A Note from BHP:We’re tapping into our greatest BHP asset– teachers like you! Check out the BHP blog weekly for new Teaching diaries from two veteran BHP teachers, Erik Christensen (this post) and Kathy Hays. Journey with them through the 13.8 billion years of successes and challenges, and hopefully, feel a little more connected to your BHP professional community.

Erik Christensen, BHP Teacher
California, USA

This week we will begin Unit 2: The Big Bang. I look forward to this part of the year because it feels like the course is really beginning. During the first two to three weeks of school, we have been working hard to establish the fundamental BHP concepts and skills that students will be using throughout the year. 

Many students find the first few weeks of the course difficult and possibly even strange. They have written two essays in less than a month, are expected to work productively with a new set of peers that they just met, and might be confused by the content. One student asked me this past Friday, “Are we EVER going to do history in this class?” 

So, Unit 2 begins on Tuesday. We will kick off with the opening activity ,Who Knows What?  This is a sort of prequel to the more powerful interdisciplinary activity, What Do You Know? What Do You Ask?, which recurs throughout the course. I modify the activity in the following ways to align just a bit better with what students will be expected to do later in the course.

  1. The activity suggests using the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an event to consider. As the years have gone by, I realize that not many of my students can relate to this event, so I try to pick a more local event that has a bit more relevance for them. In the past, I have used earthquakes, a record breaking heat-wave, and the emergence of a new technology (for example, Tesla cars and the latest Apple Watch).
  2. Instead of asking students what questions alternative versions of themselves would ask, I predetermine three different disciplines that will be investigating the event. Later in the course, students will be expected to identify three disciplines on their own. What would a historian ask about _____? What would a climatologist ask about _______ ? What would a _____ engineer ask about _____ ?
  3. Then, in groups, students work together to come up with the single most important question these three disciplines might be able to answer about the event—a question that allows each discipline to contribute to the answer. This is difficult!

This activity can be rounded out by revisiting the definitions of disciplines and the interdisciplinary approach, which they learned in Unit 1.

Later in the week, we will jump into an activity I developed and wrote about in another post, one that combines vocabulary and the DQ Notebook to start building schema to support success in Investigation 2. This is followed by the routine-based, research-focused activity, This Threshold Today, which I have modified to include links to up-to-date news articles. The week also includes David Christian’s brief video lecture about Threshold 1 and Janna Levin’s video lecture about the Big Bang. 

Finally, the week concludes with a short quiz and the Unit 6 activity, Alphonse the Camel. Although the sequence of causality activities actually starts in Unit 4 with the activity Categorizing Causes, I choose to do Alphonse right away, as it emphasizes the course theme of scale. Causation is also a critical historical skill and I believe it is important to introduce this early in the course. It is a fun and effective lesson about causality, one that students grasp immediately. 

Log in to Yammer and let us know what you are up to this week!

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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