Chris Steussy, BHP Teacher
California, USA

Note from BHP Team: This post is in response to BHP Learning Scientist Rachel Phillip’s recent piece: “How do you create learning that lasts? BHP: A framework for all knowledge.” Rachel has conducted interviews with students and teachers across the United States, including in the classroom of this post’s author.

One of my favorite quotes from Rachel’s interviews with my students was something like, “it’s not teaching us to think outside the box. It’s burning the box down.” For too long in education we have treated the various disciplines as though they have nothing to do with each other. If you think about it though, math and science have a history. Math (statistics) and science (think: archaeology) are used to understand the past. The first year I taught the football field activity, where students have to figure out the scale of 1,000,000 years on a 100-yard time line representing 14 billion years, I had a student ask, “Why are we doing math in history class?”. Because science, and in this case, math, help us understand the past. Just figuring out that simple equation helps us see how terribly small the scale of human history is in our current understanding of the Universe.

Truth is a moving target. Our job is to help students catch, understand, and ride that wave. Two hundred years ago, whales were defined as “big fish.” Today, of course, they are defined as mammals. What will they be defined as 200 years from now? I can’t say. I joke with students all the time that 100 years from now when I’m teaching this course, it will be a different course! And it will be! Our understanding of the age of the Universe has changed even in my very brief history of teaching Big History.

I was at a party the other night talking to a dad, and when I asked him what he did, he said, “That’s funny, I’m a biologist by training but lately find myself working on robots.” This is the world we are preparing our students for. They have to be comfortable moving fluidly within and between what our ancestors defined as distinct disciplines. Biomechanics, green energy, artificial intelligence,* these fields scream for people willing to think in creative and divergent ways. Big History is a novel way of getting those wheels going.

*- these are the three fields Bill Gates said he would go into if he were a young college grad today

About the author: Chris teaches at San Diego High School of International Studies and is one of the original pilot teachers for BHP. He began working on the project in the fall of 2010. Chris teaches BHP as a year-long elective to around 35 ninth-graders. San Diego High School is the oldest high school in San Diego and is a Title I public school.

Header image: Photo by Talal Ahmad on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Think outside the box? Or burn it down?

  1. Like this post a lot, Chris. I am a parent of a college student–and two college graduates–and I know you and many other BH teachers are as well. I know from my children’ experiences that there are so many interdisciplinary courses being taught at the college level these days. Students need to be exposed to the interdisciplinary approach in high school in order for them to be prepared for encountering it in college. Big History is such a great vehicle for this.


  2. This was a great post! I am currently a education student working on my teaching degree and came across your blog. I think you made a great point that we as teachers need to teach our students to think creatively and divergent. I also agree with you that we need to intertwine the classes together, like your example of the history lesson along with math. When I was in school, my teachers didn’t mix up the classes and there were so many things that could have been joined together to create an amazing lesson. Thanks for your post, I enjoyed reading your thoughts. Jaime


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