One question that all Big History teachers grapple with is: “How do I decide what to teach?” It’s like a big buffet where everything’s delicious, but your stomach only has room for one school year. Yes, the BHP course is packed with delicious content. But that’s because every classroom needs different kinds of nourishment. Teachers in high school classrooms may gravitate more toward videos and articles, while the middle schoolers often find they can cover the same concepts with hands-on activities.
We’re not going to paint footsteps on a path and make you walk through the course without choosing your own steps. That would be boring, and boring is the sworn enemy of the Big History Project. Instead, we’ve developed the BHP Practice Progressions to make the course’s focus on skills more clear and explicit, consequently helping teachers make decisions about what to teach.
Some teachers are surprised to discover that certain activities reappear throughout the year. Debates, the DQ Notebook, and This Threshold Today all repeat in almost every unit of Big History. Like a daily gym workout, this kind of consistency and routine in the classroom strengthens your students’ skills all year long.
We’ve built out sequences of activities related to specific skills and historical thinking practices. We call these Practice Progressions. For example, there are nine activities specifically dedicated to scale. History of Me is the first scale activity, and it comes up in Unit 1. It’s fairly introductory and establishes the practice of thinking about scale in a way students can access. The other scale activities that come up throughout Units 2 through 10 gradually get more complicated. They “spiral in complexity,” as we like to say, adding rigor without causing students to lose confidence, since the great leap they’re taking is actually happening in small steps.
This brings us to an important point. Now, we know YOU’D never do this, but some teachers want to skip the first few units and just start the course – and this is a direct quote—“when humans enter the scene.” The thing is, the BHP story concerns humanity from the first bits of stardust until right now. For one thing, our understanding of the beginnings of the Universe is based on insights and discoveries made by humans – and that history begins in Unit 1. Second, most of the core skills and practices of BHP get their footing in the early units. For example, the Unit 8 activity The Modern Revolution is part of the causation progression – and students will have formed a foundation of this essential thinking practice from activities in the earliest units.
Don’t panic. There’s no wrong way to teach Big History, and if you start with a later unit, we will not send the Big History police to your house. However, we hope that our explicit mapping out of the pedagogical underpinnings of the curriculum, plus the online training we provide in Teaching Big History, will help you make decisions about what to teach when, and how to approach it.
Ready to roll?
Start by visiting the Teaching Big History online professional development. Part 3 is new and focuses intently on the BHP Practice Progressions. There you can view and download the Practice Progressions Guide, which is a handy course map of the progressions and all the tools and activities that go along with each practice. Grab yourself a comfy chair – preferably by a pool – and get ready to highlight, whether digitally or in ink, like our ancestors did. You might even want to give the guide the Three Close Reads treatment, which is a practice your students will have to learn. (Here’s a chance to develop some empathy for them!)
If you need more support or just want to share ideas with fellow BHP teachers, head over to the BHP Teacher Community on Yammer. There’s a group for each practice, and teachers are already talking about them. Then, get ready for student growth in the 2019/20 school year. We can’t wait.
Want to learn even more about BHP’s Practice Progressions? Check out our blog post on SY 2019-20 Course Updates.