Central District takes long view of history

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The curriculum is designed to fit within New York state’s existing social studies and science curricula. Big History lessons are additions to the regular course of study.

Andrew Cook, the director of a think tank and venture capital firm called bgC3, an offshoot of Microsoft that is overseeing Big History for Gates, visited the Central District’s high schools on Oct. 4 to see how students are responding to the new curriculum. Big History “is a story everyone should know, whether or not you believe in the Big Bang,” said Cook, a former Outward Bound instructor and project manager for Microsoft. “It’s a social studies course, but it weaves together an understanding of biology, chemistry, physics and social studies.”

In Diana Cook’s social studies class at Calhoun last Thursday, students looked at how philosophers, religious leaders and scientists have viewed Earth’s place in the universe through the ages. They began with Aristotle, who placed Earth at the center of the universe, and moved to Copernicus and Galileo, who challenged the Earth-centric — or geocentric — view of the solar system and the universe, asserting that the Earth revolved around the sun.

“The kids are responding really well” to Big History, said Cook, who is in her fourth year at Calhoun. “The kids look forward to the material. It’s been a good experience so far.”

In their science class, students measured angles of the Earth as it rotates to determine the time of day.

Afterward, Andrew Cook chatted with them about the Big History program. He wanted to know what they liked about it.

“It’s fun,” said one.

“You get to watch videos,” piped in another.

“It’s different,” said another.

The website created by Gates and the Big History team of curriculum designers provides timelines, videos and articles to supplement materials that students use in class.

Kiernan said that, although students are having fun with Big History, it’s work. The class, he noted, is an adaptation of a college-level online course. The students “are doing very challenging work,” Kiernan said. “This is not easy reading material.”

Not all of the Big History materials are available online yet, but they will be in the future, when the curriculum is finalized, according to Gates.

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