Brittney Morrissey, BHP Teacher
Washington, USA

My journey with Big History began a year ago when I attended the Seattle cluster meeting. Not knowing what to expect, I was skeptical of this thing called Big History. What is Big History? How big is big? Is there going to be too much science stuff?

I’m now excited, although a little nervous—this upcoming school year, our entire ninth-grade team is teaching Big History as our world history course! I have a lot of homework to do.

Enter: Teaching Big History!

The Teaching Big History online training course was where I turned to start. It provides an overview of the BHP course content, activities, and resources. This course overview immediately highlights the fact that students will be analyzing science and scientific events through a historical lens. I feel reassured — my history class will not become a science class!


Teaching Big History even includes BHP teacher tips, tricks, and planning guides! As part of my homework, I quickly pored over seasoned Big History teachers’ individual planning guides, noting how and where they alter specific units to meet their needs. I snuck a peek at Bridgette O’Connor’s Semester Course Plan, which helped me plan for a more world-history focused spin of the course. I realized I could pepper in my own extensions and material—like stuff focused on the Renaissance and Reformation—to meet local standards. Yay, flexibility!

Looking ahead, my team is working to plan, plan, and plan next school year. The online training has helped us realize just how many wonderful activities there are. Although these activities help students’ reading, writing, and critical thinking skills, we cannot possibly do them all! We’re currently digging into Unit 1 and evaluating what we’ll keep and what we’ll skip. We’re trying to maintain enough flexibility to allow for the inevitable assemblies, fire drills, holidays, snow days, and other unplanned and unforeseeable events that pop up during the school year.

I am truly excited to dive into Big History with my diverse group of learners. From what I’ve seen so far, Big History allows students to “do” the history—directing investigations, problem solving, and critically analyzing each other’s ideas. I am so excited to guide a classroom without “right” answers and to leave #snopocalypse 2016–2017 behind!

About the author: Brittney Morrissey has been teaching ninth grade world history for four years. The upcoming 2017/2018 school year will be her first year teaching Big History. She will teach Big History to four different classes, reaching about 120 ninth-grade students. She will meet with each class daily for 50 minutes.


BHP Staff

It’s that time of year again! If you’ve been around awhile, you now expect (and love) it. If you’re new to BHP, get excited. Each year, we take a hard look at existing BHP course content and support materials. We review feedback from teachers and scholars that we’ve collected all year, and then carve out a good chunk of time for implementing suggestions. All in the name of keeping Big History the best course in history.


New materials include Crash Course videos, Investigation writing, and Causality activities.

The changes are enough to keep the course exciting and relevant, but we draw the line at doing anything that would throw veteran BHP teachers for too big a loop. Fear not: any content that appears to have been removed from the course can usually be found in “Other Materials” at the bottom of each unit.

So without further ado, here’s what’s new for the 2017/18 school year! Take a look and let us know what you think in the BHP Online Teacher Community.

Summary of updates (‘cuz scrolling can be hard):

1. Investigations and Investigation writing activities
2. Crash Course Big History videos
3. Causality: A new essential theme!
4. Clever integration — COMING LATER THIS SUMMER —
5. Coaching! (via BetterLesson) — COMING LATER THIS SUMMER —

1. Investigations and Investigation writing activities

Soon after we introduced of BHP Score, our free essay-scoring service, we realized a couple things:

• Writing is hard. Teaching writing is even harder. We need our instructions to do more and align across activities. We also need to mention BHP Score in the lessons themselves.
• Teachers need a writing baseline earlier in the course (enter Investigation 0).

We tackled both issues. The Investigation instructions are still long, but consistent. Students get a better idea of which writing skill they’re working on with each activity. Teachers get better info on how and when to submit for free scoring.

Heads up! We’ve added an “Investigation 0” to the end of the first lesson. It is intended to be administered the first week of school so that you get baseline data on your students’ writing. It is the same essay as “Investigation 2,” and that’s intentional. By having two data points on the same essay (one from the first week of school, and one from a few weeks later), students will be able to see where they’ve grown and where they need to improve. Hopefully, they’ll begin to see writing as a journey of continual improvement. Investigations 6 and 9 are also eligible for evaluation by BHP Score, so students can look forward to clear and consistent feedback on their progress throughout the year.

We’ve developed new activities to better support students with a journey of continual improvement as related to Investigation writing and BHP Score:

• Lesson 1.3: Analyzing Investigation Writing – Thesis/Major Claim and Structure
• Lesson 2.2: Analyzing Investigation Writing—Using Texts as Evidence
• Lesson 3.2: Analyzing Investigation Writing – Applying BHP Concepts
• Lesson 4.3: Revising Investigation Writing – Constructing an Argument
• Lesson 5.3: Revising Investigation Writing – Using Texts as Evidence
• Lesson 6.0: Investigation Writing – Constructing an Argument
• Lesson 7.0: Investigation Writing – Using Texts as Evidence
• Lesson 8.0: Investigation Writing – Applying BHP Concepts
• Lesson 9.1: Investigation Writing – Peer Review

2. Crash Course Big History Season 2

We’ve been watching what you’re watching and Crash Course Big History has been a hit! So we went back to our friends at Crash Course and worked on another season of BHP videos. This year, Emily Graslie (host of The Field Museum’s amazing YouTube series, The Brain Scoop), asks questions, like:

  • Are we in the beginning, middle or end of the story of the Universe? Whoa. Check out Why Cosmic Evolution Matters.
  • Are humans causing the next mass extinction? Also – we often learn about the extinction of the dinosaurs, but why should we also care about an earlier mass extinction of bacteria? Dig in to Why the Evolutionary Epic Matters.

