You call that a history course? THIS is a history course. (13.7 billion years in 10 lessons)

Just today I stumbled upon Big History Project, an online course geared toward high schoolers that–get this–takes students on a tour of 13.7 billion years of history in ten units. Bill Gates is providing ongoing support for the project, which at this point is accessible only to educators, but is being geared up for free public access in September.

I watched the promo videos and I am so looking forward to watching this.

The way they pull it off and keep the attention of 15 year olds, besides great visuals, is by focusing on 8 “thresholds of increasing complexity,” i.e., 8 “dramatic transitions” where the right ingredients and the right conditions led to new levels of complexity. The lessons, naturally,  will engage science, archaeology, anthropology.

The thresholds are (and pardon the squishy screenshot):

Having a sense of the whole so you can focus on the particulars is, as far as I’m concerned, a great way to teach history to young people. It’s how I approach teaching my puny area of history–about 4,000-2,000 years ago in ancient Palestine, the biblical period–to college students: use key moments as narrative signposts and let the details center on those moment. Seeing the entire history of, well, history presented in terms of the “big moments” in bite-sized chunks is exciting.

The time scales, of course, are unfathomable. Talk about giving you perspective on your own life….as well as your faith in God. Personally, I find all this pretty exciting to think about.


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  • DonaldByronJohnson

    The site does not allow non-teachers to see the videos yet. But the site’s’ facebook page has some. is a 2 minute video on the Big Bang. I liked how they discussed how we do not know much.

  • DonaldByronJohnson
  • For many people, this isn’t exciting but deeply menacing.

    First, the Bible is wrong.

    Second, if the universe is so vast and so old, atheism is probably true.

    For folks having grown up in a fundamentalist church, these are quite natural conclusions, alas…

    I don’t know what could be do to push such pastors to be less dogmatic in their beliefs, for most clever young people among their sheep are going to give up Christianity altogether, sooner or later.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    • Mary

      Or they can redefine it, There is a move towards ecletic spirituality.

  • ctrace

    Teaching the ‘big bang’ like it was the French Revolution…

    • Mary

      Haven’t you heard of the cosmic background radiation? And the Big Bang does not preclude a divine source.

  • W. Scott Womer

    I’ve studied cosmology and evolutionary biology and both are Atheistic assertions without evidence. How could you be so foolish as to promote these ideas without doing you’re own research. Let Bill Gates teach the kids. Is the word “creation” even used in the teaching material for Adam and Eve? You know Christ mentions Adam and Eve, but an for intelligent Christians like yourself it’s better to follow Bill Gates. (I read your theology book years ago).

    • Sven2547

      I’ve studied cosmology and evolutionary biology and both are Atheistic assertions without evidence.

      I fail to understand how you could study these things and then deny that there is evidence. What in particular did you study? For cosmology, I suggest starting with physics and spectrographic analysis. For evolutionary biology, I suggest genetics, geology (concentrating on paleontology), and radiology.

      Of course, that’s just the basics. A large number of scientific disciplines all interconnect and can be used to better-understand things in other fields.

      • W. Scott Womer

        Yes, all of the scientific fields interconnect; the more the merrier. I’ve found all I need from this website.

        • Sven2547

          I’ve found all I need from this website.

          You mean Patheos? No wonder you’re a creationist. Try a science resource instead of a religion one…

    • Andrew Dowling

      Fascinating I never knew Bill Gates was an evolutionary biologist as well as one of the pioneers of computer software . . .what a renaissance man!

      • W. Scott Womer

        I see, so it’s only the expert biological evolutionists who know the truth; like the 98% similarity between chimp and man and the evolutionary remnant explanation for junk DNA. The biologists made those assertions solely from their evolutionary bias and the evidence has shown both assertions to be wrong. Check out the recent findings for the chimp’s Y-chromosome and the role that junk DNA in epigenetics.
        Bill Gates is pro- evolution so your comment about him is a non sequitur.

        • Andrew Dowling

          And your comment shows that your lack of knowledge about science is almost matched by your lack of a sense of humor.
          Have fun over in tin-foil hat land

    • Aceofspades25

      So you read a book by Ken Ham and now you’re an expert?

      In my mind that doesn’t qualify as having studied something.

      • W. Scott Womer

        So you read a book by Alan Guth and all the anomalies of the big bang are corrected. Magic. Or maybe you like Princeton’s John Wheeler-wagon who thinks someone’s observation brought our Universe into existence. True empirical science.
        I was reading about open theology and Peter Enns name was mentioned, so I came to this sight to see how bad it is. The smart ones are progressive and believe in evolution, but it’s a waste of time to argue with them, since evolution has always been such a useless idea.

        • Aceofspades25

          The difference between Alan Guth and Ken Ham is that Guth is a scientist.

          Either way, you’re the one claiming to know better that virtually every physicist, geneticist and geologist so what are your credentials and why should we trust you?

          • Mary

            He “graduated” from the Ken Ham school of “science” where you too can find out that Harry Potter’s world is real, i.e. fire-breathing dragons!

    • Mary

      So since you are so educated then you know the world is a flat circle with ocean surrounding it and the sun, moon and stars are suspended in a solid dome. The earth is supported on four pillars. Heaven is right above the dome and hell is beneath our feet. I am sure you have studied the bible to confirm this. I am also sure that you have studied the maps of the Ancient Near Eastern Cultures that provide further proof that this is so. I am sure that you also know that this is exactly what the Christian Church taught until a few centuries ago when those upstart “atheist” scientists started to say something different. I supposed it was too bad that the Church did not destroy their delusions. I am sure we all would have been better off if it had.

      Of course I am being sarcastic. Because if you say that bible cosmology is true then congratulations, you are a Flat-Earther. They have their own little club based in Lancaster, CA. The Flat Earth Society had a huge membership a few centuries ago. Not so much now.

  • James

    Fascinating that the geometric calculations of Copernicus in the 16th century suggesting a heliocentric universe were not fully supported even by post-Neutonian physics until Foucault’s pendulum (proving the earth’s rotation) and Bessel’s annual stellar parallax (proving the earth’s yearly revolution around the sun). Both were discoveries of mid 19th century. These pioneers (including Galileo and Kepler) were able to change the very nature of science and eventually won universal acceptance even in the faith community. Read God’s Universe by astronomer Owen Gingerich.
    Which makes me wonder if the elegant mathematical equations pointing to the possibility a ‘multiverse’ will be backed by physics any time soon. No matter, I’ve chosen to accept a theistic explanation of human origins so such other-worldly speculations may simply point to a Creator God who is very creative indeed–he seems to enjoy making things new. Personal application is here somewhere.

  • arty

    All this ultimately goes back to David Christian. If you read his book, you’ll discover that he has no compelling framework for assigning meaning to the series of events he details, or any series of events, for that matter. That means, in practice, that Christian’s history is an assemblage of facts, that can’t be evaluated as better or worse than any other assemblage of facts. That doesn’t mean that “Big History” is a good idea or a bad idea, it just means that it can’t justify itself in the sense that “attention must be paid.”