Don't skip the first few units!

Don't skip the first few units!

Chris Steussy, OER Project Teacher
California, USA

Note: Over the next few months we'll be re-posting some of your favorite pieces from the old BHP Teacher Blog. Please enjoy this throwback, originally published August 29, 2019!

Looking for history? Look right here!

That’s in Unit 1. The activity History as a Mystery, which precedes it, is awesome!

Here’s another example!

These articles and activity are in Unit 2 – which owing to its title of “The Big Bang,” is often dismissed by BHP teachers as “science.” But – this is history! BHP isn’t asking students or teachers to delve into the mechanics of the telescope here or explain the math behind Hubble’s theory of an expanding Universe. BHP is asking students and teachers to delve into HISTORY. Try viewing these articles in relation to Unit 2’s driving question of “How and why do individuals change their minds?” Feel a little better? History, when presented through a lens of inquiry, is extremely compelling.

More important, BHP has been built over the years around progressions of activities that develop specific skills – from claim testing, to causation, to reading and writing. These progressions start in Unit 1 and spiral in complexity up through Unit 10. Skipping around too much could really undermine the potential power of BHP. Teachers who say they’ll start in Unit 6, “when humans enter the scene,” might find themselves facing activities that build on several others from previous units. You want kids to have the scaffolds from earlier units!

For instance, the framework around claim testing—one of the most important and valuable skills in BHP—is introduced in Unit 1 and then explored further in the subsequent three units. In each activity, students break down one of the components of the framework – intuition, authority, evidence, and logic. The BHP Writing Rubric is also introduced in Unit 1, and then pieces of it are explored separately in a purposefully progressive way over the course of 10 activities, all the way through Unit 9!

Historical skills like causation and scale-switching are also built out across the units.

So – don’t skip those first few seemingly “science” units! Don’t bring in the science department to cover those, leaving Units 6 through 10 to the history teacher. There’s history everywhere! In fact, unlike traditional history courses, you’ll be studying the twentieth century almost immediately when you delve into the thinking of Hubble in Unit 2, Marie Curie in Unit 3, and Alfred Wegener in Unit 4. The history may be less familiar to you and your students than the standard historical narrative many of us were taught (Western Civilization) but that’s what makes it so interesting! It is a history that highlights the history of science over politics and war, and it is history that tries to actually disrupt the trope of Western Civilization, allowing students and teachers to create a more inclusive narrative of all the world’s people. It is a history that invites the use of historical debate. (For example, was Easter Island a cautionary tale of overuse of resources, or as more recent scholarship suggests, a story of a small group of people carefully managing their few resources over eons, but then subjected to destructive forces of colonization?)

That’s not to say you shouldn’t involve your school’s science department. BHP is inherently interdisciplinary, and it sets up fantastic opportunities for interdepartmental collaboration. And there are parts that are more science-y in nature. Many of my BHP colleagues have worked with biology, chemistry, and physics teachers to delve deeper into some of those concepts. My recommendation would be, to the extent possible, ask your colleagues to add supplemental lessons that are in line with your progression through the Big History narrative, so kids are digging deeper into the finer points of the periodic table as you’re in Unit 3, discussing its historical implications.

So – dig into the history! All of it and more! Let history be a living, breathing, changing discipline working alongside other living breathing, changing, disciplines to help us understand the past. Students and teachers must start to see history not as a dead field with all the answers in the back of the book, but rather an exciting and vibrant field that helps us understand ourselves, our world, and everything around us!

About the author: Chris Steussy teaches at San Diego High School of International Studies and is one of the original pilot teachers for BHP. He began working on the project in the fall of 2010. Chris teaches BHP as a year-long elective to around 35 ninth graders. San Diego High School is the oldest high school in San Diego and is a Title I public school.