Session 7 – Disciplines | Big History Project | Big History Project
Session 7 – Disciplines | Big History Project | Big History Project


My name is Kim Lochner. I teach Big History in the state of Queenland, Australia. My classroom represents a diverse group of learners – I’ve got Year 9 and Year 10 students (that is 14 and 15-year olds) in the same classroom. Over time I’ve learned that my lessons go better when I provide scaffolds and extensions in the activities, ensuring that it will work for all of my students.One of the essential thinking practices of BHP is integrating multiple disciplines, often often referred to as interdisciplinarity. I don’t like to use eight-syllable words before lunch, so sometimes I’ll just talk with my students about how the disciplines work together. There are over 14 disciplines introduced in BHP. You’ll find most of them in the Ways of Knowing lessons. You might be wondering, why are there so many disciplines in a history course? History is a discipline, so why not just keep it o historians? Well, the job of historians is to ask questions, but to answer those questions they don’t just look to other historians. They draw on the insights of a range of other disciplines to help them construct accounts of what happened in the past. Anthropologists, archaeologists, physicists, and cosmologists, just to name a few, all contribute to our understanding of history. I like to ask my students – have you ever heard the phrase, “Two heads are better than one?” Well, I think that two disciplines are better than one, and that three are better than two, and…you get the picture. So, there’s a great activity that shows up a half dozen times throughout the course called What Do You Know, What Do You Ask. When students first get to it, in Lesson 2.2, they’ve already done the Who Knows What activity two lessons earlier, so they have an idea of what disciplines are and the different views they might take. Now they’re ready to learn how different perspectives can help them think about and solve problems. It can also help them more thoroughly answer questions about history. What Do You Know, What Do You Ask helps show that when we say two, or three, or more heads are better than one, we’re talking about very different heads with different knowledge and perspectives. My students represent a wide range of ages and skill levels. I’ve found that with a few fun tweaks – which I’ll describe. in a moment—even my most hesitant students get excited about this activity. If you have a different approach, please tell me about it on Yammer. Again, more heads! The What Do You Know, What Do You Ask activity presents students with a problem and asks them to put together the BEST team to solve that problem. The first time I use this activity in the course, I try to support the students by providing them with cards that have information about each of the disciplines. These cards come from the disciplinary chart that students are introduced to in the activity Who Knows What. The chart can be overwhelming at first, so, the cards break it down, making it easier to digest. The cards help students understand a few things about each discipline. They find out what the experts in these fields do, what kinds of questions they ask, what evidence they use, and so on. It’s hard to build a balanced team if you don’t understand what each member of the team does! The first scenario I use with students is about a mission to Mars. I try to kick the activity off with a little drama. Sometimes I play the “Mission Impossible” music before presenting the activity. I tell the students, “You’re putting together a team of people for a mission to Mars. The team’s goal is to discover if and how Mars could be by humans one day. However, the spacecraft can only carry 3 people. Your job is to pick three experts whose combined knowledge will answer the question: Could people someday live on Mars? Sometimes, to add a little more drama, rather than explaining the activity myself, I ask the principal to stop by and “brief” the students about the mission. This activity seems really simple at first, but there are a lot of pieces to it. I have to make sure students don’t drown in the details. That’s why I really try to play up the excitement and engage them in the process. More engagement means less nervousness. As part of this activity, students have to think about the disciplines, what they do, what they ask, and how they might contribute to the mission. Then they have to decide which 3 people are the BEST for this mission. There are a lot of layers to work through here. After giving them their mission, I put students into groups of 3 and I hand out the disciplines cards. Since it’s early in the course, I only give them some of the disciplines, not all 14. Like I said, I don’t want to overwhelm them. In groups, they use the cards to decide who will be on their team, and then work together to fill out the first part of the worksheet. Then, they brainstorm the most important questions they would ask while on the mission. A whole-class discussion really helps with this part. Finally, students justify why their team is the best one. If there’s enough time, I have students present their teams and why they think theirs is the best! It gets competitive sometimes, but it’s always in good fun. The What Do You Know part of the activity isn’t too difficult for most students. However, the What Do You Ask part can be tough. If students get stuck, I break down the process with questions like “What do humans need to live?” Students often provide great answer such as oxygen, food, water, and sunshine. Then, I ask them, “Who are the experts on this stuff?” As a group, we might look through the discipline cards together to determine the answers to this. This activity repeats over and over again, and is meant to get more complicated with each unit. As my students get better at dealing with complications, I back off on my level of support and watch their success. For my older students, by the second or third activity, I can get them brainstorming ideas for scenarios as a class. And by the final activity, I have them researching disciplines that are outside the course, adding more disciplines to their chart. Sometimes I even make the teams bigger than three people. For my Year 9 students, I usually need to provide the scenarios, but over time they needed less and less help with the process. Their trajectory looked a little different from the Year 10 students, but the leap in engagement and skill development was just as big.So – there you have it. An activity that gets students considering the strengths of different disciplines, and how many heads is better than one. Also, I have to say – it’s fun learning alongside my students. I used to break into a cold sweat at any mention of “physics” and “astronomy,” but teaching Big History has helped me expand my own worldview and has shown me the value all disciplines bring to history.

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