Kathy Hays, Big History Teacher
Arizona, USA

Last week, as they were wrapping up the year with final exams, BHP teacher Kathy Hays asked her Big History class to write letters of advice to next year’s BHP students. It turns out she has a very reflective, helpful, and honest class! Here are a few of our favorite responses—you might even share them with your own incoming class.

NGC 5806, a spiral galaxy in the constellation Virgo. ESA/Hubble & NASA. CC BY 3.0.

Dear Future Big History Students,

If you are reading this, you are a student who just entered the Big History Project. Congratulations! The Big History Project is a complex program that allows you to learn in a new way. Exciting, right? You don’t kick off the course with asking how the Civil War started on the first day of school, you start looking waaaaaay back to the beginning. The beginning of space, time and the entire Universe, 13.8 billion years ago. This class is valuable because you will learn a lot of useful skills that you can use in the future, such as critical reading and writing. I was challenged by this class, but it’s good to be challenged. The Investigations helped me to improve my writing. I can now make and support an argument with evidence. Also, I learned how to do a research paper with the Little Big History Project.

This class gives you challenging tasks and assignments to do that actually make you think (crazy, right?), but I was able to pull through because of all the great sources of information that helped me. It was really fun to look at all the different disciplines Big History used as we studied history. Some of the skills I learned are how to use citations in my essays, incorporating text as evidence, and making a counterclaim. Big History may be a challenge at first, but you’ll get the swing of things pretty fast. Have fun and enjoy your year!



Dear Incoming Big History Student,

During your time in this course your perspective on the world around you will change greatly. This class can be challenging when it comes to essays and other activities, but make the most of it. Appreciate that you get to think at a higher level, and see how you can help the world and its future. This course can become difficult, but it is a way to remind you to be humble. You learn about the world around you, as well as the amazing opportunities the class provides. Don’t just float by. Join the discussions, because the more discussions you have, the more you will learn. I will take away the ability to write a great essay, and be able to better communicate with my peers.

Best of luck to you!


Dear Future Big History Students,

Big History is a challenging, yet fun subject to learn. The most valuable thing I got from the class is the critical thinking skills. Every article, video, and source you look at makes you think, “is this reliable, what evidence can I find to make it reliable, and can this evidence be confirmed?” You use critical thinking skills throughout the entire year. The most challenging part of the course, to me, was writing the Investigation essays. I really struggled on using all the sources to the fullest, and justifying them to make an intelligent claim. I got through all the challenges of Big History by listening and taking detailed notes when we were having discussions. I also told myself that I was able to move forward and conquer the challenges.

I have better writing and presentation skills. I’m extremely shy so I don’t like presentations all that much. Being in this class helped to bring me out of my shell and speak louder to an audience. My writing skills from the beginning of the year have improved greatly. I went from getting twos and threes on my Investigation essays, to all fives at the end of the year. These skills I have gained will be with me throughout my high school experience. They are skills I hope you improve on too. Big History may seem difficult at first, but if you listen and stay engaged you will understand. I hope your year in Big History is a great one!



Dear Future Big History Students,

Big History is a class explaining how the Universe began and how it is going to be in the future. It covers all aspects and elaborates on thresholds. The most valuable thing from the class is the knowledge gained. I didn’t think much about the future until I took Big History. It makes you consider what the world is going to be like during your lifetime, and many years afterwards. From the information we learn, we try to predict the fate of the people and planet.

I was challenged when writing unit Investigations. They forced me to think critically, use evidence to make an argument, compare evidence, and to see the other side of the argument. To thrive in this class, you have to have an open mindset and a passion for learning. Some skills I have gained over the year are critical thinking, the ability to write in limited time frames, and to read thoroughly. The Big History Project has immensely benefited my education and I would choose it again over any other history class.

Dear Future Big History Student,

Over the past school year in Big History class, I have learned so much about the significance of focusing on a much larger scale. After this course, I realize that the seemingly big moments in human history, like the World Wars are not so big after all. While events like these affect human life, they are rather small on the whole Big History scale. Keeping this in mind, however, I now know the importance of scale when looking at the history of the Universe. In this course, I have found that scale is one of the most valuable aspects.

