This article appears in the Issue 2, 2018 of School News Magazine, out now.
AUTHOR and historian David Christian has a “utopian” vision for education.
From an early age, when students are learning their ABCs and 123s he believes they should also be taught what he calls humanity’s “Origin Story”.
The Origin Story starts at the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago and tells the “history of everything”, weaving a fascinating tale of star formations to the creation of planets, the dinosaur wipe out and the evolution of man from monkey.
The story would be taught differently to all age groups – basic for the young and increasingly detailed as it is retold in the senior years to blend with sciences and maths.
“Five hundred years ago, elders would have told you your origin story and kids would have understood their place in the cosmos,” explains David.
“But the modern secular education does not do that and students leave school without any understanding of their place in the cosmos.
“There actually is an Origin Story that’s global needs to be taught to everyone and every student.”
David is the co-founder, along with Bill Gates, of the Big History Project, a free online education resource which was created to be taught in the senior years of high school.
It was developed in Australia and has been taken up all over the world, with more than 1000 teachers using the “pioneering” resource.
The Big History Project provides teaching materials to educate senior students on the universe and mankind, not exclusively as science or maths but in a historical narrative which gives context to life.
This “history of everything” also gives context to core maths and science subjects which students often have difficulty making sense of as stand-alone subjects.
However the Big History Project is not part of the Australian curriculum so it is only taught by high school teachers or schools that have chosen to sign up for the resources.
David says it is a “mistake” to view the Big History Project as an “optional extra”. In fact he is so certain of its importance in preparing students for an uncertain future that the team is now expanding the program to include all grades.
“Not knowing our Origin Story is not knowing who you are and how you fit in the universe.”
Expanding the Big History Project to all ages
In 1989, David began teaching what he labelled “Big History” to university students. This over-arching subject was the basis from which he then launched the Big History Project in xxx with Bill Gates as a teaching resource for students aged 15 to 16.
In July this year the Big History team, which is based at Macquarie University’s Big History Institute?? will launch the next phase of the project – Big History School.
Big History School is a reimagining and recreation of the “history of everything” and is being developed as a teaching resource for Kindergarten right through to Grade 12.
It will be a comprehensive K-12 resource, tailored to the ages and stages of students and comprising three offerings – Big History School Junior, Big History School Core, and Big History School Senior.
Big History School Junior is targeted at Grade 3 and 4 and will introduce key concepts, with 20 to 40 hours’ teaching. It has been trialled in primary schools in Sydney, Putney Public and West Auburn Public.
Big History School Core is targeted at Grades 7 to 9 and will be offered in both 200 hour and 100 hour course versions, teaching across the disciplines and preparing students for high school.
Big History School Senior is for Grades 10 to 12 and will be a 30 to 60 hour course preparing students for university.
The courses will be tailored to the Australian context so that students can identify and feel ownership of the story.
David says he would like to see Big History School incorporated in the Australian school Curriculum, describing an “urgency” about ensuring today’s children have a deep understanding of their place in the universe.
“We live at a turning point in the history of Planet Earth. For the first time in four billion years, once single species has so much power that will shape the future of the biosphere??,” he says.
“It is important that the people who will be running Planet Earth in 20 years understand the history of Planet Earth and the place of Humans in the History of Planet Earth.”
Big History School would not replace but complement and thread seamlessly through traditional subjects, overlapping a number of disciplines and providing all-important context to subjects that are often traditionally taught in isolation.
Davis sees the learnings of the Big History School as an antidote to the problem of the declining interest and ability in STEM subjects because it could inspire a desire to learn more and assist struggling students to “make sense of things”.
“A lot of students struggle with education because they find it hard to see the links between the different areas,” says David.
“The Big History Project is the ‘missing link’.
“It will not displace existing subjects but if students encounter the story they will form an attitude towards education in general.
“They will see maths as not just maths but part of something larger.”
Origin Story – the book
Humanity’s Origin Story is now the subject of David Christian’s recently released book of the same name.
Origin Story is a narrative on the “epic story” of the universe and humankind’s place in it.
The book is aimed at the general public with the same desire to inspire interest in the story of humanity.
A quote from Microsoft founder and Big History Project cofounder Bill Gates is being used to promote the book.
Bill gates says he has “long been a fan of David Christian”.
“In Origin Story he elegantly weaves evidence and insights from many scientific and historical disciplines into a single, accessible historical narrative.”
David hopes teachers will also be drawn to the book and motivated to teach the Big History Schools to students.
“I would love to think teachers would get into Big Histories through this book,” he says.
Origin Story: A Big History of Everything is published by Penguin Random House Australia.
For more information on Big History School visit https://www.mq.edu.au/bighistory
To sign up to the Big History Project (ages 15 and 16) visit https://school.bighistoryproject.com/bhplive