Jason Manning, BHP Teacher
New York, USA
Six years ago, I was presented with the exciting opportunity to teach a new course at Oceanside High School that would replace our ninth-grade curriculum. I took on the challenge and my Big History Project (BHP) journey began. Little did I know then, my teaching would forever be changed for the better. You might say that the start of teaching the BHP course was a threshold moment that has shaped my professional career.
You would think after six years of teaching the course, the job would be easier. However, as I become more comfortable with the curriculum, I want to do more. I want to try everything. I want to add all the curriculum updates to my instruction. I want to spend more time on the Little Big History Project. Your brain can take over, and the thought of all this can create an overwhelmed, anxious feeling that dulls the excitement you want when starting a new year. So, to focus more on the excitement and relieve some of that anxiety, I’m calling on my years of experience to share five quick strategies as you prepare for the new school year.
Start with some backward design.
Where do I have to be for the midterm? What content needs to be covered for the final? These are the questions I reflect on as I pace out the school year. By breaking the year into two blocks, I feel more equipped to tackle all the demands. I might do this again for the quarter semesters if need be, but those two major assessment pieces are concrete markers that can inform your decision-making.
Commit to trying something new.
At the end of each year, I always look through the new and updated activities, articles, and videos that BHP offers and commit to adding some of them to my course plan. I can present them as a classroom lesson or as flipped lessons (something I will discuss later). Big History is constantly updating and adding to the course, making this task easier each year. Check out the SY19/20 course updates and links to details here, as well as teacher course plans for inspiration.
Introduce the Little Big History Project earlier rather than later.
I started doing this last year and it was a big success! The Little Big History (LBH) Project is the culminating research activity of the course. It’s a chance for students to explore an object or idea of personal interest – pizza, ballet, cybercurrency – and produce a portfolio-worthy piece of work that traces its history to prehuman times. You can read more about kicking off the LBH Project in this blog post. The students don’t have to begin their research early on and their topic can change, but please, talk up the Little Big History Project early. Show them projects from the previous year or one of the exemplar videos online. The excitement this creates will help piece together lessons in early thresholds and underscore the importance of the project when they begin their work. I noticed the quality of last year’s projects increased, and I believe introducing it earlier was a big reason why.
Flip the classroom.
There is content that can be covered at home through the flipped classroom model. The flipped classroom is different from homework because homework is given to reinforce a lesson that has already been taught. A flipped lesson is a topic or content that the students introduce themselves to for the first time. It is the lower part of the lesson that a teacher would be using class time to complete before the activity (look for a future blog giving some examples of lessons on BHP that are great to flip). This accomplishes two goals: Cover more Big History content and create more time to try new activities. In the flipped classroom, I still write up a standard lesson with process, do now, activities, and learning objectives, but then, I post it the day prior to the activity for students to complete as homework. Depending on the lesson, it can be a one-night activity or can be assigned to complete over a period of time. The challenge here is how to assess the work, but if it is done correctly, you can cover content without giving up class time. I often use this with the Crash Course videos and the website Edpuzzle because I can embed the questions directly in the video. It also can strengthen the quality of your homework assignments if you pick your spot to use. I might give one flipped assignment a week. You may just gain back time in the classroom for one lesson, but over the course of a semester it really adds up and makes a difference.
Find a fellow collaborator.
I realize this might be easier said than done. I’m rather spoiled because I have a team of Big History teachers at my school, which makes taking my own advice easy. If you teach with another Big History teacher, plan together and talk through some of my hints. It always helps to bounce ideas off a colleague, and if you plan goals for the year, you’ll find yourselves accountable to one another. If you are the only Big History teacher in your building, you can still find connection and collaboration by leaning on the BHP Yammer community. You can ask general questions of the group, or you can start a thread with someone who teaches in a similar environment and see if they’re interested in planning together. I can say with confidence you will find either someone who wants to plan with you or a more experienced teacher who will guide you through the process. These more experienced teachers, BHP Teacher Leaders, are especially happy to connect, and they make sure no post ever goes unanswered.
These quick tips won’t alleviate all your anxiety going into a new school year; however, I hope you find them helpful. By following even just a few of them, I’m sure some of that anxiety will be replaced by a feeling of excitement as you start the 2019/20 school year. If you have questions or would like to talk through some of these ideas, I can be found on Yammer and would love to help out. I hope you enjoy your summer—and best of luck in the upcoming school year!
About the author: Jason Manning started teaching Big History in 2014 as a replacement for his school’s ninth-grade global history curriculum. He has two sections of the course and reaches about 50 students a year.