BHP Team
Washington, USA

Note from the BHP Team: In this month’s Big Question article, “Yes, We Learn About the Periodic Table in History. No, You’re Not in the Wrong Class,” veteran BHP teacher Rachel Hansen takes us through best practices for bringing the art of inquiry to life in Unit 3 of the Big History Project course. Rachel offers a deep dive of Unit 3 activities that is a must-read for any teacher planning out the unit!

Dig into this response post to Rachel’s blog, where more BHP teachers share how they tackle the Unit 3 driving question: How can looking at the same information from different perspectives pave the way for progress?” Then, join the discussion in the BHP Teacher Community to keep the conversation rolling!

Rachel Hansen, as always, has written a fantastic blog post—this time focused on Unit 3. There are so many awesome activities (both new and old) in this unit that help students think through the driving question. One of the things we’re looking forward to using is the Scale – Timelines and Periodization activity. We’re planning to combine it with the timeline from Lesson 2.2 (this will also allow us to take the driving questions from Units 2 and 3 and visually explain how they have impacted our understanding of the past). Another activity that we are very much looking forward to in Unit 3 is the Causation – Star Formation Part 1 and Part 2; but we’re going to add a new piece to the puzzle this year. In step with our addition of more women astronomers in Unit 2, we’re including astronomer and astrophysicist Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin in this activity to help focus on the unit’s driving question: “How can looking at the same information from different perspectives pave the way for progress?” By looking at the Sun from a different perspective, Cecilia challenged the status quo belief that the Sun and the Earth were composed of the same materials, and that the Sun was mostly hydrogen and helium. Really looking forward to starting Unit 3 this year.

Zach Cain, BHP Teacher, Grade 6
Illinois, USA

Incredible blog post, Rachel Hansen! I have found this is one of the more difficult driving questions for students to grasp, yet with our tendency to only view things from one point of view, it’s more important than ever to look at events from different points of view. Rachel’s approach incorporates all the BHP skills, while allowing students to develop an understanding of how and why it’s important to look at things from multiple perspectives. I really like how she highlights the changes in the field of chemistry over time, and the activities such as What Do You Know, What Do You Ask? help students make the connections and put them into the correct context.

Kathy Hays, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
Arizona, USA

Like Kathy, I find this driving question difficult for students to grasp because many of them are still trying to get their heads around thinking in an interdisciplinary manner. Rachel really nails this in the first part of her blog post. I would use it to show students how science and history can be related and how these two disciplines give us a richer understanding of the Universe.

For example, scientists look at the Universe in terms of the elements that create it, and how these elements interact to create more complex elements, and so on. They then organize these elements in the form of the periodic table. However, if you look at the creation of the Universe and stars from a historical perspective, you ask questions like, “Why did this happen?” or “What circumstances led to these events occurring?” and “What were the results?” Questioning and claims testing are skills that would be relevant, along with causality.

The other way in which you could use it is to demonstrate the importance of organizing ideas, events, or elements into a coherent narrative in order to make sense of them. In the context of the formation of stars and elements, historians would organize it in the form of a timeline with relevant dates and events. Whereas a scientist might organize it in terms of which elements were the most abundant or under what circumstances stars and elements formed.

Charles Rushworth, BHP Teacher, Year 9
Sydney, Australia

I like to focus on the word “progress.” The connotation is that it moves us forward and brings positive results. Combine that with multiple perspectives on the same information, and students consider that not all perspectives move us forward. I think that right there is worth a moment of pause.

So, I try to step back and look at a bigger picture of the process of examining and listening to multiple perspectives as what creates the progress. Kids immediately recognize how boring and stale the world would become if we all thought alike. As a group of people in civil society we MUST look at multiple points of view, and value those times where we disagree or get bogged down in the details. Coming through that is how we get to more positive results.

Donnetta Elsasser, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
Washington, USA

I LOVE the “art of inquiry” and I also LOVE the fact that Rachel included her own personal travels and memories of chemistry class. The extent to which we can humanize ourselves in front of our students, and our own learning, pays off huge dividends. And just to complicate the narrative a bit, there is this.

Chris Steussy, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
California, 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 there—always!

Cover image: Photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash, CC0.

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