Megan Shultz, BHP Teacher
New Jersey, USA
“Mrs. Schultz? Are we learning Big History again this year?” This is the question that Justin, a student in my eighth-grade class asked me on the first day of school. He seemed a bit confused when I told the class I was teaching them World History Project (WHP). My response to Justin, and the rest of the confused, eager students, was that it was a brand-new course I was teaching, but all of the skills they learned in seventh grade would not go to waste!
I teach seventh- and eighth-grade students who are enrolled in an accelerated math and science academy. Our students follow a challenging curriculum that provides advanced instruction. When my eighth-grade students move on to ninth grade, they are enrolled in AP European history. As freshman. My job, as their seventh- and eighth-grade history teacher, is to prepare them for a course as demanding as AP Euro.
As a middle-school history teacher, I want my students to think critically, read and write like historians, and engage in content that is relevant to them. Both courses offered by OER Project—BHP and WHP—provide rich content and engaging activities for students. Throughout the courses, students practice reading and writing skills as well as historical thinking skills. The skills introduced in BHP provide the foundation for WHP, which they take the following year.
With BHP, students are introduced to the three close reads process for tackling challenging text. Throughout the year, students practice skimming articles to gather the general idea of an article, and then reading the article for factual information, and finally relating the article to the unit driving question by explaining how the article supported, extended, or challenged their thinking. When students like Justin entered WHP in eighth grade, the three close reads process was a routine that they were familiar with. Because BHP has provided the foundation, Justin and his classmates were ready to tackle the articles provided in WHP.
Both BHP and WHP provide students with ample opportunity to practice their writing skills, with both formal and informal writing. BHP utilizes DBQ-style Investigation writing, and with seventh-grade students, this is often their introduction into this type of writing. BHP has provided plenty of writing lessons and opportunities for students to practice their Investigation writing. When students enter my classroom for WHP in eighth grade, they are primed to continue writing. BHP has again provided the foundation, and WHP allows students to continue to hone their writing skills.
In addition to reading and writing skills, there are historical thinking skills that are taught in BHP and then repeated in WHP, including causality and claim testing.
Teaching students causation boosts their critical thinking skills. In causation lessons, students are identifying how events are triggered and the consequences that occurred as a result. My students are first introduced to causation in BHP; however, they build on the skill in WHP by creating concept maps or writing informal essays using the information they learned during causation activities.
While looking at events from multiple perspectives, students also learn to evaluate sources. Claim testing is introduced early in the Big History course, and revisited several times throughout the year. We teach students what it means to use intuition, logic, evidence, and authority. Claim-testing activities are aimed at helping students to develop skills in identifying credible sources, and this practice is continued in the World History Project course as well.
Skills that are newly introduced to students in WHP are continuity and change over time (CCOT) and contextualization. Both skills are identified by the College Board as necessary to the study and practice of history. With the foundation of BHP, students are able to quickly learn and practice the new skills that are introduced in WHP. Justin was a bit hesitant when we began our introductory lesson on CCOT, but I was certain he would be able to learn and apply the skill successfully. Knowing that this was a skill needed for higher-level history classes intimidated my eighth-grade students. However, the tools WHP has provided students for analyzing CCOT made the lesson easily accessible to my students. When I asked the class how they felt about their ability to evaluate for continuity and change over time, Justin was the first one to raise his hand. “I think it sounds hard, and I am sure it can be, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.” And Justin was right. He was able to evaluate the changes and continuities over time related to an event, and successfully explain the most significant among them. I know it is because the foundation for historical thinking was built during his work in Big History.
I feel confident that I am successfully preparing my students to undertake AP-level classes as freshmen. Big History Project has perfectly paved the way for my students’ success in the World History Project course.
About the author: Megan Schultz has been teaching in Vineland, NJ for 9 years. Megan began teaching Big History Project 3 years ago, and currently teaches BHP to 7th grade students. This year she became a pilot teacher for World History Project, which she teaches to 8th grade students.
Header image: OER illustration by Katrin Emery, https://kemery.ca.