Jennifer Morgan: Books & Programs

Universe Story Trilogy

Cosmology for everyone, this is a story of the universe from the Big Bang to the formation of Earth, in the form of a letter written by the thirteen-billion-year-old universe itself to an Earthling.
The Universe continues with the story of Earth from the beginning of life up to the extinction of dinosaurs.
Covers the story of mammals from 65 million years ago to today, including the human story.

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First International Big History Conference

August 9, 2012

Tags: Big History, IBHA, International Big History Association

First International Big History Conference

Just returned from the first International Big History Association conference in Grand Rapids, MI, where I gave two presentations and moderated a panel. Founded in 2010, IBHA seeks to situate human history inside of cosmic history, inquiring through a multidisciplinary approach into the common themes and patterns that function on large scales across long time frames, basically from the beginning of the universe till the present day.

One of the principle founders, and current president, David Christian (PhD, Oxford University), is a historian who teaches at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Dr. Christian’s book Maps of Time, a 48-lecture course published by the Teaching Company on Big History, and a TED talk, inspired a number of historians to begin teaching courses in Big History. His work focuses on the theme of increasing complexity, identifying threshold levels in the story of the universe thus far.

Dr. Fred Spier of the Netherlands, another co-founder of IBHA, began teaching courses in Big History in the 1990s, and published The Structure of Big History in 1996. In 2002, Eric Chaisson, a Harvard astrophysicist and science educator published Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature, examining the increasing complexity in the flow of energy over the 13.7 billion year history of the universe, with humans building upon a pattern that was already in place long before the rise of humans. These are just a few of the many strands that coalesced into the forming of the IBHA. Others include strands coming out of Russia and China.

Bill Gates was so excited by the approach that he funded David Christian’s Big History Project which is developing curriculum for the high school level. In an article about the conference, Billie Grassie said, "Bob Bain, a professor of education from the University of Michigan and a consultant on the curriculum and assessment, explained why the concept of Big History addresses a number of critical problems in education today. The current courses and curricula can be thought of as a jigsaw puzzle given to students without the box top—and without the image of the whole puzzle on the box top, putting the pieces together is an impossibly frustrating experience. Big History provides the framework for putting the puzzle pieces together. Along the way, students learn lots of facts in context, but also how to use those facts and think critically in evaluating information. As well as scientific and historical knowledge, the Big History curriculum advances reading and writing skills across the disciplines. Students are taught how to evaluate news and views based on evidence, logic, authority, and intuition. Bain described Big History as an on-ramp that deals with all disciplines."

ChronoZoom, an outgrowth of Walter Alvarez’s Big History course at the University of California, Berkeley is an online program that allows users to see history in large scales -- combining cosmic, life and human history -- and then zoom into timeframes and compare events from different parts of the world. Here’s a video of Roland Saekow at UC Berkeley explaining ChronoZoom and how it can be used be teachers and students. (BTW, Walter Alvarez developed the theory that a huge asteroid hit the earth 65 mya and caused the extinction of dinosaurs. I include this theory in my second book.)

The next IBHA conference will be held at Dominican University in San Rafael, CA, where all incoming freshman take a Big History course and situate all of the courses inside of the cosmic story. Of course, those of us who have been teaching the Montessori Cosmic Education Curriculum, which Montessori developed over fifty years ago for the elementary level, have something of the attitude that . . . well . . . “its about time you catch up at the college level.” That said, Big History does bring something new for all levels . . . ways to bring a more highly nuanced interdisciplinary approach to the study of anything, by inquiring into the themes and patterns laid down long before, and which make emergence possible.

For example, I'm giving a program on Agriculture and Cosmic Evolution in the fall and will delve into patterns and themes in the cosmos and on earth long before the rise of agriculture that made it possible for agriculture to emerge. And then look at the future of agriculture based on those themes.

So . . . was FANTASTIC to connect with other researchers and teachers and I HIGHLY recommend this organization for any of you who might be interested. Here's the website:

Here’s a list of references:

Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (2005)
David Christian and William McNeill

Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present (2008),
A new edition is coming this fall.
by Cynthia Stokes Brown

Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos (2007)
By Eric Chaisson and Lola Judith Chaisson

Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature (2002)
By Eric Chaisson

Big History and the Future of Humanity (2011)
By Fred Spier

YouTube - Videos from this email
Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim teaching a course in Religion and Ecology at Princeton University (Fall 2012)

David Christian, founder and president, International Big History Association, at the first IBHA conference held in Grand Rapids, MI, August 2 - 5

On a panel with Montessori educators.

Storytelling at the International Big History conference, Aug. 2 - 5

With Fr. James Profit at the Ignatian Retreat Centre of Guelph, Canada

At the Princeton Center for Teacher Education, Montessori teachers in training act out the story of universe as part of a full day training in Cosmic Education.

With Srs. Anne Harnett and Margaret Rose at Drumalis, Larne (half hour east of Belfast on the Irish Sea), Northern Ireland

With Eli, Teo and Thea at the San Francisco Public Montessori School.

Opening of the BORN WITH A BANG Story Path at Earthrise Farm

BORN WITH A BANG Story Path at Earthrise Farm

Cosmic Story Timeline. Students sequence cards that tell the cosmic story along the mat size spiral timeline. To purchase contact at 866-546-8833.

Student teachers at The Barrie School acting out the story.

Teaching element formation through storytelling at Fraser-Woods Montessori School, Newtown, CT.

Fraser-Woods Montessori School.

With Judi Bauerlein (former president, American Montessori Society) and Iliano, owner of Baklava, a restaurant in Palo Alto where we had lunch. (11/30/10)

Telling the Chazy Reef Story on Isle La Motte, VT

Linda Fitch on piano and Claire Durand on flute for the Chazy Reef Story

Telling the Chazy Reef Story on Isle La Motte, VT

My Mom, also known as Maureen Morgan, in the garden.

With Suzanne Guthrie in the herb garden at Community of the Holy Spirit

Preparing brunch in the farm kichen at the Community of the Holy Spirit

Page from Barbara Morgan's notebook on the need for a cosmology for our time.

At the World Science Festival with Dr. Chad Orzel, author of How To Teach Physics to Your Dog.

With Dr. Andrew Zwicker, Princeton Plasma Physics Lab