THINKING LIKE A HISTORIAN: CATEGORIZING CAUSES

Monte DeArmoun, BHP Teacher
Iowa, USA

Historians and other critical thinkers must be able to identify and understand causality. Think about the current political climate of the United States. Why are we experiencing turmoil? Is there a single reason? As the first sentence of the Categorizing Causes activity in Unit 4 states, one of the most challenging tasks for historians (and scientists) is to make sense of events with multiple causes.

Even though this activity is in Lesson 4.0, your students will be basing their work on The Early Atmosphere, a video found in Lesson 4.1. Categorizing Causes has students looking at possible causes and consequences of the development of the Earth’s atmosphere. They’ll discover that some of the causes actually have more than one consequence. And that a consequence can also serve as a cause. Once they’ve identified causes and consequences, students will categorize them by discipline, determining if they fall in the category of astrophysics, biology, chemistry, or geology. This activity encourages students to think about some of the different disciplines used throughout the Big History Project course. And they’ll quickly learn that some causes can be categorized in multiple disciplines.

When I teach this activity, we watch the video as a class. My students write down comments about what they find interesting, which we then discuss. We watch the video a second time, but this time I ask students to pay attention to causes and consequences. According to the Big History Project website, there are 25 suggested causes in the under-six-minute video. If students don’t come up with at least 20 causes, I have them watch the video on their own to complete the assignment.

Back to the original question: Is our country in political turmoil because of the government, the economy, our country’s history, societal changes, or the psychology behind political decisions that have been made? I’ll let my American government class work on that next week.

I’m interested in your thoughts about the Categorizing Causes activity and about teaching causality in general. I’m chatting about it in this thread with other BHP teachers in our online community. Looking forward to hearing from you!

About the author: Monte teaches Big History as a year-long elective course to high school students in Northwood, Iowa. Monte has been teaching the course since 2012 and loves that it requires students to develop critical thinking skills.