BHP Score: Teacher Takes!

BHP Team

Last year, in partnership with the Arizona State University and the University of Michigan, we introduced a new essay scoring service called BHP Score. The service provides BHP teachers with feedback on student writing: BHP Investigations* are scored by trained evaluators at Arizona State University and feedback is aligned with the BHP Writing Rubric. Comments are designed to support student writing development.

Score

We were pleased to see how creatively teachers used the data and personalized BHP Score reports they received last year! Here are some of their comments (compiled from the online BHP Teacher Community):

I received the score reports for my students’ Investigation 2 essays this week and they are great! A report is sent with the students’ grade based upon the BHP Writing Rubric along with individualized comments for each student essay. These comments include praise for what the student performed well on and what the student needs to work on for next time. There is also a report for the class including score averages. Thanks for making this happen!! – Bridgette O’Connor 9/6/2016

I love BHP Score! This is an amazing tool for teachers. I printed all of the scores and the original essays then we reviewed them as a class, explaining what the comments meant— counterclaim, citing sources correctly, and the difference between summarizing and analyzing. We then looked over the rubric together so students could interpret their scores. – Kathy Hays 10/13/2016

BHP Score was great! We were pleasantly surprised with not just getting scores, but also individual feedback. It helped me plan my writing mini-lessons for the next unit. The kids also set personal goals for themselves and are revisiting those goals every time they begin to write something in class. Thanks for this amazing service! – Hajra Saeed 10/13/2016

I love BHP Score. I love it just for the simple fact that my students can use it to set goals for their next Investigation (or any writing for that matter) and they can also use it as a tool to improve their peer editing skills. Our students also loved the individualized feedback. My teaching partner and I thought they would just blow over it, but they truly took the comments to heart and made some pretty fantastic goals because of them. – Jami McLing 10/15/2016

Throughout the year, teachers had the opportunity to interact with members of the Score team by participating in the ASU Writing Exchanges on Yammer. Teachers discussed writing topics and how the service has helped their students:

Thank you for all your hard work it is greatly appreciated and my students get a kick out of receiving feedback from members of a university halfway around the world. It also gives them a different perspective on how they are progressing. – Charles Rushworth 1/13/2017

Thank you for providing such amazing feedback to our students. This has allowed me to show my students that writing is truly a process. Because the feedback and valuable comments are returned so quickly, the students still have the topic fresh in their mind. – Kathy Hays 1/14/2017

Thank you for all of your team’s tireless work. My students appreciate and look forward to your feedback on their investigations. – Michael Skomba 1/23/2017

As teachers prepared for this new school year, they engaged in more discussion about BHP Score in the online BHP Teacher Community. Teachers expressed the benefits of the feedback and their students’ excitement about receiving feedback on their essays:

There is something very special about the process of having students work hard during class, submit their work, and then wait for the scores. The day I told them that “the scores were in,” became a special day the students greatly anticipated. What I found to be the most powerful moments in class was when we celebrated the growth of students across the spectrum. The student who went from a 1.5 to a 2 was celebrated as much as the higher level students, and again something as simple as seeing the bar graph score sheet moving in the positive direction is very encouraging to all students. – Jason Manning 7/12/2017

I think my students have greatly benefited from BHP Score. The consistency of the rubric is so important in developing writing skills. They loved the feedback and it led to great conversations. …[M]y kids looked forward to getting their scores each time. – Kathy Hays 7/12/2017

I loved using BHP Score last year. I at first didn’t know how I was going to grade Investigations and then this service provided such great student feedback for last year’s first Investigation. I was able to grade the other Investigations based on the feedback the students received and my students’ writing did improve over the course. – Alex Ovalle 8/15/2017

Since the introduction of BHP Score, teachers have shared the many ways they’ve used the service to help their students. With a new year ahead, BHP Score remains a valuable resource to help teachers involve their students in the writing process and equip them with writing skills they can take with them beyond the classroom.

*NOTE: Investigations 0, 2, 6, and 9 are all eligible for submission to BHP Score this year. Questions? Check out the BHP Score FAQs or email us at team@bighistoryproject.com. 

UNBOXING “MENTAL COMFORT” WITH STUDENTS

Zachary Cain, BHP Teacher
Illinois, USA

WhyLieHeader


This post is part of a series addressing a BIG question: “Why Lie?”

There’s a lot of talk about “fake news” these days. “Why Lie?” is a response to questions this problem surfaces: Statements and beliefs are debunked all the time—why did we believe them in the first place? When something is at odds with our belief system or point of view, why do we see it as a falsehood and ignore it? As teachers, how do we help students decide what to believe?em>

We kicked off the “Why Lie?” series with an extended post by James Paul Gee – an expert in learning, language, and literacy. Give it a read—it’s well worth your time.

We then asked Big History teachers to react and respond to Jim’s post in our online teacher community: How does the post reinforce or extend BHP themes? How would you use it in your classroom? (We received many exceptional responses: view here.) The submission of BHP teacher Zachary Cain caught our attention. He expertly wove Jim’s post into his classroom instruction, using it to push student thinking on origin stories in Unit 1.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Jim and Zach’s posts, and as related to your own instruction. Join the discussion here.