*Note: the new Crash Course Big History series will air on YouTube first, and will be added into the BHP course later this summer. Here’s where the videos will live within the course, once added:

• Lesson 2.1: Why Cosmic Evolution Matters*
• Lesson 3.1: Why Star Stuff Matters*
• Lesson 5.1: Why the Evolutionary Epic Matters*
• Lesson 6.2: Why Human Evolution Matters*
• Lesson 6.3: Why Human Ancestry Matters*
• Lesson 8.1: Why Early Globalization Matters*

*These will air on YouTube, and will be added to the BHP course later this summer.

3. Causality: A new essential theme!

The Big History Project course is all about change. And about helping students learn to describe, analyze, and connect changes that take place over vast expanses of time and space. After just a few lessons, students become adept at using the thresholds of increasing complexity to make sense of the history of the Universe, where we are today, and where we’re going.

But we want students to be able to do more than describe change over time—we want them to be able to evaluate and make claims about the causes and consequences of change in history, science, and the world around them. That’s where causality comes in.

Cause and consequence is critical to the work of historians, scientists—any expert working to better understand the world around us. The analysis is as complex and dynamic as history itself. However, research shows that students typically view change over time as links in a linear chain – that is, the most important cause or consequence is the one closest in time and space.

To help students develop their ability to understand cause and consequence—an important critical-thinking skill—we’ve added four new activities . These activities introduce vocabulary, categories, and techniques that experts use to analyze causality. Students will learn how to identify different types of causes and consequences and map the relationships among them.

Here’s the full list of the new causality activities (our favorite features Alfonse the Camel):

Note: Unit outcomes have been updated to reflect causality. For example, the outcomes for Unit 3 now include: Identify various types of causes and consequences, including short-term, long-term, and triggering events.

We hope you find this addition to your students’ critical thinking tool chest helpful. For more on causality and how you might approach it instructionally, see this Teaching Big History video featuring Big Historian Professor Bob Bain .

4. Clever integration

If you hate keeping track of multiple passwords and using them to sign-in to multiple websites, multiple times a day, your school probably needs Clever. It helps sites like ours make sign-in easier for you. If you’re already using Clever, you will now be able to integrate it with the Big History Project and simplify your life a tiny bit more. Details will be available in August.

5. Coaching

What if you could have a former Teacher of the Year on speed-dial to answer all questions Big History? Next year, that will be a possibility for a select few BHP teachers who are interested in rising through the ranks of our leadership development pipeline. Coaching services will be offered through BetterLesson. More details on the application process forthcoming—stay tuned!

The Mystery Box

Scott Henstrand, BHP Teacher
New York, USA

The following activity was developed by BHP teacher Scott Henstrand for his classroom. Please use as is or adapt as you see fit! Scott’s student materials are also available. Read more about Scott at the end of this post.

Making and testing claims is one of the fundamental skills in Big History. This skill is essential to understanding the continuous unfolding and modification of the Big History narrative. With so much still in the dark—“What came before the Big Bang?” “What are the details of the Big Bang itself?”—the narrative is never complete. In this activity, you will explore in groups the use of claim testers by investigating a box containing unknown materials and using your senses as empirical evidence to make claims about the items in the box.


Mystery box, by PDPics. CC0 Public Domain.

-One box per group of three or four students. The box is made from a 9x9x9-inch corrugated cardboard box. Put in three to five items such as a clothes pin, a wooden or Styrofoam ball, and a paper clip. Vary the items in the boxes. Tape shut with duct tape.
-One Mystery Box Observations Worksheet per student

Begin the exercise with a story of some sort that gives an aura of mystery to the boxes. Tell students that they are being challenged to use the four BHP claim testers to test claims on what is inside the boxes. Have students hand out the boxes, one per group. Let them explore the boxes and make claims based on logic and the evidence. Instruct them to make sure they jot down evidence and claims on their Mystery Box Observations worksheet.

Next, have students share their findings. Have them state their claims and defend them with claim testers. During this process, students will probably ask you, as an authority, to tell them what items are in the boxes. Don’t do it! Continue the process of sharing and claim testing. Another question that may emerge is whether or not the boxes contain the same items. This should be an opening to speak about scale. The contents can be looked at in the scale of one box or the scale of, say, nine boxes.

The last prompt is to state that you have one more Mystery Box to share. Build up to this and then point to your head and ask, “What’s inside this mystery box? What am I thinking?” Have another round of claims and claim testers.

At the end of the class, when the students expect you to reveal the contents of the boxes, leave them wondering by telling them, “You will never find out exactly what is contained in the boxes, as we will never be completely sure of the Big History story.”

By the way – I’ve uploaded a video of my class at work on this activity in the BHP online community.

About the author: Scott Henstrand has been teaching Big History at Brooklyn Collaborative Studies, a public school in New York, since 2011. His school offers the course as a two-year deployment that replaces global studies. In the first year, Unit 1 through Unit 6 are covered; in the second year, Unit 6 through Unit 10. Scott loves teaching the course because of the fundamental philosophical implications of the material.