September 15

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The GOA Big History Blog, Issue #1

GOA is a consortium of independent schools around the world, each pursuing academic excellence in its own way. I marvel daily at the abundance of intellectual resources that comprise GOA. And although our schools and our teachers may not be able to visit each other’s physical campuses, we can (we must!) find ways for them to share their “intellectual campuses,” as it were. GOA is, among other things, a hub. Leveraging our vast network of members, our pilot hybrid Big History program has partnered three schools together into a single, yearlong, 9th grade history course with the hope of creating a student experience grounded in perspective-taking and digital citizenship.

“Hybrid” Big History, as adapted by teachers Beth Calderone (The Blake School), Tim Morford (Columbus Academy), and Ben Watsky (King’s Academy), shares much in common with other World History offerings. Ultimately its focus is on people, places, and ideas; it is decidedly about cause-and-effect (on a massive, 13.8 billion year scale!); and it emphasizes critical reading and writing, as well as research and current events. It differs from other World History offerings in numerous ways: it contextualizes human history within the much vaster history of the earth, bringing theories from disciplines such as physics, biology, and anthropology into a scientific contextualization of human history.

This year, my colleague Susan Fine and I will be blogging, bi-weekly, about the progress and happenings of GOA’s hybrid Big History course. In this first post I’ll share some exciting facts about this pilot program and its participants.

  • There are 52 students and three teachers collaborating in GOA Big History from Minnesota (US), Ohio (US), and Madaba-Manja (Jordan).
  • In the first week, each teacher Skyped into the other two teachers’ classes, giving students a chance to get to know their future online teachers.
  • As one of the first assignments in the course, students shared, within a single online discussion forum, their “News Feed Diets,” pie charts that showed which resources, news outlets, magazines, and websites students use to stay abreast of current events. This led to some spontaneous conversation about the reliability of news sources, as well as some “Wow, you and I are so similar!” and “Wow, you and I are so different!” observations.
  • In the upcoming Unit 2 (The Big Bang), students will interview people in their community about The Big Bang and their perceptions of origin stories, sharing snippets of their interviews within the online community; research, and collaboratively curate resources on six influential cosmologists, demonstrating the critical concept of ‘collective learning’ that is a major theme of Big History; and write, record, and publish short speeches about ‘why people change their minds’.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for some examples of student work!