October 22, 2012
Big History Project FAQ
Questions? View or download the Big History FAQ for all the answers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is big history?
A history course covering 13.7B years that looks at the past from the Big Bang to modern times, seeking out connections and patterns that can help us better understand people, civilizations and the world we live in. Big history arose from a desire to go beyond the specialized and self-contained fields that emerged in the 20th century and grasp history as a whole, looking for common themes across the entire time scale of history. For an overview, see David Christian’s TED Talk on Big History.
What is the Big History Project?
The Big History Project LLC (BHP) is an organization focused on bringing big history to life for high school students. BHP works with a wide range of experts and partners, including software designers, educators, and institutions like the University of Michigan. The project team develops the course, working closely with pilot schools to refine the curriculum to fit student needs. BHP is sponsored by Bill Gates separately from his work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
What is the goal of the course?
By sharing “the big picture” and challenging students to explore the relationship between key events over time, big history ultimately helps young people develop key critical thinking and literacy skills. These skills are not only vital to more advanced, discipline-specific work in the sciences and humanities, they also help students build a foundation of interdisciplinary study, and provide a historical context for future learning and academic growth. The course also has the following objectives:
• Foster a greater love of learning: Big history brings course material and concepts to life, by presenting information and content in a fun and engaging way that invites exploration and challenges students to think critically about core course themes and topics.
• Increase student performance and achievement: Big history helps prepare students for more advanced study by providing a foundation of knowledge and understanding of different disciplines.
• Deliver on the promise of online learning: Big History help deliver better outcomes at scale by helping teachers and students access world-class content and curriculum online through cutting edge software.
Who is the target student?
The course is primarily designed to be a social studies/history course targeting 9th or 10th graders. That said, we have developed plans to assist teachers in modifying the course deployment to offer it as:
• A capstone course, targeting 11th or 12th grade as a way for teachers and schools to coalesce and synthesize previous discipline-specific work
• An ELA course, targeting 9th and 10th grade and emphasizing use of investigations and complex texts
• An abbreviated course focused on the pure big history narrative and concepts, well-suited as a semester or summer course
• A middle school course, emphasizing interdisciplinary skills and the big history narrative as a framework for future learning and growth
For more information on these course blueprints, see the Big History Course Archetypes document.
How is the course delivered?
All of the content is available online. There is no big history textbook — the content will be freely available online in perpetuity after the content and curriculum are finalized. A completely web-based model ensures the content is up-to-date, relieves schools of the need for costly textbooks, and helps teachers engage students by providing media-rich materials that can be used in a variety of ways.
Students and teachers will all be issued personal logins to gain access to the course site that houses a wide variety of content and teacher support content. It is up to each indi-vidual teacher to determine the best approach to using the site and maximizing course material. For example, in-class time may focus on group projects or discussion, with students absorbing online content for homework, or the site may be used as a core element of the in-class experience.
How do I get access to the big history course?
During this phase of the pilot program, we are opening the site up to educators to evaluate the course via our educator beta program. This will enable educators to “test drive” the big history course experience and all of the rich interactive content and activities on the site. To request login credentials for this educator beta, visit https://course.bighistoryproject.com/trial.
If you would like to see a short video preview of the big history course experience visit http://www.bighistoryproject.com/.
What does it cost?
Our goal is to ensure that big history is taught effectively with no cost to pilot schools.
How is my school supported?
Our team supports all pilot schools with teacher training and a professional development program. As the program develops, we are building flexibility into the program to meet the differing needs of our pilot schools.
We provide, free of charge:
• All content and courseware
• Free PD/teacher training program
• Access to core project team for support, assistance and feedback
• A teacher and school subsidy to cover any direct expense and provide support for teachers
• A spirit of partnership. Our goal is to get big history in the hands of educators and students, and we promise to listen and collaborate accordingly.
In return, we expect schools to collaborate and communicate with us to improve the program. This means incorporating BHP courseware, content and assessments into the lesson plan, participating in professional development activities, and regularly updating the project team about what is happening in the classroom.
Who is involved in the Big History Project?
We have assembled some of the best and brightest educators including:
Pilot Schools: No one knows what works better than teachers. The entire course has been developed working together with our pilot school teachers and administrators. All aspects of the course — from the core curriculum and content to the assessment strategy — have been co-authored with our pilot school partners. In the current phase of our pilot program, we are working with approximately 80 schools across the US, Australia and 4 other countries.
David Christian: Professor of History at Macquarie University, Sydney. David is the “father” of big history — having built out a college level course that is widely taught. David oversees the strategy for the course and leads many guest lectures.
Bob Bain: Associate Professor of History and Education at the University of Michigan. Bob oversees all work related to course design and delivery, with a specific emphasis on the assessment plan and alignment to standards.
Key Academic Partners: We have a great list of guest lecturers that bring the ideas of big history to life and provide students unique glimpses into different fields.
• Walter Alvarez
• Cynthia Stokes Brown• Sal Khan
• Janna Levin• Craig Benjamin
• Skip Gates