Bridgette Byrd O’Connor, BHP Team Member
Louisiana, USA

Interconnection doesn’t exactly sound like an enthralling or kid-engaging topic (at least not from their perspective), but this happens to be one of my favorite units. It’s also the one my students at first get thoroughly confused with because there’s no threshold but by the end of the unit they’re all trying to make the case why interconnection should be a threshold.


BHP Teachers are weighing the pros and cons of interconnection on Yammer now. Join the discussion!

This is also the unit that most of your students will remember from previous social studies classes, in particular the Columbian Exchange. Now that can be both a good and bad thing, depending on your students. Some may tune out for a bit while others will be like many of mine and say, “Oh! I remember this and remember when Ms. so-and-so did this crazy thing in class to explain this particular topic.” However, I’ve also had cases where Ms. so-and-so taught them something so different than the norm that you end up having to re-teach to prevent them from going through life with a slightly messed up version of events. Luckily, there are a number of assets that will help those students who remember learning about the Columbian Exchange to dig deeper and for those students who have no memory of learning this then they’ll be able to start from the beginning.

One of the best parts about this unit is that every asset helps students build evidence to answer the driving question: “What are the positive and negative impacts of interconnection?” In fact, I would encourage your students to make a list or a simple t-chart with “positive” and “negative” at the top. Then, they could add the effects of interconnection at the end of every asset or lesson. This will help them more fully answer the second part of the DQ Notebook by using evidence from the course materials.

In Lesson 8.0 students try to figure out why empires expanded and what the positive and negative outcomes might result from this expansion. They’re also introduced to the Modern Revolution—a topic that will take center stage in the unit that follows. But the classroom favorite for this lesson has to be the World Zone Game. Modeled on games such as “Civilization”, this one may seem like a challenge to pull off but with careful planning (and reading of instructions), it’s definitely a winner, especially in terms of allowing students to see the positive and negative impacts that began to occur once the world zones connected. Finally for this lesson, the David Christian article “The Four World Zones” helps students see how regional interactions changed to global interconnections.

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The Four World Zones, by BHP, CC BY-NC 4.0.

Lesson 8.1 is packed with interesting content that engages students on the topic of exploration and how these early efforts paved the way for the Columbian Exchange. A favorite opening of mine is the World Travelers activity. I organize my class into groups of 2 to 3 students and have them read the passages from Marco Polo’s travels to figure out what he’s describing. Some groups come up with answers quickly and others become frustrated that they can’t figure it out, but it’s a great way to introduce students to primary sources without overwhelming them. And who doesn’t want to solve a mystery and figure out what this weird unicorn-like animal might be!

The Age of Adventure article collection in Lesson 8.1 introduces students to world travelers they may have never encountered previously, especially since Columbus is the one mainly taught in American schools. Both the positive and negative impacts of interconnection can be found in the Issues of Colonization Mini Project, which allows students to dive into some pretty surprising impacts of interconnection and colonialism and make modern connections to this era of history.

The next lesson has students do a deep dive into territory that many will be familiar with—the Columbian Exchange and the resulting transatlantic slave trade. These assets are particularly good at presenting both the positive and negative impacts of interconnection. In my opinion, the best activity in this lesson is the Columbian Exchange Infographic, which allows students to put their learning into a visual format where they can see those connections and realize that certain foods they eat every day had some interesting origins.

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Sample of Columbian Exchange Infographic student work. Photo courtesy Bridgette Byrd O’Connor.

Lesson 8.3 provides some interesting assets on the history of money and the development of a regional network that later became a global one by tracing the history of the Silk Road routes. A fascinating addition to telling the history of these routes is the article “Lost on the Silk Road”, which is really a modern travel account about how difficult and dangerous it was for these early traders who participated in this regional network. I also like to use an outside resource here to show how these routes are still in use today and how China has transformed and modernized them, but students should also think about the cost of continuing to use fossil fuels to transport goods across the world. Finally, the article on Benjamin Banneker, a lesser known historical figure to most students, provides a human element to both the positive and negative impacts of interconnection by presenting how early globalization impacted people on an individual scale.

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About the author: Bridgette Byrd O’Connor holds a DPhil in history from the University of Oxford and has taught Big History, world history, and AP US government and politics for the past 10 years at the high school level. In addition, she has been a freelance writer and editor for the Big History Project and the Crash Course World History and US History curricula.

Header image: Christopher Columbus arriving in the New World, in 1492. Columbus (1451-1506) presenting gifts to the first natives to greet him on his landing in America. © Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images


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