Partnership between U-M and Black River Public school gives students a broader perspective on history

For five years, Gregory J. Dykhouse, a teacher at Black River Public School in Holland, Michigan, has been working with LSA History Professor Bob Bain to introduce his students to “big history”—and to evaluate and improve this important curricula for future students.

The Big History Project, the brainchild of Professor David Christian of Macquarie University of Australia, seeks to teach history with a very wide lens, incorporating an array of subjects to uncover the story of the universe from the big bang to the future—all while learning how human understanding of history has also changed. Impressed with the concept, Bill Gates signed on to fund its expansion to high schools. That’s when Christian brought in LSA and School of Education Professor Bob Bain, who teaches history and the history education at U-M and also has 26 years of experience teaching in high schools. Bain was tasked with designing the curriculum, developing electronic resources, and curating materials suitable for high school students, materials that are now available to teachers around the world for free. He also worked to sign on pilot schools to begin teaching and providing feedback on the courses and learning materials.

One of the first teachers to sign on was Dykhouse, who had long been aware of big history and was eager to share it with his students. The partnership between Dykhouse’s ninth-grade class and the Big History Project is now in its fifth year, and Dykhouse says it’s had a profound impact on his students.

“I think this is an essential course to bring to young learners,” says Dykehouse. “U-M also works with the writing samples produced by my students and provides feedback. We learn from one another.”

In addition to teaching the big history course, U-M also lends support to bring Dykhouse’s class to campus each year for what he calls the Annual Big History Extravaganza. This April, Bain joined Dykhouse and his students in touring the Kelsey Museum of Archeology, the Museum of Natural History, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art, where they got to experience big history outside of the classroom.

“As a graduate of U-M myself, I have always looked for opportunities to bring my students to the University,” says Dykhouse. “Not only is this the first time many of them have visited a university or a museum, but they also get to see the Union, visit the Law Quad, meet a professor, and experience a bit of life as a student there. They really enjoy it.”

As a result of their participation in the big history course, students’ writing scores have improved, and they also report deeper engagement with their studies, which extends beyond their ninth grade year, according to Bain.

“This is truly an interdisciplinary approach to teaching,” says Dykehouse. “It is satisfying to help make sense of these fields for young kids.”

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