Note from the BHP Team: In this month’s Big Skills article, “When You Don’t Have All the Answers… Don’t Sweat It,” BHP Director Bob Regan walks us through Big History Project’s approach toward interdisciplinarity. You don’t need to know all the answers, you just need to be OK with taking on the role of lead learner. Trust us, it’s worth it!
Below, BHP Teachers share their own experiences grappling with the interdisciplinary nature of the course. Give it a read, and then head to our BHP Teacher Community to ask any questions that might be on your mind!
Big History has taught me it is okay not to be the expert of everything in class. Teaching my students to think, ask questions, and investigate are the skills that can stick. As lead learner in the class, it’s my job to model those skills. Big History gives me lots of opportunities to do this. I like the part in the end when Bob talks about teaching students to ask engaging questions. The new BH discipline cards are helpful in getting kids to ask those higher-level questions. I like to couple those with the Depth of Knowledge question stems so kids can learn to formulate questions at higher levels. Being able to ask those questions leads to richer collaborative conversations and makes learning meaningful to the students.
— Hajra Saeed, BHP Teacher, Grades 10 – 12
What Do You Know? What Do You Ask? is by far my favorite activity in the course. Picking the disciplines might be the “easy” part of this activity, but coming up with those BIG questions is so challenging. This often takes the students 20-30 minutes of difficult discussion, drafts, and deliberation. They are so proud once their BIG questions have been signed off on by a teacher.
Of course, this repeated activity sets them up for amazing success with their Little Big History Project. This is, for many, their first significant research report.
Hajra Saeed and Bob are indeed correct – there is no possible way I can answer their new questions. I tell the students how much I admire the question and how badly I want to know the answer. Sometimes we break and dive into tangents or rabbit holes to do some preliminary, somewhat satisfying, inquiry to the questions. The beauty of this activity is that is can be done with ANY event. The local spin is essential, especially early in the course.
— Erik Christensen, BHP Teacher, Grade 10
This blog really nails the essence of Big History. I think that the ability and willingness to step back and teach out of your subject area is essential if you want to teach Big History. The interdisciplinary nature of the course also allows students to explore topics that they would not necessary get to explore in a traditional course. This for my students is the big draw card. I am constantly amazed by some of the questions that they ask and have learned a lot by helping them find the answers. The What Do You Know? What Do You Ask? activity is fantastic for this because it helps the students to get into that interdisciplinary mindset.
— Charles Rushworth, BHP Teacher, Year 9
One of my biggest fears when I started Big History was the fact that I did not feel confident teaching thresholds 1 – 5 because I teach BH in a social studies focused course. I had to learn how to give up that role of “lead expert,” and embrace the role as lead facilitator. This is now one of my favorite aspects of being a Big History teacher. When I can look at my students and say, “I am not the best authority for this chemistry question, let’s explore it together,” it changes the entire dynamic of lesson. It also gives me more confidence and credibility in the areas that I do feel equipped to consider myself the expert. This dynamic has also strengthened my relationships with my colleagues in my building because I find myself having many more conversations about best practice as I seek out the answers to those classroom questions we are exploring.
— Jason Manning, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
New York, USA
I think Big History has shown my students that history doesn’t happen in a bubble and historians do not work alone. By introducing different disciplines, students can see how these experts work together to develop a narrative of our past. By using the What Do You Know? What Do You Ask? activities, students are trying to develop big questions that can be answered across multiple disciplines. Additionally, because I am not an expert in any discipline, being able to admit that I do not know something has been an eye opener for my students – they are not used to having teachers admit that they are not an expert in everything! It gives me a chance to teach them how to learn, not just what to learn.
— Megan Schultz, BHP Teacher, Grade 7-8
New Jersey, USA