Note from the BHP Team: Welcome to the BHP Teaching Diaries, a series of weekly blogs by veteran BHP teachers. In this space, teachers like David share their weekly plans, lessons-learned, and new ideas for activating learning in a BHP classroom. Follow along with California general/special education BHP teacher Erik Christensen and 9th grade Arizona BHP teacher Kathy Hays, too. Use their tips and tricks, resources, and wisdom to inspire great things in your own classroom!


David Burzillo, BHP Teacher
Massachusetts, USA

About the author:David designed and independently taught a one-trimester elective on Big History in 2010, and then officially joined the Big History Project as one of seven pilot teachers in 2011. He now teaches one section of juniors and seniors at the Rivers School in Weston, MA. These students have previously taken physics, biology, chemistry, and two years of history, and David loves the application and advantage this base knowledge brings to BHP. David’s class is a two-trimester course for these sixteen students, and meets three times a week. 


Week 3: Claim Testing
September 24, 2018

We’ve completed Unit 1, which gives students an introduction to the critical skills and concepts of the course, and now it’s time to begin tackling the course narrative. In Unit 2, students explore how our current view of the age and makeup of the Universe has evolved and how scientists now explain the origin of the Universe, that is, the Big Bang.The driving question of Unit 2 is “Why do people change their minds?” For me, the key conceptof the unit is origin stories and the key skill is claim testing.

What is claim testing?  Claim testing answers the question, “How do we know what to believe?” Students focus on four components when utilizing claim testing:

  • Intuition: What is your gut feeling? Does it make sense?
  • Logic: Is the reasoning systematic?
  • Authority: Is the source credible?
  • Evidence: Is the evidence verifiable?

Lesson 2.1 provides a number of great opportunities for students to explore and reinforce their claim testing skills. After students have read and discussed the article about Ptolemy and the geocentric view of the Universe, I ask them to claim test this view.If you were living in 1500, what would claim testing of the geocentric theory look like?  Most of my students conclude it would have been very easy to accept the idea of geocentrism. They conclude:

  • The Earth does not seem to move and the Sun does (intuition)
  • Circular orbits, perfect spheres, and other characteristics of the theory make sense (logic)
  • Great minds like Ptolemy and Aristotle as well as leaders of the church supported the idea (authority)
  • Books on astronomy and the Bible provided evidence, and people could make their own observations (evidence)

After this claim-testing exercise, students realize the geocentric theory made a lot of sense for the people living in 1500. We repeat the exercise again after we read about Henrietta Leavitt and Edwin Hubble.I ask students to pretend they’re living in 1929 and claim test the idea of an expanding Universe. When they do this, I think they see this theory is not on as solid ground as geocentrism. Students cite:

  • Data showing the speed and distance of galaxies (evidence)
  • Hubble’s argument: the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it is moving (logical)

But what about intuition and authority? Students’ guts tell them most stars and galaxies are not speeding away from us.Also, Albert Einstein said the Universe is static, as did many other experts.There were few sources of authority who supported the idea of an expanding Universe.After claim testing the theory, many students find that in 1929, there are fewer reasons for believing it than there were for believing in geocentrism.

Good claim testing exercises are included throughout the course. Although there isn’t one in Unit 3, there are plenty of opportunities to weave it in.  In Lesson 3.0, I like to give students a sample of explanations of the nature of stars by Greek philosophers. I ask them to pick one and claim test it. In Lesson 3.1, I ask students to claim test the idea that most of the elements are created in the death of stars.  I like to add claim-testing exercises, like the ones described above, to keep this skill front and center. Bear in mind that there are many ways to weave it into any lesson.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s