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.

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