Casey Lever, BHP Teacher
If you’re able to teach the BHP course, I expect it will profoundly affect you and your teaching of history. Here are five reasons I believe Big History will become something you love:
- The BHP course provides a narrative and framework for all student learning.
Big History asks the big bold questions that students want to ask but schools rarely seems to answer, at least not systematically. How did we get here? What’s the Big Bang theory and why do we think it’s the best scientific origin story we’ve got? Why did life evolve on Earth and seemingly nowhere else that we know of? Why do humans act the way we do? Which ancient and medieval civilizations were the most powerful and why did they fail? Why is the modern world changing so fast? Big History draws upon astronomy, physics, history, anthropology, geology and yes, just everything, to explore the latest evidence-based answers to questions that we all ask. As a result, students get a strong idea of how the disciplines fit together to create knowledge as we know it. It’s a brilliant fit for Years 9 and 10 students, giving them an overview of how it all works before they choose the areas they want to delve into more deeply in their senior year.
- Big History breaks through silo thinking.
Every discipline contributes to the body of knowledge and understanding that makes up the sum of academic scholarship that is the result of a thousand years of truth seeking. BHP course activities explain and value every discipline and its contribution, and do not silo areas of knowledge because they’re deemed out of the domain of our interest. Instead, learning is underpinned by the process of making and testing claims, where students develop a thoughtful, consistent, and rigorous approach to testing new ideas and information. The goal is that students embrace all knowledge rather than narrowing their reasoning to one branch of thought. As a result, students learn to think in a rounded, interdisciplinary way that values fact checking, scholarship, and review.
- Big History teaches students how to think.
BHP values clear, logical, thought and argument. Teaching materials treat religion and belief as valid forms of interpreting the world, but also draw distinctions with rigorous scientific and historical scholarship around claim testing, an important skill in BHP that embodies a whole set of accompanying processes that will be very familiar to history teachers. A series of activities called Investigations post questions such as “How and why do individuals change their minds?” These Investigations ask students to contend with significant concepts of evidence and truth, and significant human understandings of the world around us, such as the shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric model of the Solar System. Students are asked to write essays proving claims using supporting evidence from the materials provided, and to respond to a counterclaim in a valid way.
- Big History Project coursework promotes considerable gains in student writing.
The BHP course is text based and involves regular reading and writing opportunities using a range of genres. One helpful feature of the texts provided is that they are on the website at three different Lexile strengths. Students can select the level at which they want to read each article. In data gathered by BHP researchers across a large student group in 2017 – 2018 (4000+ samples), growth was strong in all four elements measured: reasoning, use of evidence, use of disciplinary concepts, and writing mechanics, a result which was evident in both public school and independent school systems.1 There is also BHP Score, a free essay-scoring service intended to equip teachers and students with instantaneous, formative feedback on student writing. This feedback is aligned to the BHP Writing Rubric.
- Big History is future orientated and promotes cooperation.
Ultimately, there is no point in teaching anything if it does not assist us live our lives. BHP is divided into nine thresholds. Thresholds are moments of climactic change where new conditions give rise to new eventualities. These thresholds are:
Threshold 1: The Big Bang
Threshold 2: The Stars Light Up
Threshold 3: New Chemical Elements
Threshold 4: Earth and the Solar System
Threshold 5: Life
Threshold 6: Collective Learning
Threshold 7: Agriculture
Threshold 8: The Modern Revolution
Threshold 9: The Future
Each threshold is examined in terms of what conditions occurred to produce it, and, once we get to the history of humans, how we as a species navigated our way through it. One thing I love about this course is that it barely mentions war. Big History is ultimately a survival story based on optimism and human cooperation, and I feel comfortable tackling the vital but tricky subject of the future on those terms.
In addition to these five reasons, the BHP team has also done the heavy lifting for teachers by mapping the Big History Project course against many state standards. All these resources (and others for getting the course adopted) are available to teachers in the Console of the BHP site, under the “Teacher Resources & Feedback” tab.
Don’t take my word for it, but dive in or dip your toe into BHP today. Get ready to expand your horizons.
Sign up at www.bighistoryproject.com. Please note: You will need to use your verifiable school email address in order to be given an account.
About the author: Casey teaches Big History at Ipswich Girls Grammar School in Queensland, Australia, where she is also the Head of Department of Humanities. She has taught BHP since 2016 and runs the course as an elective for students in years 9 and 10 at her school. She enjoys the opportunity BHP gives her to learn more about science alongside her students, as well as the course’s emphasis on the big issues confronting all humans.