A High School History Curriculum that Asks Big Questions: The Big History Project

Do you have a high school student bursting with big ideas and curiosity? Are you looking for resources that will address her intellectual interests while also cultivating skills in the areas of critical thinking, analytic reading, academic discourse, and abstract thinking? Consider looking into The Big History Project’s (TBHP) free course. 

Inspired by the work of historian David Christian and supported by Bill Gates, TBHP is an online, year-long high school course presenting over 13.8 billion years of history. Using an interdisciplinary approach drawing from both science and the humanities, “Big History” spans the time from the Big Bang to the present day. Under a (very) wide and extraordinary lens, the evolution of human existence is examined in the context of the wide universe.

TBHP leaves memorization of facts and small details to traditional curriculum, and focuses instead upon exactly the sort of philosophical, fundamental, giant-sized questions young people find most exciting. “What do we come from? What are we a part of? How do events of the past impact the lives we lead now? How will our actions today impact the world 1,000 years from now?”

Abstract concepts aren’t shied away from in this course, but always the subject matter is grounded with well-produced short videos, interviews, graphics and academic readings. TBHP might most remind you of your favorite freshman college course in which you first encountered stunning ideas with a quirky favorite professor. 

TBHP encompasses 10 units which are further divided into individual lessons. The course begins with an overview identifying the goals and purpose of Big History learning. Moving forward, scientific study of the Big Bang and the formation of stars and elements is explored. Students continue on with a look at the Solar System and the beginning and evolution of life on our planet. The impact of agriculture, the expansion of civilization, and globalization’s transformative effect upon civilization is also examined. Finally, students consider how the world will adapt to a future in which increased demands are made of our planet’s limited resources. 

Each unit in TBHP is accompanied by readings, videos, activities, and short assessments. Throughout each unit, deep reading and thoughtful discussion are expected. Students are encouraged to become fluent in technical terms and to use them when making points and addressing ideas. Opportunities to revise then discuss one’s perspectives are provided after learner’s complete specific readings.

This course has been carefully designed and constructed. Except in special circumstances, it should be worked through chronologically and to completion. On the other hand, it would not be difficult to expand lessons for especially motivated learners. Suggestions for expansion projects and activities are provided online and home educators and students are likely to have their own ideas about which concepts warrant further investigation. 

Among the most helpful features of this website is the teacher dashboard which supports The Big History Project Teacher Online Community. Here educators gather for discussions concerning course organization, lesson plans and more. TBHP teacher blogs are also found on the site and are a spectacular source for extra enlightened support.

Big History's goals and objectives are admiral, and its polished, dynamic delivery is commendable. Beyond the immediate goals of this program, is the opportunity for high schoolers to develop critical analytic thinking skills required in the pursuit of any discipline.

Although TBHP was designed with traditional classrooms in mind, it is perfected suited for home-based learning. The course is a dream come true for families looking for affordable, quality curriculum. However, this is not a course for everyone. As noted, both the concepts and the readings are highly challenging and will be too abstract in some cases. However, with some consideration and supplemental readings, a parent could make the course more accessible. Also, this is very much a secular course with many of its teachings focused on evolution-based science. 

If your learner seems like a candidate for Big History learning, get started today. One of the greatest gifts homeschooling affords us is the chance to discuss big ideas with our kids. TBHP will have your child expressing himself in new, wonderful ways that enrich his thinking for many years to come. Enjoy!