Hajra Saeed, BHP Teacher
Unit 7 (Agriculture and Early Civilizations) of the Big History Project curriculum is absolutely packed with content. Because I teach BHP-World, I strive to cover the content in as much depth as possible, which often means I’m pressed for time. I do like to add new activities, but because of time constraints, I do it only if an activity adds to the world history dimension of the unit. The Teotihuacan Digital Story from the de Young Museum, coupled with BHP teacher Bridgette O’Connor’s activity, is an excellent opportunity for adding more depth in a BHP-World classroom.
How can this new addition be woven into an already-rich section of the course? I see myself in Unit 7.1, reading “Agrarian Civilizations Introduction” by Cynthia Stokes Brown. Students could explore the Teotihuacan Digital Story in class. We might then research other civilizations on the Big History website and complete the Civilization Comparison Chart. Class would end with reflection questions such as, “What similarities are there across all of the civilizations? What common characteristic of civilizations from Stokes Brown’s article would you argue is most important when studying a civilization?” By the end of the period, the kids are usually thirsty for more.
Enter Bridgette’s activity. I can justify adding this to my BHP-World pacing because it challenges students to use historical reasoning skills. We would contextualize the symbols of Teotihuacan and other urban spaces of past and present by explaining their value to the civilizations. Then, the students would compare the significance of the symbols across civilizations. By categorizing the types of symbols, there are opportunities to explore causation of historical events leading to the creation of symbols. Exploring the causation would lead to a connection to the BHP concept of origin stories.
To wrap this section up, I would have students do Bridgette’s suggested extension activity of examining a modern social or political movement for homework. They could write the origin story for a symbol from the movement and the historical significance of that symbol. This would allow the students to make connections between BHP concepts and the modern world.
As I look for more ways to incorporate world history standards into BHP, this activity would be powerful because it would provide relevance of BHP content to the modern world while also teaching students important historical reasoning skills. Now that is bang for my buck!
About the author: Hajra Saeed teaches at Sato Academy of Math and Science, a STEM school focusing on biomedical science and engineering in Long Beach, CA. She’s been teaching for 16 years and has taught Big History since 2016. Hajra’s four sections (about 100 students) meet twice a week for 95 minutes and once a week for 45 minutes.
Cover image: View of the Sun Pyramid. Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara Elías. Courtesy Photograph courtesy de Young Museum.