Some of Big History's parts could be taught piecemeal -- as units in an existing history or science class -- but Big History will likely work best if taught in total. While best suited to classrooms with regular computer access, the course could be taught with more limited device access; however, this would require some computer lab time, as well as a hefty amount of printing and copying.
Beyond teaching and facilitating the course, Big History can be a great launching point for further inquiry -- there are lots of PBL opportunities. The site makes some suggestions here, but the possibilities are really endless; any unit could spin off into a variety of inquiry-based research projects. You can develop some example topics for each unit. However, you could also allow your students the space to come up with their own topics, and indulge their sense of wonder.
Teachers can manage classes, assign tests and surveys, and access support resources from the Console. The Resources section has useful webinars and PDFs with information on standards alignment for World History as well as the Next Generation Science Standards. Overall, Big History's cross-curricular approach to covering the standards is refreshing, especially since so many other digital tools seem geared toward explicit, drill-practice-and-memorize Common Core instruction. Rather, Big History aims to teach standards-based ideas through meaningful, substantive, lifelong-learning activities -- it's best to implement and teach the course in this spirit.Continue reading Show less
The Big History Project is best described as an interactive humanities course hosted online -- free and accessible to teachers everywhere. Part science, part history, and perhaps even part meaning-of-life, the overall scope of Big History almost defies categorization. The theory goes that if you give high school students this larger context, they'll better understand the complexities of their world, both today and into the future.
The curriculum is centered on moments of increasing complexity in the universe. Big History dubs these "threshold" moments, or times when the universe's "ingredients, under just the right conditions, combined to create greater complexity," culminating with the modern world as we know it. Whether it's the formation of new chemical elements or early humans' collective learning, understanding these processes of change can help prepare students to deal with the major social, political, ecological, and technological revolutions of today and tomorrow.
Designed as a yearlong (or semester) course, the curriculum is divided into 10 units. The first few units cover scientific thresholds like the Big Bang, the formation of stars, and new chemical elements. The next units cover our solar system as well as the beginnings of life on Earth. The latter half of the curriculum delves into more familiar social studies territory with units on collective learning, the agricultural and modern revolutions, and the world today. Every unit has interactive activities, videos, lessons, discussions, writing prompts, and assessments; there are even some ready-made Project Based Learning (PBL) activities, among other resources.
Full Disclosure: Big History Project and Common Sense Education share a funder; however, that relationship does not impact Common Sense Education's editorial independence and this learning rating.
A broader perspective of the world might be just the thing for today's high schoolers. Big History asks the type of fundamental and important questions that can often fall by the wayside in today's increasingly drill-and-testing focused educational landscape: What are we a part of? What effect does the past have on me today? How will my actions affect the future? Offering kids opportunities to consider these ideas is sure to engage them. While a few topics could be a bit abstract for some students -- especially those in the lower grade levels -- the videos are produced in engaging ways, with expert testimonials and illustrative graphics. Individual units are neatly divided into lessons, each with engaging activities and strong learning content.
Big History's goal is top-notch, and the curriculum and support resources are very thoughtfully designed and comprehensive. There's great potential here to engage students in the kind of thinking that can inform all of their learning thereafter; this kind of learning is such an important experience for students. That said, a lot of the topics and readings are high level, and even with the videos and activities, teachers may have to do more scaffolding if teaching the course to the general population. Nevertheless, it would be time well spent to give students access to this thought-provoking curriculum. Teachers new to Big History are bound to be interested in teaching it, and they should join the Big History Project Community to get a range of ideas about the many ways that it can be implemented with students. Be forewarned, though, that there's so much to the program that new teachers will likely want to explore Big History over the summer in preparation for the following school year.
Key Standards Supported
Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
Communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.
Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.
Earth and Human Activity
Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.
Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.
Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
Earth’s Place in the Universe
Construct an explanation of the Big Bang theory based on astronomical evidence of light spectra, motion of distant galaxies, and composition of matter in the universe.
Communicate scientific ideas about the way stars, over their life cycle, produce elements.
Evaluate evidence of the past and current movements of continental and oceanic crust and the theory of plate tectonics to explain the ages of crustal rocks.
Apply scientific reasoning and evidence from ancient Earth materials, meteorites, and other planetary surfaces to construct an account of Earth’s formation and early history.
Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth’s 4.6-billion-year-old history.
Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
Construct an argument based on evidence about the simultaneous coevolution of Earth's systems and life on Earth.
Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions.
Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits
Ask questions to clarify relationships about the role of DNA and chromosomes in coding the instructions for characteristic traits passed from parents to offspring.