Des Hylton, BHP Teacher
Brisbane, Australia

As many of you lead up to the Little Big History (LBH) projects  or find yourselves neck-deep in them, you might be feeling overwhelmed with questions. Students are often desperate for affirmation and feedback on the direction they’re taking their multi-modal projects. What a great problem to have! Your students care! But as every teacher knows, you never feel like you have enough time to give formative feedback to everyone. Enter student feedback.

Peer-to-peer feedback is an essential feedback loop, especially when it comes to activities such as the LBH project. True to one of the underlining philosophies of Big History—the teacher as facilitator and lead learner—it encourages distribution of responsibility, and effectively creates many more “teachers” in the classroom. It also provides students opportunities to develop their “soft” skills and other qualities that graduates are reportedly often lacking, such as empathy and the ability to collaborate.

Peer-to-peer feedback is more likely to be successful when students value the process and understand what good feedback can look like. I love to use the following video as a provocation to build the foundation for these components by showing Austin’s Butterfly Story. As a class, we watch Austin’s story and then discuss the clip and come to the consensus that we all have the capability to give good feedback, and that creating multiple drafts is a powerful process. And—although I haven’t tried this yet—I  think this clip would also be useful for discussing revisions of Investigations essays in tandem with BHP Score reports.


To help students develop their ability to give great feedback to each other, consider using the “Be Kind, Specific, and Helpful” protocol, which dictates that all feedback comments, whether oral or written, must meet those criteria.

Being kind means students should be soft on the person although hard on the content. We all have feelings! Encourage students to reflect on what they liked (including reasoning) or recognize their peer’s effort.

Unkind feedback: “You’ve done a really bad job of linking your artefact (headphones) to anything else.”

Kind feedback:  “I really like that you are beginning to link your artefact (headphones) to emotions.”

Being specific with their feedback will help students avoid generic comments, ones don’t provide enough information and often frustrate the receiver, leaving them confused about what they should focus on developing.

Unspecific feedback: “Include more ideas, write more, more pictures.

Specific feedback: “Perhaps you could explore how your artefact (the brain) links to the early universe?”

Helpful feedback must be future-focused and offer possibilities. This gives students the opportunity to utilize the assessment criteria and rubric and use it formatively to further develop their work.

Unhelpful feedback: “You should have stated sources.

Helpful feedback: “Perhaps next time, you could include at least two more sources providing evidence to support your ideas on the impact the Industrial Revolution had on the rifle.

Giving kind, specific, and helpful feedback is a skill, so building it into your teaching and learning routines is essential if students are to really benefit from it. Some of the ways I’ve done this are by getting students to assess my teacher feedback to determine if it was kind, specific, and helpful (yep, I’ve been called out myself a few times!), as well as by having them give peer feedback on peer feedback! As students become more confident and understand the protocol, you might find they gradually begin to rely less on your feedback and seek that of their peers. This is the ultimate affirmation that they value the process, are developing the soft skills essential for our contemporary societies, and that you are staying true to the role as a facilitative Big History teacher.

What are some of the ways you encourage and utilize peer-to-peer feedback in your BHP classroom? Join me in a discussion about this very topic in the BHP Online Community.

About the author: Des Hylton teaches Big History in an independent preparatory-through-twelfth-grade school in Australia, but he’s a science teacher by trade. At his school, BHP is taught as part of the history/geography curriculum over two years to Year 7 and 8 students. Des teaches the class in five 50-minute sessions per two weeks. His average class size is 28.



Daily Life: Then, Way-Back-Then, and Now

Scott Collins, BHP Teacher
Illinois, USA

Think about your daily routine. Your cell phone alarm goes off. You swipe to disable the alarm, quickly check social media to catch up with the overnight goings-on, and manage to delay your emergence from under warm covers to start another day. Off to school. Off to work. On to the next thing that fills the unique niche that is your life.


Morning commuters on the F Train bound for Manhattan. By Travis Ruse, CC BY-SA 2.5.

