Note from the BHP Team: This month’s Big Skill is scale, which pushes students to consider things from up close and far away. If you haven’t already, read the sister blog post, “Scale Switching to Build Student Understanding,” by BHP learning scientist, Rachel Phillips. Rachel discusses how scale switching “gives us a better window into the people, places, and events that preceded us.”
Read on for ideas from veteran BHP teachers on how they incorporate scale in their classrooms. Then, join the continuing conversation on Yammer and learn even more about scale in a brand-new Teaching Big History session, 7.3 Scale. Never stop learning!
Our go-to activity for scale is the Eames Office Powers of 10 video (it was removed from the course some time ago but lives on in Investigation 1). This is a SUPER sticky way to teach scale and we refer to it often as the year goes on. We also do the History on a String activity (usually, two versions: Universe history / human history), the Zoom activity (this one is also quite sticky), and we enjoyed doing the To Scale: The Solar System video activity this year, too (Lesson 4.4).
What I struggle with is how to refocus on scale in later parts of the course. I don’t always connect to scale in all the other units (although Units 4 and 7 provide great opportunities). I’ll try to think of some ways to do this as the year progresses!
— Erik Christensen, BHP Teacher, Grade 10
For zooming in and zooming out, I sometimes use a clip about the Nelson Mandela sculpture. It gives a nice historical nugget in addition to a practical application of perspective. There’s a bonus in the geographical concept of “human and environmental interaction,” if you are so inclined to go down that route.
I think it is so important for students to use different scales and develop the flexibility to apply different views because our Universe and our human experiences are too mind boggling to process in just one way.
I am a big fan of historical timelines. Our brains get confused about the sequence of historical events if they aren’t linked to a story and a way-point. As we study the stories of places and events, our notes and projects are full of the “up close” details. The corresponding point plotted on our timeline zooms us back out to show how the details of this particular event relate to other points, which represent other details. I like to build a timeline with students over the course of a term and watch it grow as our learning grows.
— Donnetta Elsasser, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
My favorite scale activity is mapping the Thresholds on a Football Field. There is something about “walking” the timeline that really helps students feel the vastness. I love how insignificant the human era appears; all squished up at the end. We are so human-focused and this scaled perspective clearly demonstrates how small the human chapter is. We take photos and visit this activity often. Interestingly, the photos never fully capture the perspective students feel when they walk it (but that might just be my photography skills).
The other activity I enjoy is a storytelling one. I share a discussion I had with my great grandfather when I was just 8, in about 1978 (yep, that’s how old I am). He said to me, “You wait and see what changes you will see in your lifetime. When I was a boy, airplanes didn’t exist; we read about them in comics… today, I have seen, not only planes invented, but a rocket ship that landed a man on the moon.” I tell students that at the time I remember wondering what changes might occur in my time. I liked the TV show Get Smart, and wondered about talking watches (I decided shoe phones were too impractical). I then discuss the huge digital developments from my perspective—from typewriter to computer and cassette player to Bluetooth. Next, I challenge my students to guess what developments they might be telling their great-grandchildren about. Their homework is to have a similar discussion with the oldest member of their family, which they share the next day.
— Kim Lochner, BHP Teacher, Years 9 and 10
I am with you Kim Lochner—my kids love walking out to the football field. I think mostly because they get to go outside but every time I make mention of it they seem to recall the lesson and can make the connections to that day’s topic.
— Jason Manning, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
New York, USA
Hope you enjoyed these Teacher Takes! Now head over to the BHP Teacher Community on Yammer to add even more to this conversation on claim testing in the Big History Project (and keep checking in, all year long).