Some ‘big ideas’ about concept driven learning:
(From this week’s little #pypchat on Twitter)
- The world is changing. Knowledge is changing. The ability to view the world with a more flexible mind is invaluable. (Steve)
- Concept based learning is about big transferable ideas that transcend time, place, situation. (Ed)
- Content just focuses on facts while concept focuses on making sense of those facts and the world around us (Christianne)
- Content based teaching may not get beyond information transmission/superficial learning (Gillian)
- Concepts are a way to organize and make sense of learning. Connect disciplinary knowledge. (Miranda)
- We can’t possibly teach everything that is important, but we can teach the big ideas. (Alexandra)
- Concept based learning is a framework to study everything. So much information. Content can change, concepts stay the same. (Mega)
- Information is useless unless you can do something with it. (Lynne Erickson)
Since I no longer have my own class, I relish opportunities to get into classrooms. This week I’m team teaching in Year 5 with Rubi… and team learning. We bounce ideas before class, observe and listen to the kids and change the plan as the learning unfolds. The ‘topic’ is energy, but it’s inquiry learning and it’s concept driven.
The first provocation is a video showing the effects of an electricity blackout. The students’ questions are quite specific to the incident, and we realize we need to change the plan already. We ask the kids to revisit their questions and ‘grow’ them, this time considering big ideas, transferable through time and place. It only takes one example from a different context to get the idea and they are away! This round of questions is about electricity and alternative power sources, not just the blackout they saw.
Rubi introduces a second provocation to further develop their thinking. She puts on music and asks the kids to dance and jump around. There is lots of noise and energetic movement, kids remove their sweaters as they warm up and a good time is had by all (except the class next door.) We ask the kids to discuss in groups how this activity connects to the first provocation and then come up with further questions. This round of questions is about different forms of energy, where they come from and how they are used.
With each question on an individual sticky note, the groups sort the questions in any way they like. Before they start I ask them what they see as the purpose this activity. Mia says it will make them read everyone’s questions and think about them. Liam says it will help them organize their thoughts. Amanda says it will help them check their understanding. Josh says they will have to justify their thinking.
Some groups sort the questions by topic, others by big ideas. One sorts them according to the PYP key concepts. Some groups sort and re-sort in different ways. Some sort them into deep and shallow questions, open and closed questions. I’ve seen Rubi encourage this this kind of thinking by having kids analyse questions through the question quadrant. They use the language: ‘That’s a closed question,’ ‘You could just google that,’ ‘ That’s too narrow, how do we make it a bigger idea’? ‘That’s just about facts, it’s not deep enough.’ We gather the questions, type the whole lot and cut them up, ready for sorting the next day.
To sum up the lesson, we ask students to give it a title. I ask what a title does and they tell me ‘It sums up what’s important,’ ‘It tells you the main idea’, ‘It tells you what it’s all about’. ‘It makes you want to know more’. Their titles fit the bill!
A conceptual central idea.
We introduce the central idea: ‘Our use of energy has an impact on the planet.’
Each group now gets the whole class’s questions and the task is to sort the pile into two groups… Those that relate to the central idea (the overarching conceptual understanding.) and those that don’t. The students are totally engaged as we move between groups and listen to the rich conversation. There is much debate and it doesn’t take long before they decide they need three groups or even four, because it isn’t as simple as that! Through the process, questions are further developed and refined.
The key concepts which will be our lens for the inquiry are function ( how does it work?) and responsibility. We ask the students to get the laptops and create a quick cartoon using Toondoo to show their understanding of one of the two concepts in a clever way. Some create cartoons that connect to our central idea, others show examples that connect to their personal lives. The choice is theirs – the results are creative and thought-provoking! Back in groups, the students now pick out questions relating to each of these key concepts….
Big ideas about the learning:
Officially, there has been no teaching yet. A few video clips, some ideas on the class blog to think about and the time described above spent provoking and developing thinking.
- Students have risen above the facts and are thinking on a conceptual level.
- They are making connections with prior knowledge and constructing meaning for themselves.
- They are asking and answering questions, organizing ideas and justifying their thinking.
- The so-called ’21st century skills’ of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration are all evident.
- A host of other trans-disciplinary skills are being practised.
- Curiosity has been sparked and there is excitement about taking the learning further.
- Every single one of our school’s learning principles is evident.