Overall, this course challenged me to think more critically when dealing with the early Universe. We learned that this early history is history we do not know for sure happened. It is just an educated theory; it is an origin story. These lessons sometimes contradicted my beliefs, but over the first couple units, I learned to keep an open mind. The best way to overcome learning difficulties is to keep an open mind and be aware of different perspectives.

This Big History course allowed me to keep in mind that the beginning of history did not begin with the first units in standard history classes. After this class, I know that the history of the Universe is just as important as world history, and that there is so much more that we know, but so much that we still do not know about our Universe.


Dear Future Big History Students,

When taking a Big History class, the most valuable thing you learn or take away is the ability to look at problems, ideas, etc., on a big or small scale. It helps you develop different perspectives while looking at the same event.

I can say I was challenged when we looked at and were asked to answer the Driving Question for each threshold. I persisted by watching the Big History videos and reading the articles, and participating in our class discussions. A skill that I learned and will continue to use throughout my high school career is claim testing. I know I will have to do research in the future, and claim testing will enable me to check my sources to make sure my information is accurate. I hope you have a great year in Big History.


Dear New Big History Students,

Big History is a course that forces you to think. It introduces many valuable concepts such as claim testing, collective learning, scale and perspective. This class does provide many challenges. Personally, I was challenged with the Big Bang and the creation of stars and planets. What challenged me was the fact that there was nothing, then out of nowhere, a Universe. I also didn’t quite understand how chemical elements formed and came to Earth. I persisted by taking notes, listening, asking questions, and doing additional research. I also asked my friends who were in the class.

Big History has taught many skills that will stick with me throughout high school as well as my adult life. Collective learning has been used to help humans become the dominant force on the planet. As the world zones connected, collective learning rapidly increased. This is the idea that having information, sharing and improving upon it allows for advancement.
With much of the fake news today, claim testing is a great way to test if a source is reliable. A good way to claim test is checking for Authority, Logic, Intuition, and Evidence (remember: ALIE).

One major concept that I will use is perspective. Not only can it be used for Big History, but you can use it to see something from another person’s point of view on a topic.

At some point during the course, I started to feel disconnected and discouraged. I realized I had stopped asking questions and participating in discussions. In the end, I saw how Big History will help me in the long run. You start to see the concepts discussed in class out in the real world and see it applied in real life. It can be a lot of work, but it’s work that will strengthen your skills in school, life, and assist lessons being taught, I really enjoyed the What Do You Know, What Do You Ask activity. It let us put ourselves into a new discipline and ask questions to try to investigate an event in history. We got to incorporate science and history to solve a modern world problem.

This course was very interesting and though it provided some bumps in the road, it really all tied together in the end to create a long, beautiful narrative of the Universe. I hope you have a fun year! Remember, keep questioning!



Dear New Big History Students,

What you know about history is the tiniest fraction of what you are going to learn in Big History. What is important is to have an open mind and question things because debates and decisions will be a big part of the class. The first three units had me lost at times, but when we started getting to life on Earth, I realized the value of life and how complex we are. This course challenged me to think in ways I never thought I could think. The more involved you are in the class, the more you will persist, learn and enjoy it. The biggest takeaway I got from this class was from the Investigation essays, and using evidence to prove my point. I went from being in the two and three range on the rubric to all fives and one four! This class may be difficult at times, but if you apply yourself it will be fun and exciting to learn. Also, you’ll get familiar with Crash Course and you may not be able to watch John Green for a while. You will leave the class definitely prepared for the rest of your high school career.

Good luck!

About these students’ teacher: Kathy Hays has been teaching for 30 years, and this year is her second teaching Big History. She teaches five BHP classes a year, and so reaches about 130 ninth-grade students. Her school is on a semester schedule with daily 52-minute periods. Kathy’s favorite thing about teaching Big History is the opportunity to learn with her students!

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