How did we get here? Using the past to prepare for the future

How did we get here? Using the past to prepare for the future

The world has never been more wondrous or complex—or more fragile. Today's students of history need guidance to understand how climate, economics, and politics shape our world. These resources will help!

Is the world getting better or worse?

In this month's OER Project Blog post, we set out a modest(ly huge) question: Despite all the bad news out there, what does the data tell us about how humanity is doing compared to the past, and what can it tell us about the future?

Read on to find data you can use to fight pessimism in the classroom!

Students need good data—and data literacy

What do these data points tell students about our progress over the past 200 years? Try Project X, a four-week curriculum aimed at teaching students how to understand and evaluate data presented in charts like these. 

When you were young, you probably had an adult tell you that life isn't fair. But when you asked them why, did they have a good answer? OER Project worked with Oxford's Max Roser, founder of Our World in Data, to create materials on data literacy to help students answer questions like why our world is unequal, and what can be done about it.

Our introduction to global income data makes a great starting point.

Questions lead to answers: A tale in two comics

Our greatest power as humans is our ability to ask questions—even wrong answers can help move collective knowledge forward! OER Project Graphic Biographies spotlight lesser-known figures who have had a huge influence on history, using colorfully illustrated comics that unlock new ways of learning for students. Introduce them to two of history's greatest questioners: Athanasius Kircher and Vera Rubin

Click on either image to view or download the full-size PDF version!

Our graphic bios are even more useful with context! Rubin and Kircher's stories are part of the free Big History Project (BHP) course, a full-year curriculum intended for middle-school students that considers human history in the context of the 13.8-billion-year story of the Universe. Rubin's example from Unit 2 helps introduce students to the really Big Question of how we know things. Meanwhile, Kircher's appearance in Unit 8 helps us understand how even monumental mistakes can still contribute to collective learning. Each graphic bio is supported by videos, articles, activities, and vocabulary guides! 

Register now to explore Big History

How we changed the world: Eradicating smallpox

Now let's look at a specific example of how humans have made real progress in just the last century. Smallpox had menaced humankind for at least the past 3,500 years, claiming hundreds of millions of lives. As recently as 1960, 15 million people were infected with smallpox each year. Yet today it is the only human infectious disease to have been completely eradicated. Dr. Larry Brilliant, one of the architects of smallpox's defeat, tells students the story in this World History Project video.

As the video proceeds, keep an eye on the 'Key Ideas' area to see relevant discussion questions to use with your class!

This video is part of Era 7 of the WHP Origins to the Present course, a full-year world history class for high school students. The smallpox video is augmented by related articles (like this one on the international institutions that led the charge to eradicate the disease), vocabulary supports, and activities. Further materials on globalization, nonviolence, and the rise of China provide students with historical evidence to evaluate the world they live in today. 

Register now and explore World History Project Era 7

Help students create their own historical progress

Finally, let's talk about how to help students become drivers of the historical progress we need to see today! Use Climate Project to teach students the basics of our global climate emergency and empower them to innovate and take action in their own communities.

Here's a preview of the Careers for Innovation activity. Solving the climate crisis will require a lot of innovation and a lot of new experts. In this activity, students learn about careers that would allow them to contribute to getting the world to net-zero carbon emissions.

This is the student version of the activity! Like all of our materials, OER Project account holders can easily switch between teacher- and student-facing versions of the activity. The teacher version includes additional instructions and sample answers. You can download the student PDF to your desktop by clicking the download icon above, and we recommend checking out Unit 1 of Climate Project to see how it fits into the course narrative.

Register an OER Project account today to explore all OER Project courses and materials. It's all free, forever.