UNBOXING “MENTAL COMFORT” WITH STUDENTS

After digesting the blog post “Learning and Thriving in a Complex World,” by Dr. James Paul Gee, I wanted to share some highlights with my students as we began our BHP journey into origin stories. I began by asking students two simple questions: “What is an origin story?” and “What is an example of an origin story?” These are relatively easy questions for sixth graders to understand, but I wanted them to go deeper, so I asked them, “Why did people develop origin stories?” and “How did the stories come to be accepted?”

As a class, we talked at length about how Homo sapiens have not only been afforded the luxury of being an inquisitive species able to collectively pass on their knowledge from one generation to the next, but a species that has the time and resources to devote itself to thinking about how and why we are here on Earth. This brought us to one of Dr. Gee’s points about mental comfort and why we may be reluctant to test or even question why we believe or accept something.

According to Cody C. Delistraty in his article in The Atlantic, “Stories can be a way for humans to feel that we have control over the world. They allow people to see patterns where there is chaos, meaning where there is randomness. Humans are inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can afford meaning to our lives—a form of existential problem-solving.”

Moreover, as Dr. Gee points out, “brain bugs” coupled with a tribal mentality can cause us to tighten our mind’s grip on what we find comforting or familiar.

This is the mentality that many of my students have fallen back on when we’ve look at origin stories in past years, so I wanted to try something different this year. Instead of a traditional compare and contrast of the various origin stories, I asked them to look only for similarities among the stories. After reading and discussing them , we came back to our initial questions—“Why did people develop origin stories?” and “How did the story come to be accepted?”—and many of the groups agreed that each story would have provided its people with a sense of comfort in a world that often lacked structure and stability. Moreover, I also had many students express that while the stories are not all believable in the context of our understanding of the world today, they do give a us a wonderful window into what these people did or do believe.

I pushed a little further, asking my students why they believed that these stories don’t hold up today, and students began citing various theories and concepts they’ve been exposed to over the years. This led us to one of the last and most important points Dr. Gee makes: Although students need “lots of well-designed and well-mentored experiences” to help them build their knowledge and understanding of the world, they also need the skills to question the validity of the experiences and information they are being presented with. Sounds like the perfect lead-in to claims testing!

If you’re teaching Big History for the first time, don’t feel compelled to cover everything in Lesson 1.2: Origin Stories. The two biggest takeaways for students in this lesson should be:

  1. Every major culture has attempted to explain how and why we are here. Big History is attempting to do the same thing using the most up-to-date knowledge and understanding from a wide variety of disciplines, and
  2. Big History requires us to keep an open and inquisitive mind, one that questions what we believe to be true using empirical evidence, authority, logic, and intuition.

About the author: Zachary has been teaching since 2002 and has taught at Edison Middle School, in Champaign, Illinois, since 2004. This is his fourth year teaching BHP. In Zachary’s school district, Big History is taught to all sixth graders (800+ students) as a year-long course that meets for 47 minutes each day.

WE USED TO BELIEVE THAT?! CHANGING VIEWS OF THE UNIVERSE

Jami McLing, BHP Teacher
Idaho, USA

Why do our views or our understanding of something sometimes change over time? Is it because we get new information? Is it because of personal experiences? A combination of both? Or something else entirely? When I first introduce the Changing Views Timeline activity from Lesson 2.1, my middle school students are amazed that there was a time when we didn’t believe the Sun was the center of our Solar System. This activity ignites all kinds of great conversation about when and why our understanding of the Universe has changed and will continue to change over time.

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The Changing Views Timeline activity serves two purposes. First, it asks students to read about different scientists’ views of the Universe, which helps them better understand how thinking about the Universe has advanced over time. Second, it deepens students’ understanding of how timelines can be used as analytical tools when studying history. Students will get the opportunity to read articles about great scientists such as Copernicus, Newton, and Hubble. Then they’ll compare those scientists and create a timeline that includes information about each scientist’s birth, death, major discoveries, and who or what influenced their thinking.

In my classroom, we do this as a whole-group activity. Instead of having students create individual timelines, we create one giant timeline that is displayed for the rest of the school year. Students are put into groups and assigned a scientist. They read the corresponding article and work with their group to find the relevant information about their scientist. Then they share out. Each group reports what they learned and adds their information to the class timeline.

The most important part of this assignment is the story arc it creates and the discussion we have about questions like: How does one scientist’s thinking progress to the next? When did those views and understandings start to change? Why?

By creating the timeline, students can see how the story of how our views has changed over time. It also helps them see how each of these historical figures used observation and data as well as already-established information to create a new model of the Universe—which in turn has led to our current understanding.

This is a great activity to spark discussion and get students ready for the View of the Universe debate in the same lesson, as well as to address the Unit 2 Investigation question: “How and why do individuals change their minds?”

About the author: Jami McLing has been teaching history at her middle school in Idaho Falls, Idaho, for over 10 years. She has been teaching BHP since 2013. She teaches the year-long BHP course to eighth graders in two 50-minute classes per day.