Note from the BHP Team: In this month’s Big Question post, The Historian’s Dilemma,” veteran BHP teacher Rachel Hansen presents a predicament of historical proportions: “What should get thrown out of the [hi]story so that the essential narrative survives in a meaningful way?” It’s a head-scratcher, especially as history only gets longer and longer and bigger and bigger. Scale, she suggests, is the solution. In the blog, Rachel offers try-it-tomorrow recommendations for scale and narrative from Unit 1 (and beyond) and explains why students should look at history from far away and close up (the charge of this month’s Big Question). But don’t stop at Rachel’s blog post. Read on for ideas on how other teachers are zooming in and out of the historical narrative in their classrooms, too.

The conversations and responses below started on Yammer and continue right now. Hurry up and (thoughtfully) read, so you join the discussion in the BHP Teacher Community. History is being made as we speak, so go, go, go!

 Rachel Hansen you did a great job crafting ‘The Historian’s Dilemma.’ part of this blog that has the most impact on me is Teaching Scale Beyond Unit 1. I admit I have struggled to effectively incorporate scale beyond Unit 1 and only do so when I discreetly design a lesson so I can ‘check the box’ that I did it. You describe thresholds (far away) and Investigations (close up) as opportunities to continue incorporating scale beyond Unit 1 and helped make it more clear how I can continue to reinforce the concept of scale without needing specific lessons that have the sole intent of teaching scale. This should allow for more efficient use of time and keep the concept of scale relevant throughout the year.”

Brian Moore, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
Connecticut, USA


Rachel Hansen, I really like your explanation of scale. I think I will pull parts of your intro paragraphs out of the blog to share with the students after they complete their Driving Questions (DQ) chart for Unit 1. We do a Socratic after students write their DQs, so I can work the excerpt in halfway through the Socratic to give them something extra to reflect upon.”

Hajra Saeed, BHP Teacher, Grades 10-12
California, USA


“Rachel’s Big Questions blog validates our BHP way of thinking.

I love how she says that the stories make history ‘sticky’ and memorable. But where do these stories stick? That’s why we need the overarching narrative. The narrative holds all of the stories of the Universe, including yours and mine. We can’t see all of that at once, so of course, we need to zoom in and zoom out to see how it all fits together.

Reading this blog helped me to create another visualization in my BHP conceptual development. It seems like a very relatable way to offer scale switching to students.”

Donetta Elsasser, BHP Teacher, Grades 6-12
Washington, USA


“The line in the last paragraph of ‘The Historian’s Dilemma’: ‘We need to start our study of the past with microscope eyes and telescope goggles,’ is something that really stood out. The image painted with this statement is something students can visualize and should help with their understanding of scale and why it’s important to look at history from different perspectives.

With everything, the constant reinforcement of these skills is important.”

Kathy Hays, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
Arizona, USA


“As I read the Big Question blog, ‘The Historian’s Dilemma’ and the Big Skills blog, ‘Narrative and Thresholds: Making History Significant,’ the following terms emerge for me as important takeaways, both for students and teachers: CONTENT, SKILLS, HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS, UNIT 1 DRIVING QUESTION (Why do we look at things from close up and far away?), and NARRATIVE. I would like my students to know and use these terms during the first few weeks. I intend to ask them: How do you understand the study of history? Why should students from around the world study history? How is the study of history similar or different for students around the world? How is the study of history for you similar to or different from that of your parents or grandparents?

What I wish to impart to my students is that they need to think of their studies in ways different from the ways in which previous generations did. My students are high school freshmen; when they emerge as university or college freshmen, the institutions may have areas of study that do not exist today, and my current students need to be prepared for such innovations. Today we celebrate fifty years after the moon landing; fifty years prior to that we were just manufacturing cars and barely in the air at all! What will we be doing fifty years in the future? Likely something with which my generation is woefully inexperienced or incompetent. My students need better; they need more.

I think the approaches of Big History provide practice and rigor in considering these possible evolutions.”

Greg Dykhouse, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
Michigan, USA

Don’t forget to throw your thoughts into the conversation on Yammer and share ideas with other BHP teachers. Everyone is in this together, and you’ll find a supportive community ready to help you start your year with a bang!

Cover images: Left, Photo by Michael Schiffer on Unsplash, public domain. Right, Colors of the Innermost Planet: View 1, by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington, public domain.

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