Big History Content Samples

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What's in the course?

Big History Content Samples

All of the content for the Big History course is delivered online – including video lectures, infographics, animations, texts and even comic books. By mixing and matching different content types, teachers can increase student engagement levels and determine which formats work best for their classrooms.

Thresholds” are a foundation of Big History. These are distinct moments in time when the right ingredients combined with just the right conditions to enable the creation of an entirely new form of complexity. Eight of these dramatic transitions are identified in the course, building on one another to drive Big History. Threshold videos highlight each of these moments with engaging animation and a student-friendly summary of the threshold’s key facts and information, weaving together Big History’s 13.7 billion year story.

Threshold Videos

Big History offers stimulating debates, creative project-based learning, text- and data-based investigations, and other classroom activities. Educators can implement these off-the-shelf or simply use them as a starting point. In this Personal Supply Chain activity, students choose an important item from their everyday life and conduct research to trace it back to its origin. They explore the raw materials needed to make the item, its transit route, required energy, and more. Students apply knowledge of expansion and interconnection from Unit 8 to comprehend the impact it has on their own lives.

Classroom Activities

Authority, logic, intuition, or evidence – how do you decide what to believe? Every day we are bombarded with information from hundreds of sources. This can be a fantastic wealth of knowledge, but we need to be able to identify which information is reliable. The Big History Project empowers students to do just that. Claim testing is a key approach that teaches students to use a tool box of critical-thinking skills to evaluate information. Engaging resources like the claim testers comic book series, combined with our Testing Claims activities, create a one-two punch for delivery on this core concept.

Claim Testing

This year the Big History Project has added more than 50 ready-made lesson guides spanning the entire curriculum. Here students explore the formation of stars and the creation of the chemical elements, and the fascinating relationship between these two events. Lessons can be implemented as-is or adapted to fit various teaching styles and learning environments. They are offered as both PDF and Word documents, allowing for easy customization.

Ready-made Lesson Guides

A series of infographics brings the elemental makeup of things to life - from stars in the night sky to the muscles in our bodies. This Earth’s Oceans exemplifies the nature of these rich assets. They draw attention to the overarching interconnection throughout the Universe, while simultaneously highlighting the nuanced differences that distinguish all things. ‘Element profiles’ offer an in-depth look at specific elements, within the context of the entire periodic table. This engaging content series provides an opportunity to apply knowledge of the elements, and to compare and contrast their diverse roles in our lives.

Chemical Abundances Infographic – The Earth’s Oceans

Collective learning means sharing what you have learned with others so the knowledge available to everyone increases over time. This phenomenon is uniquely human, and explains why our technologies have become more and more powerful, and why only human beings seem to have a ‘history.’ This article series by David Christian articulates the nature of collective learning, to help students understand this process and identify humanity’s unique place in history.

Collective Learning Article Series (Collective Learning Part 1: What Is It?)

A variety of articles and essays cover key concepts in the Big History narrative, augmenting the material in other parts of the course. Authors include John F. Haught, David Christian, Bob Bain, and others. In The Four World Zones, Cynthia Stokes Brown discusses the effects of climate and geography on early human populations. She takes students to a time when there was little or no interaction between four distinct human populations around the world. Brown asks students to contrast these burgeoning societies, while considering the uncanny similarities that exist between these seemingly isolated populations.

The Four World Zones – Big History Article by Cynthia Stokes Brown

Big History is an unfinished story. The curriculum challenges students to think about how they can impact the future, and their role in the Universe, on this Earth, and in their community. David Christian’s article Complexity and the Future illustrates how Big History establishes a framework for this conversation, encouraging students to apply big history concepts and ideas to address questions about life in the coming years, how humans will innovate to meet our growing needs, and the role students and their peers play in shaping the future.

Complexity and the Future – Big History Article by David Christian

If people once thought you could fall off the edge of the Earth, what did their maps look like? This comparative mapping activity uses primary source documents to place students in the shoes of ancient cartographers. They compare and contrast a chronology of maps, spanning the earliest interpretations of Ptolemy to the modern images used today. These cartographic diagrams become a vehicle through which students examine the progression of knowledge over time, considering the influence of historical events, social norms, and institutions. This activity reveals the utility of primary documents, not just as sources of information, but as a window to the past.

Student Activity – Comparing Historical Maps

In this Big History Guest Talk, conservation scientist Sanjayan gives students a snapshot of what it’s like to be a conservation scientist and what motivated him to embark on this career path. This video is a great example of how the big history narrative weaves together multiple disciplines, and demonstrates the ways in which course content relates to an array of professional and academic fields, and ‘real-world’ application.

Intro to Conservation Science – Sanjayan

Fun animations like The Early Atmosphere help differentiate Big History content, making complex concepts and ideas more accessible. Illustrations compliment the student-friendly narration, as students journey through the formation of the Earth and atmosphere. They watch rock, metal, and ice slam into the early Earth, generating a blanket of steam that eventually forms our atmosphere and oceans. The story continues as students learn about the blasting volcanos of the Hadean Eon, the chemically rich Archean Eon, the mass glaciation periods that led to a ‘Snowball Earth,’ and finally, the vibrant Phanerozoic Eon that cultivated a proliferation of plant and animal life.

The Early Atmosphere – Animation

From the Port of Seattle, Professor Craig Benjamin gives an overview of historical exchange and trade systems. He discusses the emergence of interconnection through war, trade, disease, and civilization, and how structures developed to facilitate this increased connectivity. Students learn how ancient exchange systems such as the Silk Road and maritime trade routes paved the way for the modern global trade routes we have today.

Systems of Exchange and Trade – Craig Benjamin Guest Talk

In the last 500 years our world has been utterly transformed. But why has this change occurred? David Christian asks students to think about this question as he discusses change and acceleration over time. He outlines the progress of human civilization as it increased control through population growth, innovation, commerce, and the discovery of fossil fuels. It is up to students to analyze this growth and think critically about what it means for future generations.

How Did Change Accelerate? – Part 1


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