(from School of Education, University of Michigan) Big History Project is focused on bringing a broad view of history—covering 13.7 billion years from the Big Bang to modern times—to high school students. The course, designed by Bob Bain, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Education, seeks to help students identify patterns and connections in history to help them understand people, civilizations, as well as the science and social science of the world we live in.
Gates was inspired to create and support the Big History Project after learning about the work of David Christian, a professor in Australia who created the course for college students. The BHP sought out Bain, who is chair of secondary teacher education, to shape Big History for high school students. Bain has his own blog on Gates’ Big History page, and in the first post he explains where Big History fits in U.S. education.
There isn’t a back-breaking or mind-numbing textbook for students to use, but an online, specially-constructed set of short lectures from some of the world’s most interesting scholars, and a robust library of primary and secondary texts, infographics, biographies, animations, and pictures. Both teachers and students report that the materials on the BHP course site are interesting, informative, and help them understand complicated ideas.
Big history is not just an accumulation of big questions, big ideas and interesting resources. It is a narrative, a story built around eight major turning points or thresholds in history. The concepts and facts fit within a coherent big picture that students create and critique, until by the end of the course they are able to tell a story, complete with evidence, of the major changes in the universe from the beginning of time on into the future.
And beyond simply understanding the course’s narrative, big history students also research and produce a “little big history,” by selecting a topic of interest to them (e.g., teddy bears, Tom shoes, film, Cheezits) and then investigate their topic’s origins and development. This requires students to read across disciplines, to comprehend and interpret a variety of texts as they create an explanation or argument. In short, big history students meet many of the Common Core Literacy Standards.
And this comment is from Bill Gates:
Big history brings it all together – from the cosmic forces of the Big Bang to our complex modern society – and challenges students to understand the deep connections that exist between people, societies, the earth and the universe. It’s a critical foundation for a lifetime of learning.
Now, enjoy this TED talk from David Christian:
David Christian weaves together a story that helps explain how the universe gradually built greater and greater complexity and reveals what makes humans special.
Big history tells the complete story of our world – with a goal of revealing common themes and patterns that help students better understand people, civilizations and our place in the universe. Learn more about BHP, including Big History Project’s Educator Beta program.