Greg Dykhouse, BHP Teacher
Michigan, USA

One  great feature of the Big History Project curriculum is the abundance of tables and graphs that students must make sense of throughout the course. Providing opportunities for students to hone their interpretation and critical thinking skills as related to data displays is valuable in developing a “master historian.” It also leads to great inquiry and a genuine sense of wonder from students.

Graphing Population Growth from Lesson 9.2 centers on a display of human population growth over the last 10,000 years. By analyzing and conjecturing about this graph, students are tasked with making sense of changes in population growth pre- and post-Modern Revolution.

Human population graph between 10,000 years ago and today

Reinforced throughout this activity is the concept of scale, which is central to the BHP course. The story of population changes over different scales of time and space. Reinforce this theme with students when interpreting the graph: What is the time and space of the graph? What information is on the axes? What story is told?

Then, have your students conjecture about why the story of population growth has unfolded in the way it has. Once they’ve had a chance to offer some ideas, remind them to consult the threshold cards (which I hope you’ve displayed along a wall in your classroom, as they’re a great reference throughout the year). Can they label any of the Big History thresholds along the population growth curve? Is there a correlation between the emergence of a threshold and the direction or slope of the curve? Speculate answers together, write some offerings on the board, and then let the students complete the questions from the activity. Discuss their answers together.

To close, ask students, “When you turn 50, how will your world be different from today’s world, assuming current trends continue? What challenges may you have that your parents or grandparents never had?” This visual is an effective tool to generate wonder and urgency.

About the author: Greg Dykhouse has been teaching at Black River Public School in Holland, MI, for over 20 years; he has taught Big History there since 2011. He teaches the course to four sections of ninth graders that meet three times a week for 85-minute blocks.  


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