Session 1 – How the Course is Structured | Big History Project


A new course,
with a new story to tell, and new materials
to help you tell it. This video lays out the basic
structure of Big History. Let’s start with
a brief description of the eight thresholds
of increasing complexity used in the course,
and then do a quick overview of the course materials. Let’s start by looking
at the course itself. If you haven’t seen
David Christian’s TED Talk, or if it’s been a while,
check it out. Now, here’s the short version. Big History is made up
of eight thresholds. Each represents a moment when
the universe got more complex– so much so that there
was no going back. The first of these thresholds
is the Big Bang. All of the matter and energy
in the universe came from this instant. About 400,000 years later,
the first stars lit up. As the stars burned,
new elements were formed, but it’s actually
in their fiery death that we find all of the
elements that exist today. That’s our third threshold. From this leftover stuff
floating in space, new stars form. One percent of the material
not sucked into the creation of new stars becomes planets,
our fourth threshold. One planet in particular has
just the right conditions, with just the right amount
of energy and liquid water, for us to reach
the fifth threshold: life. Zoom ahead a few billion years
and those first instances of life have evolved
into humans. Collective learning,
which humans are uniquely good at,
represents the sixth threshold. We roam the earth as foragers
until the planet becomes so populated that we need
to find a way to feed everyone. With the advent of agriculture
10,000 years ago, we cross our seventh threshold. Finally, around 250 years ago,
humans learned to use energy in new ways during the
Industrial Revolution, and voil¢, our eighth threshold,
the modern revolution. We haven’t been the same since. The Big History Project
tells the story of these eight thresholds
over ten units. So eight thresholds, ten units. If you look at the timeline
on the home page of the school website,
or if you do the math, you’ll notice that not every
threshold has its own unit. Here’s how it breaks down: Unit One is an introduction
to the course. It establishes the outline
and explores the notion of origin stories. Unit Two looks at the Big Bang. Unit Three deals
with the first stars and chemical elements, combining
thresholds two and three. Units Four, Five, Six,
and Seven move through the next four
thresholds neatly. Then, in Unit Eight, we talk
about what David Christian calls the unification
of the four world zones. Although this isn’t a threshold,
it’s a critical part of the Big History narrative. Unit Nine looks at
the modern revolution, and Unit Ten ends the course
with the look at the future. A couple of key points
to make about the structure of these units. They are not to scale. What we mean by that is that
the early units, which focus on prehuman history,
are much shorter than the later units. If the typical school year
is eight months, many teachers try to get
all the way to Unit Six by the beginning
of the fourth month. We’ll talk a lot more
about pacing in another video, but it’s probably one of
the most important aspects of planning your year
of teaching the Big History Project. Let’s talk about the content
of the units themselves. If you go to the home page
of each unit, you’ll find rows of lessons that are broken down
into articles, videos, infographics, and activities. All of the materials
are designed to be downloadable to make it easier for classrooms
where not everyone has a device or where the internet
connectivity is sketchy. But here’s a tip:
even if you don’t download any other materials,
we do recommend that you download the videos before
you show them to your class, just to minimize the risk
of interruptions. Each unit also includes a unit guide that walks
through the key ideas, vocab, and possible student
misconceptions in that unit; a PowerPoint of the
key graphics in the unit; a text reader that includes all
versions of every article in the unit,
in Word document format. You’re free to revise, edit,
and reuse any of the materials in the Big History Project
for educational use. These materials are there
to make things easier for you. Each lesson is displayed
as a series of thumbnails, which are just small images
that make it easy to move from activity to activity. Something many people miss,
so we’re going to call it out here,
is that the lessons are all available in long form. We call this the lesson view. The lesson view includes
a ton more detail aimed at you, the teacher. This is where all of the details
of the activities are displayed. While most students don’t end
up using this view very often, teachers tell us they find it
helpful to use this view for planning purposes. In the lesson view,
you’ll find little hints on the left-hand side
of the page that link to resources we think
you’ll find helpful. And on the right-hand side,
you’ll find random related facts and links to connected material. The lesson view is also one
of the easier ways to get at the vocabulary
for each lesson, just look on the right-hand side
at the top of the lesson page. Back to the unit home page
for a second. If you look at the home page
for each unit, you’ll see that after the last lesson,
there’s a row with the heading “Other Materials.” These are resources that
you’ll definitely want to consider using,
but which aren’t baked into the unit planning
documents. Stuff included in this row? Things like tests, quizzes,
and older articles and videos. There just wasn’t room
in the lessons for our ever-expanding course. In this case, anyway,
“Other Materials” isn’t a euphemism for “I don’t
know where to put this.” So, let’s recap. Big History tells the story
of eight thresholds of increasing complexity
over the course of ten units. In addition to all of the lesson
stuff– the videos, readings, infographics– each unit
includes a guide, lesson plans, and assessments. That’s all for now,
but be sure to check out the Big History Project
Teacher Community on Yammer for more information
about the course.

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