Fizza Kachwala, Big History Teacher
Dear New-to-BHP Teacher,
Your first year facilitating Big History can be much like a roller coaster ride. I know: I write this blog post as I round out my own first year teaching the course. You’ll have your doubts about making it through the ride and you’ll worry about how prepared you are for what’s in store for you. It is exciting, thrilling, even scary at times. But all you need to do is gather yourself and embark on the ride. Then you’ll see and enjoy multiple views of the track you’re on. And as you speed through this joyride, you’ll be glad you decided to be on it in the first place.
Gearing Up for the Ride
The first thing you should tell yourself is to be open-minded. This means having the ability to see things from multiple perspectives. It means being accepting of views, although not always agreeing with them. Accepting multiple perspectives will allow you to question your own thinking; you’ll find yourself liberated by the metamorphosis of thought.
You might be worried about having to don many academic hats—an understandable concern. The first half of the course can feel science-heavy, but keep in mind that those first units aren’t about the mechanics of science, but rather about how our evolving understanding of science informs our understanding of our past. Moving out of your comfort zone will be easier with the incredible support system found in the BHP Online Teacher Community. You’ll find it your “go-to” place, the place where teachers share their ideas and where veteran teachers will help you make BHP a success in your classroom, whatever the set-up.
I personally found it helpful to plan my coursework in advance and personally attempt the activities I was asking students to do. So, my planning was always two weeks ahead of what I was executing in class. This way, I knew exactly what was in store, and could help steer discussions or successfully clarify doubts—and keep the coherence of the course narrative in mind. Doing the activities myself before teaching them in class also helped me know what modifications I’d need to make for my students’ varying skill levels and interests.
Three …Two…One…Blast Off!!
Once the course takes off, a good way to keep on top of the latest news and discoveries is to connect with the Big History Project on Twitter. The posts are relevant and informative. Using Twitter will also help you connect to your social-media savvy students.
Another liberating exercise is to invite experts from the school community into your Big History class. We’ve had a geography expert talk to students about plate tectonics and an English expert take them through the BHP Writing Rubric. Not only does it ease your anxiety of handling areas where you have limited expertise, but it provides the additional benefits of bringing to life the interdisciplinary nature of the BH course, and letting students know that hat one person does not have to have all the answers.
End of the Ride
Just as happens on a roller coaster, when the ride is about to end, you will feel a mixed bag of emotions: pride about what you just got through successfully; mild sadness that it is over; and, if you did it right (and a reminder here that there are many “right” approaches!), excitement to embark on the ride again with a fresh perspective.
I am confident that not only will you be a new person by the end of the course, you will find it rewarding when you see the skills and principles translate into your students’ work and thinking. I recommend at this stage (when you’re looking ahead to your second year teaching Big History) revisiting your coursework plan and highlighting everything that worked and anything that needs to be modified. That way, you will be better prepared for your next turn on this adventurous ride.
Oh–always try to squeeze in a small celebration to bring in the school community and allow students to present their learning. You could do this at the end of every unit or midway through the course.
I think you’ll agree with me that facilitating Big History turned out to be the most envious opportunity that any school teacher could ask for–one that fills you with a great sense of pride and accomplishment.
Best of luck!
About the author: Fizza has taught high school biology and middle school math and science at the Bombay International School in Mumbai, India, since 2008. The 2016/17 school year marked her first teaching Big History, which was offered to Grade 7 (12- and 13-year-old) students. Her class follows the 80-hour (semester) course plan.