit that are a nice complement to these.

Yes, the BHP website can look intimidating at first. But there are many convenient tools and features built in that help scaffold the content for students. While these are especially helpful for meeting the IEP requirements of students with special needs and abilities, I find all my learners benefit from them.

About the author: Todd Nussen has been teaching world history for more than 10 years at Oceanside High School in New York. His schedule includes two ninth-grade BHP classes. Each 40-minute class has about 60 students.