August 15, 2013 | By Bill Gates
A Big Update on Big History
I have written before about Big History, the project I undertook with Professor David Christian. After two years of pilot projects, we have come to an exciting moment: the launch of a new Big History course tailored for high school students and teachers. It is now free, open, and available to any educator.
If you’re a teacher, I want to encourage you to tour the Big History site and sign up to get involved. You’ll find everything you need to teach the course or any part of it. You can also see some samples of Big History content here. If it’s too late to consider teaching it this year, you could try a few lessons this year and think about the whole course for next year. You can use as much of the material there as you want. If you’re not a teacher, stay tuned: We will be launching a public version of the course later this year.
The idea for this project goes back a few years, when I bought David’s Big History course on DVD from the Great Courses website. I had never seen anything quite like it. David created a framework for understanding literally all of history, ever, from the Big Bang to present day. So often, subjects in science and history are taught one at a time—physics in one class, the rise of civilization in another—but Big History breaks down those barriers. Today, whenever I learn something new about biology or history or just about any other subject, I try to fit it into the framework I got from Big History. No other course has had as big an impact on how I think about the world.
I met David in San Diego not long after I’d finished watching the DVDs. His course was originally aimed at college students, and we decided to create a Big History course for the high-school level. In the pilot phase, nearly 180 teachers in the United States and Australia (David’s home country) helped us develop and test lesson plans. We did a lot of measurement, looking at everything from student surveys to measurements of how Big History students did on national standardized tests. We even incorporated the Common Core standards into the curriculum.
I want to thank all the teachers who helped us get to this point. David Christian, who originally conceived Big History, and Bob Bain from the University of Michigan were also key partners in creating the curriculum and training materials.
This Big History project is part of a bigger effort to give every teacher in the United States the tools they need to be as good as the best teachers in the country. Research shows that for a low-income student, having top-notch teachers can be the difference between staying stuck in poverty and moving up the economic ladder. Earlier this summer we launched another part of this effort, Graphite, a Web site that gives teachers a new way to connect with technology. If we can give all teachers the support they need to be as good as the best, our students will blow away the rest of the world.
Big History changed the way I think and learn, and I’m quite confident it can do the same for teachers and students around the world. I hope we see a lot of Big Historians in the years to come.