Teaching Big History

Teaching Big History

Teaching Big History

Charles Rushworth Big History class

Charles Rushworth with his Big History class 

Liverpool Boys High School Big History teacher Charles Rushworth shares his experience of participating in a NSW Big History teacher cluster meeting at Macquarie University.

One aspect of Big History that makes it stand out is its interdisciplinary approach and focus on collaboration. Big History challenges teachers to teach outside their comfort zone, learning and teaching with students rather than to them. 

This collaboration extends to the design of the course that relies on the feedback and participation of students, teachers, academics, program designers and support staff creating a course that is constantly evolving and adapting. Because of this the content remains relevant and teachers and students become invested partners in the development of the course. While most of this collaboration is conducted via emails, phone calls and online forums, such as Yammer, it also extends to face to face cluster meetings. 

These meetings act as an informal forum for teachers of Big History to discuss how they implement the course in their particular context, talk about some of the successes and challenges faced in their classrooms, and encourage other teachers to consider teaching the course.

Recently at one such meeting at Macquarie University we were lucky enough to be joined by Professor David Christian (Director, Big History Institute) Tracy Sullivan (Education Leader, Big History Institute) and Elle Hrobat (Project Coordinator, Big History Institute) to discuss how we were implementing Big History in our schools and in our classrooms.  They provided us with an insight into some of the decision making that goes into what content is included in the course and why, but most importantly it gave us the opportunity to meet other Big History teachers and brainstorm different ideas related to the course. 

Many ideas were discussed including the possibility of a future Big History Day in partnership with Macquarie University. Students would get the chance to ask questions of academic staff, meet students from other schools and collaborate with each other around the completion of their Little Big History Projects. Students would also have the opportunity to meet with members of the Big History Institute to discuss the course and where studying Big History can lead them. Another idea floated was the creation of a museum exhibit visually representing the thresholds explored in Big History. In keeping with the spirit of collaboration this would include input from teachers, students, academics and various other staff members from the Macquarie University.

The creation of collaborative projects was not the only aspect of the meeting. Attention was also focused on some of the challenges faced by teachers in implementing the Big History Project course.  While these challenges were different for each school some of the common issues faced by teachers included history teachers teaching Science and vice versa, access to technology and navigating the Big History Project website. 

A variety of different solutions were discussed and it was heartening to hear that Professor David Christian had faced similar problems in the past. Getting his insight was invaluable. However the best aspect of the meeting was the passion and enthusiasm exhibited by the teachers and their dedication to teaching Big History and promoting it in schools.

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