Rachel Riendeau, BHP Teacher
There are very few blogs or discussion boards that could have helped prepared me for teaching the Big History Project (BHP) course in a 90-day rotating academic schedule at a career technical (CTE) high school. Our system offers BHP to ninth-grade students in approximately ten 10-day academic cycles over the course of a school year. In the alternate cycles, the students obtain trade experience and certification in areas such as the automotive, culinary, biotechnology, plumbing, graphic design, and electrical engineering fields. Career technical instruction, and the students that it attracts, bring a new element to the STEM instruction that BHP offers. We found many opportunities to supplement specific trade histories and technologies and went well beyond the foundational science, technology, and world history that BHP outlines.
One of the greatest difficulties our team of teachers encountered in our first year instructing BHP was in our pacing. Although we initially based our approach to the curriculum on the Australian model, we found that this neglected many of the needs of our students and the structure of our system. Once we wrapped our heads around which areas we could tone down, which video and lesson formats worked best for our students, and recognized that this was a whole new approach to the humanities, we were able to pace ourselves and plan better for the remainder of the year, and begin looking ahead to year two.
The most rewarding experience to emerge from year one didn’t come until the end of the year. On a whim, and more or less blindly, we decided to go strong with our first ever Little Big History Projects Fair. In our selection of student topics, we differed from other approaches we’d seen taken. Our students built projects around a tool, idea, or consumer item from their specific trade area, and then followed that item through the various thresholds and disciplines that had an impact on that topic. In the end, we witnessed remarkable growth in our students; not only in their ability to utilize BHP terminology and skills, but also in their perseverance to complete a comprehensive and extensive project that they would share with the public.
To any teacher new to BHP, my advice is this: If you use the many resources available through the Yammer community, and are honest with your students throughout the process, both you and your students will gain vast knowledge and draw new connections. If you’re approaching as a teacher in a CTE setting, you may find the curriculum daunting at first, but if done right, the connections it will be bring for your students will be tremendous. After seeing such encouraging student growth over this first year. I’m excited to begin year two.
About the author: Rachel Riendeau started teaching Big History in 2016 at Norwich Technical High School in Connecticut. Her school operates on a rotating 90-day academic schedule, meaning her BHP class meets in ten 10-day chunks throughout the year.