Nearly 7.5 billion people complete some version of this regimen each day. Variations differ wildly depending on geography, demography, and any other -ography you can think of. A Day in the Life from Lesson 9.0 explores these daily routines and how they compare across continents and throughout history. This activity asks Big History students to detail a day in the life of a person from 13,000 BCE, 1400 CE, 1750 CE, 1900 CE, and today. Students assign their individual a gender and a location from around the globe, and detail what he or she might do at dawn, midday, sundown, and night. For example, a student might describe a day in the life of a 24-year-old female in what is now Spain, describing that day if she had been alive in 13,000 BCE, 1400 CE, 1750 CE, 1900 CE, and today. This task requires students to detail some things about daily life even though that information doesn’t explicitly exist in recorded history for all periods. It will also probably require some additional research online. In most cases, context and logic can guide students in the completion of the assignment. I typically assign a different continent to students (or pairs of students). The rest is up to them. I steer clear of Antarctica because of its lack of population.

Students tend to enjoy immersing themselves in the history associated with A Day in the Life. They often go more in-depth with their research and analysis than the activity requires. Some vignettes give you a window into a lifestyle that is largely recreational and utopian. Others paint a picture of hardship and want. The activity never fails to provide perspective of how far we have come as a species; of what collective learning has cultivated. It brings in the larger BHP themes of surplus, agriculture, and acceleration quite nicely, setting the table for rich discussion and reflection.

For me, this is a must-do activity. I always enjoy the thoughtfulness that it inspires in students and the global perspective that follows. Inevitably, conclusions are drawn that maybe we don’t have it as bad as we sometimes think. Maybe we’re fortunate to live when we do. And just maybe that wake-up alarm sounds a little less harsh the next morning.

About the author: Scott Collins is a high school science teacher in Lemont, IL. In addition to BHP, he teaches AP biology, honors biology, and integrated science. His school is on a semester system. Scott’s eleventh- and twelfth-grade BHP classes run about 85 minutes long and focus heavily on the science content. About 60 students per year join him on the 13.8-billion-year journey.


Steve Hamilton, BHP Teacher
Washington, USA

We ended the first semester of Capital High School’s Big History class with Investigation 6. On the final day of the semester, students completed their Investigations and submitted them to BHP Score. I also scored the essay myself. Having sent in Investigation 2, the students knew the type of detailed feedback they would be getting from BHP Score. We were excitedly anticipating their scores. I wanted the students to experience growth and improvement.


Sample BHP Score class and student reports

When the scores for Investigation 6 arrived a few days later, I revealed each student’s overall score and the class average. The scores had improved from Investigation 2, and the overall average went up. We had progress and improvement. It was small, maybe, but we were going in the right direction.

I saw an opportunity to use the reports as an instructional tool. I printed students a copy of their individual reports from both Investigations, and created an additional reflection sheet for them to compare and reflect on the feedback they’d received. As I went around the room, I asked each student what they could improve on for Investigation 9, the next essay they’d submit for grading by BHP Score. With the use of the BHP Score report and feedback, in tandem with the BHP Writing Rubric, the students could be very specific:

“I did not cite all of my sources. Also, I can word my essay more formally in essay #9.”
– Milo

“I can use more text evidence and use a better argument. Maybe have the text I want to use written down before I go to do the essay.”
– Tiffany

BHP Score breaks the writing process down for students. Reflecting on the process and being very specific about what they need to focus on helps all students to improve and grow over the course of the year, which is the goal. I had kids who improved greatly and also those who improved just a little bit. I also had a student who did not improve in any areas, but instead slid backwards. Each of these results brings a great learning opportunity for students. They don’t need to be perfect or even to get an A, but they do need to show growth and learning.

Note: this is the second of a series of blog posts I’m writing about my classroom’s experience with BHP Score this year. Read the first one, BHP Score: A Tool for Self-Improvement.

About the author: Steve teachers two sections of Big History as a full-year tenth-grade world history course at Capital High School, an International Baccalaureate school in Olympia, Washington. Steve has been teaching BHP since 2015, and is particularly appreciative of BHP’s emphasis on skills like argumentative writing and claim testing, which he thinks is especially relevant today.