Big on Several Scales: The BOSS Technique for Exploring Skills and Themes in Secondary Social Studies Classrooms
B.O.S.S. is a new teaching technique that can be utilized in most secondary social studies classroom that I have developed while working with College Board’s Pre-AP Social Studies Development Committee. The acronym B.O.S.S. refers to tasks where students evaluate if a concept, essential question or skill is “Big On Several Scales.” My presentation would highlight key barriers to student success in AP and college level social studies work and how the B.O.S.S. technique can be implemented throughout Grades 6-12 social studies classrooms to help overcome these barriers.
Barriers to AP history and social science success: Scales, Skills and Argumentation
Starting in 2014, College Board began researching the key barriers to student success in AP history and social science courses. Among the problems that were cited, we developed the B.O.S.S. (Big On Several Scales) technique to address the following barriers:
- Students had difficulty in applying a concept, phenomena or pattern across multiple scales of human experience.
- Many students were unable to see the relevance of the skills, concepts and essential questions emphasized in class to their daily lives.
- Many teachers struggled with tying the following objectives into their lessons while covering historical content:
- Introducing and practicing important skills
- Connecting content to overarching themes
- Creating opportunities for students to craft arguments supported by evidence.
The B.O.S.S. (Big On Several Scales) Technique
Students in schools that have adopted a Understanding by Design (UbD) approach are oftentimes told that some concepts are “Big Ideas” or that some questions are “Essential”. The students are regularly challenged to evaluate arguments and apply critical thinking, yet these students are rarely afforded the opportunity to evaluate for themselves whether concepts are big or essential.
In B.O.S.S. activities, students are encouraged to examine the curricular keystones and assess whether or not the topic, question or skill transcend time and place. Students who consistently evaluate whether or not something is “Big On Several Scales” (or B.O.S.S.) adapt a habit of consistently examining topics from multiple lenses. Also, students foster a deeper connection with the content by identifying the relevance of the topic on a personal, school, or town scale of experience.
Examples of B.O.S.S. in practice
College Board’s Pre-AP Social Studies Development Committee created an instructional module for middle school history classrooms covering the Articles of Confederation, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Throughout the unit, the lessons were guided by the following “Big” keystones:
- Big Question (or essential question): What is the ideal balance of liberty and order?
- Big Idea: Structures of Government
- Big Skill (or transfer goal): Argumentation
Woven throughout the historical content were opportunities for teachers to facilitate examinations of the above “Big” topics. Students were regularly tasked with evaluating whether the topic was truly B.O.S.S. (Big On Several Scales) enough to merit the “Big” designation.
More detailed examples will be used in the full presentation.