Activity Introduction

Quick summary: Students explore how symbols allowed early humans to store and communicate important knowledge, and to grow through collective learning. Students create their own symbol based written language and use it to share ideas. 

Subjects: Science, English, HASS

Year Level: Primary

Topics: The Big Bang, History

Teaching Time: 60 mins.

Unit: This is Lesson 10 of the Big History – Primary unit.

For more information on how to teach this unit and develop a transdisciplinary approach to your teaching, check out our Big History PD.

This Big History Program for primary school students is based on the Big History Project as adapted by Marilyn Ahearn and Marisa Colonna. Click here to view these lessons in their far more expansive original format.

Resources Required:

You may decide on different entrances to this story in your classroom. That is perfectly reasonable – as long as we tell the whole emerging story of our universe, as we know it! Think of the story as a chapter book where children need to hear the whole story to make sense of it – if we hear fragments from various chapters we are left with fragments once more!

Therefore, we strongly recommend you teach this unit as a whole from start to finish. You can find all of the Presentation Slides, Teacher Worksheets, Student Worksheets, and other required resources for download in this folder.

Alternatively, the resources for this lesson as a standalone are:

21st-Century Skills:

CommunicatingCreative ThinkingCritical ThinkingDigital LiteracyGlobal Citizenship  

Level of teacher scaffolding: High – Facilitate explicit teaching and guide students through independent work. 

Australian Curriculum Mapping

“It is one of the many odd features of modern society, that despite having access to more information than any earlier society, those in modern educational systems … teach about (our) origins in disconnected fragments. We seem incapable of offering a unified account of how things came to be, the way they are.” – David Christian, 2011, Maps of time: an introduction to big history

We encourage you to teach Big History both through and in-between disciplines (transdisciplinary)

The story of our universe needs the expertise of academic disciplines to be made sense of and explained in full. The best evidence from a wide range of disciplines presents the current best answers to our big questions.

As primary educators, this provides us in turn with the opportunity to engage with this story from a particular perspective that your grade and/or school currently requires. This means that it is not seen as an add-on/extracurricular activity that our overloaded timetables cannot cope with. English, Science, & Creative Arts syllabuses easily incorporate Big History, alongside the skills and concepts from History and Geography. Maths, too, can be incorporated in the discovery of large numbers and measuring the large scales of time and space!

Syllabus outcomes: EN2-1A, EN2-2A, EN2-4A, EN2-6B, EN2-7B, EN2-8B, EN2-10C, EN2-11D, EN2-12E, ST2-4LW-S, ST2-9PW-ST, ST2-1WS-S,ST2-SPW-ST, HT2-5, GE2-1, GES2-2, GE2-4, VAS2-1,VAS2.4

General capabilities: Literacy, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Capability, Critical and Creative Thinking.

Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability.

Big History embraces a curriculum that emphasises nature, economics, society and our own wellbeing to empower children to see our world view from the context of a unified universe story, not merely from within our local cultural worldview! 

Learning our emerging and unified 13.82 billion years of Big History helps us to understand the changing nature and fragility of our complex environment. We can use that knowledge of the past, present and future to investigate future possibilities for sustainable ways to meet our own needs and the needs of future generations.

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum.


Teacher Worksheet

Lesson 10: Human development: Collective Learning

Learning intentions: Students will...

  • … understand the concept of collective learning.

Success criteria: Students can…

  • … investigate how symbolic language makes humans different from other species on earth.

Teacher Content Information:

Early humans. Humans are unusual. We walk upright and build cities. We travel from continent to continent in hours. We communicate across the globe in an instant. We alone can build bombs and invent medicines. Why can we do all these things that other creatures can't? What makes us so different from other species? 

Investigating how early humans evolved and lived helps us answer these questions. Most people give our big brains all the credit, but that's only part of the story. To more fully understand our success as a species, we need to look closely at our ancestors and the world they lived in.

Students will explore how foraging humans prospered and formed communities. They'll uncover

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Student Worksheet

Student Worksheet - Lesson 10

Thought Starter: What makes humans different from other species? What can we do that other species can’t?

Step 1. Independently, write any important facts you learnt from watching the video. You have two minutes.

Step 2. Work with one other student. Share the fact/s you wrote above. Your partner copies any facts they didn't record. Then swap: copy any new fact your partner wrote. You have two minutes.


Step 3. Discuss the video with your partner. Write any other important fact/s you and your partner remember from the videos but have not written down. You have two minutes.

Step 4. Join with another pair of students. Share the fact/s your group has collected. Copy or add any new fact/s you have learnt. You have 5 minutes.

Step 5. Choose 1 person from your group to present all your facts to the class. Your teacher will collate and display all the facts your class has collected.

Write a graffiti board of keywords from y

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