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.

HOW TO “HOOK” ‘EM FROM DAY 1

Mark Ehlers, BHP Teacher
North Carolina, USA

The first day of class is tough on everyone! The students—especially the new freshmen that I teach—are worried about being in high school for the first time. Teachers, on the other hand, worry about trying to “hook” the students right away. The first day really sets the tone for the whole year. No pressure, right? I teach high school freshmen in classes that range from eight to fifteen students in 50-minute classes. For our first day of class, I wanted to really get the kids excited about the possibilities of Big History, so I chose to use a modified version of the Unit 1 activity History as a Mystery.

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I started by giving my students a five-minute introduction to the cold case: 30 bodies discovered in York, which had once been a Roman outpost against Scottish tribes to the north. I asked them to make a hypothesis to explain this mystery, and we then discussed a few of their hypotheses. I explained that they were making their hypotheses based on Intuition—one of our BHP claim testers. I then told them that, to get a better answer, we would need to talk to a variety of different experts in different disciplines (Authority) and consider their Evidence and Logic. We then viewed the first 19 minutes of the film The Mystery of the Headless Romans. I asked my students to note the type of experts that were interviewed and the evidence that each used to draw their conclusions as they watched the video. We ended the film with the evidence presented by the forensic dentist. To finish off the day, I asked them to write down one additional expert that they would want to talk to about the mystery.

The next day, we started by summarizing the evidence from the previous class, and then I asked them to revise their initial hypotheses using the evidence presented so far. We watched the last 10 minutes of the film to get the final pieces of evidence from the archaeologist, the forensic anthropologist, and the historian. As a class, we listed the experts that we saw and the evidence that they used to come to their conclusions. We discussed whether any of the experts could have put together the whole story on their own, and how new evidence forced them to alter their claims, which easily led to a discussion of the interdisciplinary nature of Big History. For our summarizing activity, we read the essay, “What Will We Leave Behind?” (included at the end of the History as Mystery activity) and students completed their responses in small groups.

It was a great two-day activity that held my ninth graders’ attention in a way that I’ve never seen before—I had one student literally jumping out of her seat to tell me that her father is a forensic dentist and has solved mysteries like this. Even better, it was a great way to introduce my students to some of the big ideas that they will be encountering over the rest of the course. I can’t wait to watch my students dive in even deeper!

About the author: Mark teaches Big History to high school freshmen at Davidson Day School in Davidson, NC. The 2017/18 school year marks his second teaching high school and first teaching BHP. It’s his school’s first year implementing the course as a replacement for the traditional world history survey. Mark teaches four sessions of a year-long Big History course; they meet daily for 50 minutes.

The Power of Origin Stories in Big History

Kathy Hays, Big History Teacher
Arizona, USA

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Unit 1 is important, not only to establish the foundation for teaching Big History, but to create an environment in which students are comfortable speaking and participating in class. This is why I love the Intro to Origin Stories and Origin Stories Article Collection activities from Lesson 1.2. In addition to introducing the Three Close Reads strategy, students are given the opportunity to sample several perspectives on the creation of the Universe and to see how the Big History narrative is a modern-day origin story. Besides, they’re already familiar with superhero origin stories, so it’s an easy hook.

We begin by introducing Three Close Reads while reading “Origin Stories Introduction” together. It takes a full class period, and students often resist, but I promise them it will get easier with time. As we move to reading origin stories (the Zulu and Judeo-Christian perspectives, for example), students work in randomly assigned groups, which helps establish a climate in which everyone is comfortable speaking.

There’s a center established around the classroom for each origin story. As the groups read, they complete the Origin Stories Comparison Worksheet for each. Once finished, they have the option of using butcher paper or creating a digital presentation to share their origin story with the rest of class. Although nervous, students like presenting. We keep it relaxed and this loosens them up, which leads to more people participating in future discussions. I’ve also done a gallery walk, but my students seem to benefit more from the presentations. The presentations take a little longer, but I find them valuable.

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Origin Stories Comparison Worksheet

We complete the activity by having students lead a discussion comparing the origin stories, focusing on how Big History fits as an origin story. Students emerge from this activity with a few new friends and a desire to learn more about the Big History narrative.

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The Hulk contemplates his origin story. Artwork by Kathy Hays.

About the author: Kathy Hays has been teaching for 30 years and teaching Big History since 2015. She teaches five BHP classes a year, and so reaches about 130 ninth-grade students. Her school is on a semester schedule with daily 52-minute periods. Kathy’s favorite thing about teaching Big History is the opportunity to learn with her students!