The Big History Conference (and the future of education?)

Educational leaders need to do better in ensuring a more cohesive educational experience for students in our schools. We must ameliorate the current, balkanised, approach to how curriculum is delivered in high schools with new, cleverly designed, models of learning.

That’s why I’ve been at the Big History conference at Macquarie University for the last two days. The wonderfully uplifting story of how an academic, with an innovative approach to learning and teaching, is supported by a billionaire to create a free, well-resourced course (that will be perpetually funded) allows one to feel positive about the possibility of what can happen, if the (Goldilocks-like) conditions, are right.

I had hoped to hear about approaches that were collaborative and cross-curricula, idealistic yet practically likely to work in a secondary school. A unified and interdisciplinary approach to learning is desperately needed in schools. Big History is one approach that is understandably lighting fires with many educators and I want to feel that, increasingly, students will have an extraordinary opportunity to have a new experience of school, one that is more co-ordinated, more real, more understandable, less fractured, less managerial, more relevant.

I am far from certain, now the conference has concluded, that that is a vision shared by most of the delegates, or rather, it is a few bridges too far at this stage for our schools.

It seems that Big History is being taught as a history or philosophy elective in Year 10 and some Science teachers will incorporate the approach, collaborating with the History faculty but there was no indication, from trial schools, that the curriculum is being re-designed, to include a wider, collaborative approach. The reason is obvious. It is really difficult to do this practically in schools with our current mindset.

Looking around, while waiting for the opening, highly intellectually stimulating keynote from David Christian, it was evident that there was a balanced representation of delegates across the generations. I am sure that everyone present has been intellectually and professionally stimulated by the ideas that Professor Christian espouses so engagingly. I imagined most are history or science teachers but hoped there were a smattering of administrators, at all levels of our edu-systems, who can lead a more cohesive educational experience for our students. I ask all to consider the following.

Imagine a student walking into a program of learning for their, day, week, term and year that was carefully constructed, collaboratively, by all the educators charged with designing a positive, progressive educational experience for the students ‘on their timetable’ .

This is what I believe we should start to dream up for our students. Currently, students are taught by teachers who are unlikely to have any idea about what is taking place in the other classrooms kids are entering or knowledge of what they are studying. School has been like this for a long time, in fact, forever. This needs to change. We need to sit together and plan a better experience for the kids.

Can we do it?

I’d love for any delegates or enthusiasts for a more inter-disciplinary, cross-curricula, collaborative approach at schools to post a comment about how they think it could be practically realised. What can you see? How could we re-design the experience of school with the Big History, interdisciplinary approach, in mind? How could the Australian Curriculum be delivered innovatively to break down our silos?

This is the hashtag #BigHistory if you are on twitter. Here’s an earlier blog post about Big History with lots of links to resources and an entertaining animation that you should enjoy follows.

A BIG thanks to the Big History Institute and all the presenters for a such a stimulating conference!

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The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Darcy,
    Here are some thoughts on implementing Big History in a school.. this is an excerpt from my blogpost on the Big History conference.
    http://eduruminate.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/big-history-and-the-future-of-education-conference-2013/

    How should Big History be implemented? At this stage I will only be able to talk in ideals.

    Ideally, I think Big History needs to be introduced as a core subject/course. In Australia it covers a significant amount of the Australian Curriculum (in Science, History and Geography) and it would pain me if this was taught twice within the school. As this is an integrated course, I think it should be taught collaboratively in a team teaching situation with specialist teachers from both Science and History. The best cases of implementation on display at the conference were from schools that took a collaborative teaching approach. If we are going to break down the artificial walls that separate and compartmentalise learning into separate subjects why not take out some of the physical barriers too. Ideally I would run this course in year 9, the outcomes currently addressed link to Stage 5 in NSW, Australia. As a solution to timetabling issues I see two classes and two teachers occupying the same (large) space.

    Taking big chunks of curriculum from subjects will mean a need for reprogramming of what is left, and maybe an opportunity for some other integrated courses to be developed in the process.

    • Darcy Moore:

      Thanks Jonathan. Good thoughts. It seems to me that our focus, in Education Australia, is sadly lacking in this area of actual curriculum delivery. We really need a conference – or even better – a roundtable that brings together people who really want to integrate but need assistance to dream up a practical methodology for a busy high school.

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