WE USED TO BELIEVE THAT?! CHANGING VIEWS OF THE UNIVERSE

Jami McLing, BHP Teacher
Idaho, USA

Why do our views or our understanding of something sometimes change over time? Is it because we get new information? Is it because of personal experiences? A combination of both? Or something else entirely? When I first introduce the Changing Views Timeline activity from Lesson 2.1, my middle school students are amazed that there was a time when we didn’t believe the Sun was the center of our Solar System. This activity ignites all kinds of great conversation about when and why our understanding of the Universe has changed and will continue to change over time.

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The Changing Views Timeline activity serves two purposes. First, it asks students to read about different scientists’ views of the Universe, which helps them better understand how thinking about the Universe has advanced over time. Second, it deepens students’ understanding of how timelines can be used as analytical tools when studying history. Students will get the opportunity to read articles about great scientists such as Copernicus, Newton, and Hubble. Then they’ll compare those scientists and create a timeline that includes information about each scientist’s birth, death, major discoveries, and who or what influenced their thinking.

In my classroom, we do this as a whole-group activity. Instead of having students create individual timelines, we create one giant timeline that is displayed for the rest of the school year. Students are put into groups and assigned a scientist. They read the corresponding article and work with their group to find the relevant information about their scientist. Then they share out. Each group reports what they learned and adds their information to the class timeline.

The most important part of this assignment is the story arc it creates and the discussion we have about questions like: How does one scientist’s thinking progress to the next? When did those views and understandings start to change? Why?

By creating the timeline, students can see how the story of how our views has changed over time. It also helps them see how each of these historical figures used observation and data as well as already-established information to create a new model of the Universe—which in turn has led to our current understanding.

This is a great activity to spark discussion and get students ready for the View of the Universe debate in the same lesson, as well as to address the Unit 2 Investigation question: “How and why do individuals change their minds?”

About the author: Jami McLing has been teaching history at her middle school in Idaho Falls, Idaho, for over 10 years. She has been teaching BHP since 2013. She teaches the year-long BHP course to eighth graders in two 50-minute classes per day.