Caylan Healy, BHP Teacher
Michigan, USA

When I started teaching Big History, my biggest challenge was finding a guiding objective for the entire school year—and then deciding how to evaluate student understanding of it. I eventually decided that I wanted my students to be able to tell “the story of us.” Every activity we do in my Big History classroom goes back to the guiding objective: can students learn, and then connect, the information from each threshold to tell “the story of us”? As we approached the end-of-first-semester finals, I didn’t believe a 50-question multiple choice test could fully capture student understanding of this objective. I wanted students to create something that connected not only the material they learned, but also the Big History skills they developed (like interdisciplinarity and supporting claims with evidence). I landed on the idea that they would create a semester-in-review magazine. Here’s what that looks like in my classroom.

Feel free to use the assignment and rubric I developed. This finished student example may also be

The Setup

Whenever I allow students to pick groups, I notice that they gravitate toward comfort—they work with the same people and in the same roles; I’ve found this can mean that not everyone shares the load. Since the magazine activity is an assessment, I know I need to carefully assign groups so I’ll later be able to determine what each student learned. Students have one week to complete the assignment, including three days in class to work. I mention this because I believe this assignment always yields some of my students’ best classroom work!

Implementing Core Themes

I ask each group to write five articles—one for each of the first five thresholds of the BHP course. In addition to writing about the main concepts and ideas in each threshold, students must also make connections to the “ingredients” and “Goldilocks Conditions.” To strengthen their articles with evidence (after all, claim testing is a core theme of Big History), students must include one journal reference, plus an authority connected to a discipline covered in each threshold. To encourage use of other materials provided on the BHP site, I also have them include five terms from the glossary challenges.


Through this project, I learn many things about my students that would not be captured by a 50-question multiple choice test. I see how much they’ve grown over the course of a semester, and how easily they can make connections across course themes by the end. I am also able to see how this curriculum has influenced my students’ views of the world.

Of course, when you introduce any lengthy project, there’s often hesitation and anxiety—the first time I introduced the semester-in-review magazines was no exception. But I found that once students jumped into it, they impressed themselves not only with how easy it was to write articles about the thresholds, but also with how much they had learned over the course of a single semester. When they were finished with the magazines, they all took great pride in presenting them to the class!

I bring my students’ magazines each year to our eighth-grade parents night so that future ninth graders may better sense what Big History is all about. This is a great tool to use with parents, new students, or administrators who are uncertain about how the course might fit with a world history curriculum. The magazines are visual and virtual examples of the depth of the course content and how students apply the concepts. Most important, they show how much they enjoy the learning process.

About the author: Caylan teaches in Rochester, Michigan; this is her ninth year teaching and fourth year teaching Big History. Her two classes of ninth graders receive a world history credit for the year-long class, which meets every day for 53 minutes. Caylan loves that Big History has pushed her to be a better teacher and that it affords her the opportunity to “truly teach” history.


Shawn Bean, BHP Teacher
Illinois, USA

Without hesitation, I’d say that one of the most effective Big History activities is Active Accretion (from Lesson 4.0). Students get a chance to go outside (so, choose the day wisely) and run in circles to demonstrate the process of planet formation; they start as a spread-out group of individual dust particles and eventually form a planet.

The day before we’re going to cover the activity, I warn students that they should wear comfortable shoes the next day, as they will be expected to run. It’s funny that many of my students who refuse to run in gym have no problem running in my class; I haven’t had a single student refuse to run (barring those with medical excuses). If a student has a medical excuse, I have them help me out in managing and directing the activity—deciding when the runners should stop, for example.

Embed from Getty Images

The goal for the activity is simple: model the process of planet formation through active accretion. The modeling process is also simple: Students (“dust particles”) all run in the same direction around me (the “Sun”), until they form one giant group (or, “planet”). As they run past their peers (and especially larger group of peers), students must link arms with those in that group. The linking of arms demonstrates the gravity that forces the particles together. While they run, students hold signs that designate the size of their group. Everyone starts off as a dust particle, and the groups slowly gain in size until they are chondrules, then meteoroids…all the way up to one, giant planet.

This activity is a great way to get the kids moving, and the lessons learned seem to stick better when they are actively learning. How’s that for active accretion? (Ha ha.)

About the author: This year is Shawn’s third teaching Big History as a year-long freshman world history class. He teaches in the diverse suburbs of south Chicago and has five Big History classes this year. 


A. Ferguson, BHP Score Team
Arizona State University, USA


Earlier this year, BHP announced a new formative assessment service called BHP Score. The service allows teachers who have incorporated Big History into their classrooms to submit students’ essays for Units 2, 6, and 9. The essays are sent to a team of trained scorers at Arizona State University (ASU) who score them using the BHP Writing Rubric, provide comments to contextualize those scores, and then submit them back to the teachers. Who are the people on the scoring team? The team consists of certified and trained experts who use their backgrounds and skill sets to help assess students’ writing.

Each scorer completes BHP teacher certification and additional training before reviewing student essays. That’s right; each scorer goes through the 9.5 hours of BHP Teaching Big History training. This allows the scorers to learn about the materials and methods that teachers use in the classroom to teach the course. Upon completion, scorers review the content for the unit Investigations. This process involves group discussions about the driving question and texts for each unit. The team also participates in “norming” activities to ensure that they, as a whole, adhere to the BHP Writing Rubric. Although the extensive training prepares the scorers for assessment, they each came well-equipped with prior experience.

Individually, the scorers have various professional experiences that have prepared them for writing assessment and evaluation. Some of the scorers have teaching experience, both secondary and postsecondary. Those scorers have led classroom discussions and facilitated students’ learning and writing. Some scorers are former college writing tutors. Those scorers have experience assessing and evaluating a variety of genres, citations, and writing styles in conversation with both undergraduate- and graduate-student writers.

All of the scorers have relevant educational and professional backgrounds that have prepared them as a team for the interdisciplinary approach of Big History. For example, some of the scorers have English and education backgrounds that inform their understanding of the writing-intensive nature of Big History. Others have backgrounds in history that help them understand the BHP narrative. In addition, some scorers have a background in biology and medical science—a perfect complement to many of the units in the course! Finally, there are scorers who bring their experience in global and interdisciplinary studies—a field that covers many of the themes and concepts of BHP.

The ASU team of scorers is a perfect fit for BHP Score. The BHP certification and extensive training complement the graders’ prior experience and skill sets. The team works hard to provide meaningful feedback for teachers and students. Furthermore, they’re excited to be part of BHP—a project through which they support teachers with the success of their students.