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Is this the future of high school history?

That’s when things turn a little different. Instead of lecturing, Cislo clicks on his web browser, pulling up a website that’s projected in front of the class. A couple of clicks later, and the students are watching a video featuring David Christian, an Australian university professor, sitting in a chair in front of a large window, talking about the conditions necessary for life to start on Earth.

Christian walks through three conditions necessary for life to be formed, a lecture that would be just as home in a science class as in a history class.

All the materials for the class, including the videos, are available online at

The courses focuses on eight key turning points in history, which it labels as thresholds. The thresholds are the Big Bang, Stars Light Up, New Chemical Elements, Earth and the Solar System, Life on Earth, Collective Learning, Agriculture, and the Modern Revolution.

The approach was put together by Christian. Gates watched a video of the class and decided to fund the development of it with his own money. Together, they got Bob Bain, a University of Michigan School of Education professor, involved to design the curriculum.

That curriculum now resides online, including lectures, none more than nine minutes long.

“This does what a good history course should have always been doing,” Bain said. “It presents the opportunity to use the other [academic] disciplines. It’s an on-ramp for students to learning in every subject.”

He added: “It’s hard for students to see how classes in school connect—how what you learned in ninth-grade history ties to what you are learning in chemistry in 12th grade. This can serve as a road map.”

That’s what Cislo likes about the class.

“These ninth-graders really go get to see how the rest of their high school career will fit together,” he said. “They get to start thinking about: How does science impact history? How does religion impact history? It helps them put things together.”

The goal of Gates, Christian, and Bain is to develop and expand the class across the nation. They are working to align it to Common Core curriculum standards.

They are in their third year of pilot classes and have gained schools each year. They now have 137 schools and more than 10,000 students in eight countries taking the class.

They see the history curriculum—which is available free of charge online—as a good option for financially strapped school districts.

They’ve also developed a series of shows running on the History Channel. The shows, narrated by “Breaking Bad” star Brian Cranston, outline the class.

(c) 2013, the Detroit Free Press. Visit the Detroit Free Press online at Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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  1. Pingback: History-SS | A Listly List

  2. pfpflynn

    December 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    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.