How I Turned One Sceptical English Teacher into a BHP Believer

Charles Rushworth, BHP Teacher
Sydney, Australia

When I suggested at a recent staff meeting that it was possible to not only teach numeracy, but also causality, source and data analysis, and basic economic theory using historical economic data during one lesson, my colleagues looked at me as if I had lost my mind and started laughing. Once the laughter subsided, I invited one of my more sceptical colleagues into my class to help me deliver a lesson that accomplishes these aims—the activity Understanding the Consequences of the Global Depression from Lesson 9.6 of the Big History Project course. The way she delivered the activity would be up to her. Here’s how it went.

Understanding the Consequences of the Global Depression asks students to evaluate consequences of the Great Depression—and economic interdependence—after plotting and analyzing several countries’ GDP data from 1929-1939. Teachers with limited backgrounds in economics or mathematics, fear not: the activity is less about number-crunching and more about using data to tell a story. Besides, it can be delivered in a variety of ways depending on your circumstances and the interests of your students.

My colleague (who, I should mention, is an English teacher) chose to deliver this lesson as a group activity using a projector, a whiteboard, and the activity worksheets, which she had printed from the BHP website. Each student group was asked to pick a country and then plot its GDP data on the provided graph, which was projected onto the whiteboard. Once complete, they discussed how trends in countries’ GDPs might help explain the onset of World War II.

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This activity encouraged authentic collaboration among students (and staff!). It also provided them with the skills to interpret numeric data and transform it into a visual representation that is easy to understand and present to their peers. Furthermore, it reinforced the interdisciplinary approach that is prevalent throughout the course. In a nod to the interdisciplinary structure of BHP, this anecdote from my school also demonstrated that anyone—even an English teacher—can teach numeracy in a fun, engaging, and relevant manner.

About the author: Charles teaches Big History to grade 9 students at Liverpool Boys High School in Sydney, Australia. He has taught Big History since 2012, in both year-long and semester-long formats. His current BHP class meets once a day for 55 minutes at a time.

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