What’s the big idea?

This week I participated in a workshop on concept based curriculum and instruction presented by Lynn Erickson.

We discussed the idea that information is useless unless you can do something with it.  We need to help students move to a conceptual level for higher order thinking.  We explored this model of the structure of knowledge, through a variety of examples…

Facts are locked in time, place or situation. A concept is a big organising idea or mental construct, which is timeless and universal. The over reaching generalization (or enduring understanding) is usually in the form of a conceptual relationship. (eg Overcoming challenges requires discipline.)

The key concepts of the PYP (form, function, causation, change, connection, perspective, reflection and responsibility) are considered ‘macro’ concepts, which transfer broadly and and give us breadth, while ‘micro’ concepts (or sub concepts ) support the big ideas and give us depth.

We talked about this in Year 5 on Friday and they got the idea pretty quickly! We looked at pictures of families and I asked for big ideas, which are not locked in time, place or situation (concepts!). They said love, happiness, relationships, disagreement, abuse, caring, protection, arguments, perspective.  I was thrilled!  We can use these big ideas for our study of the biblical text of Jacob and Esau. The students quickly understood why perspective would be the conceptual lens through which we will explore the events in this family story.

'what is da big idea' photo from flickr by otherthings (in my cartoon)

8 thoughts on “What’s the big idea?

  1. Ed, after reading this quote on my blog, Twitter, and again here, you have it running through my mind. I agree, facts are limited by time, place, or situation. It is the larger concepts that we are reaching for. There are some basic skills that have to be mastered before those concepts can be understood but the “facts” are no longer necessary to hold in the memory. It is the concept that is important, the facts can be fleshed out with the tools we have available to us.


  2. One statement in your post really stood out to me: information is useless unless you can do something with it. Memorizing just for the sake of a test just isn’t enough. You have to be able to take the information and make it your own so that you create a new or different was to pass the information on to others. Higher order thinking is so important!


  3. What you have written clarified my understanding of “Backward by Design” concept. Looking at facts such as pictures, artifacts, and paintings really draw children’s interest into further discussion. The topics then give them opportunities to address and follow their own interest once they know what their topics are. Related concepts, in addition to keys concepts, allow them (and us teachers) to cover other subject areas that may have been overlooked with a deep understanding because they own it. Brilliant!! PYP is exciting and time-consuming at the same time. I am constantly discovering new ideas. thanks for sharing your Big Ideas.


  4. Hi Ed: Connected to your blog from Inquire Within and really appreciate your thoughts. We here in Ontario, Canada are transitioning our Canadian and World Studies Curriculum to the inquiry model. A couple of the biggest obstacles we face: 1) Parents and students who still value recall on tests as the penultimate measure of ‘understanding’ and achievement and 2) Teachers who just can’t let go of the coverage model. So many are apprehensive about going deeper for true understanding versus plowing through decades of history and feeling a sense of accomplishment for ‘covering’ the curriculum. Going to browse through your other posts for some ideas. Cheers for sharing!


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