Erik Christensen, BHP Teacher
California, USA

Note from BHP Team: Erik and another BHP teacher co-created this activity to accompany this month’s focus on the question: How long will human impacts last? Try it out and let us know what you think in the BHP Online Teacher Community!

How Long Will Human Impacts Last?, a recently-added activity from Unit 9 of the BHP course that is based on this video from Ted-Ed, is designed to enable students to more deeply understand the scale of human impacts on the planet. I’ll share how I rolled it out in my classroom.

After spending time revisiting the definition of Anthropocene, students jumped right in to Part 1. During the brainstorm session, all classes were able to collectively identify deforestation, hunting/fishing, and nuclear radiation, among other significant human impacts to the planet. This is important, as the video that they watch in this activity makes this connection, too. I discovered that having the students look up the half-life of Uranium-235, a human-made isotope, after the brainstorm session worked really well (look it up!).

Part 2 of this activity is flexible. You may want to have students view the entire video as a class and then work in groups to tackle the key ideas or you may want to pause the video for discussion after each question (we mix these styles up in our classroom). The conceptual thinking question is an amazing wrap-up. Students, now equipped with definitions, examples, and evidence, are asked to justify or refute the establishment of the Anthropocene epoch.

The goal of this lesson is for students to understand the vast scale of human impact on our planet. I certainly saw minds stretched toward that end.

About the author: Erik Christensen began teaching Big History in 2016 at Granada Hills Charter High School in Los Angeles. GHCHS is the largest charter school in the United States, with an enrollment of approximately 4,800 students. Erik teaches four sections of Big History in an integrated classroom environment that combines general education and special education students. 

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