School Practice II - Italian Model

Big History as a Framework

The information in this part is taken from the article „Towards a Big History Model for Italien Schools: The Convergence of Knowledge from Many Disciplines“ in the Journal of Big History Volume III Number 1.

In Italy, the study of Big History begins with a questionnaire designed to reveal the spontaneous ideas that students have acquired about the universe. After all, these are not only from previous schooling, but also come from the students' social networks, media and family environment.

The Institute for Teacher Training OPPI (Organizzazione per la Preparazione Professionale degli Insegnanti) in Milan regards Big History as an important resource for teaching that incorporates the technological innovations that shape the world view of today's students.

The questionnaire developed for this purpose is based on Gardner's idea that people use a mixture of different types of intelligence. Students can become creative in a very personal way, as the examples in the journal articles linked above show, because it is up to them whether they write, draw or find pictures to express their ideas.

Subsequently, the students develop a concept map based on their questionnaire. For this and the difference to mind maps see

The Italian model is a project that runs over two school years and involves a total of 80 lessons. The students are 16-17 years old.

First year:

According to the interests shown in the questionnaire and concept map, students are divided into five groups in the first phase, and each group is assigned a subset of Big History: Origin of the Universe, Origin of the Solar System, Life, People, The Modern Age.

The project involves teachers of all subjects. Experienced tutors for Big History familiarize teachers with Big History at the beginning of the project and emphasize that in the school curriculum this content is presented separately to students at different times and with different goals. However, the content can be linked together to provide a unified presentation of the history of the universe and human beings within it. The tutors then discuss with the teachers what contribution each subject can make to this unified presentation. Even teachers who teach language and literature can be involved in this project, as described in the article:  Big History through the lens of big literature by identifying concepts from each of the nine thresholds of big history and then selecting and using works of literature, including plays, poems, short stories, essays and novels, to illustrate and test these concepts. see:

In two hours per week, the groups work on their respective topic with the help of various resources, accompanied by a subject teacher. Among other things, they use the materials of the Big History project discussed earlier. The tutor supports both teachers and students via an e-learning platform, comments on the notes submitted by the working groups on a weekly basis, and encourages the bringing together of disciplines to link events in the history of the universe that are normally treated separately.

In a second phase, the students are regrouped so that in each new group there is one student from each of the five starting groups, so that each group has access to the total knowledge acquired. The goal of the second phase is to have a product at the end that illustrates the presentation of the universe worked out before. The medium is chosen by the students themselves: a documentary film, a video clip, an e-book, comic, murals, computer applications, even a song, essay or concept map.

Second year:

Now a geographical area is being looked at through the lens of Big History. The Little Big History approach is used for this. The Earth sciences form the core of the work with Big History, since the biological and cultural development of mankind is closely related to the geological development of an area. The article quotes Durant, 1946 „Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.“

Each group is given the task of investigating a specific period of time in the history of the selected area, with the geological evolution of the area over time and in space serving as the common denominator and linking the work of the groups. The result of the second year is to create a conceptual model of the complex spatial and temporal network of relationships in the area under study. To do this, the groups must work together. In this way, the abstract threshold moments become more comprehensible. The students get a different view of the area, in which geological, biological and cultural aspects are closely connected. (In the pilot project for the Ossola Valley, a smartphone app was created).

The advantage of the Italian approach is that there is no need to change the curriculum, only 80 hours spread over two years for 16-17 year old students are required. (Perhaps the hours allocated for bilingual modules in the curriculum could be used here?)

However, an experienced Big History Tutor is absolutely necessary to accompany the teachers and students in this project and to ensure that all subjects of the curriculum are brought together towards a common goal in this interdisciplinary project. This will ensure that Big History can fulfill its function as a framework as described above.

The project ends with the students reflecting on the questionnaires and concept maps they did at the beginning to see what they have learned during the project.

Video done by students

App Val d'Ossola