Is this the future of high school history?

From wire service reports
December 5th, 2013

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is backing a new cross-curricular course, ‘Big History Project,’ that uses video to survey history

BillGates-historyThe future of high school history classes might look a lot like a class being taught right now at Northville High School in Michigan, at least if Bill Gates has his way.

The Microsoft co-founder is the leading backer of a course called the Big History Project that is being developed by education experts, including a professor from the University of Michigan. The course is being tested in a growing number of school districts across the nation, including in 14 Michigan schools.

The course is breaking ground by wrapping a number of academic subjects—especially science—around a history class that intends to survey the entirety of history, all while using technology to keep the course free.

At first glance, the class meeting in a Northville High School classroom doesn’t seem much different from any of the dozens of classrooms in the building. History teacher Joseph Cislo has his ninth-grade students read a handout, underlining the key points in it. He then walks them through the handout.

(Next page: How does the history class work?)

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2 Responses to “Is this the future of high school history?”

The Big History Project website claims that the course takes approximately 6-8 hours to complete the core material and quizzes. In a classroom with limited time and resources, this is a significant investment of time. In addition, it would be hard for me to facilitate a discussion and answer questions related to many of the scientific ideas in the course as a prospective social studies teacher. The course itself contains the ability to comment on the lessons, but as a whole it lacks any true feeling of the communal learning process that takes place in a classroom that emphasizes discussions. I see it having more use as an appendix to a well-rounded history course than as a stand-alone learning experience. Its focus is simply too broad at this stage in order to use it effectively in a Core curriculum. The Big History Project is a fine tool for independent learning but it is not a product that I could successfully implement within my own classroom at this time.