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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Concept Driven Curriculum with Lynn Erickson

I am so excited to tell you about the amazing experience I had yesterday. I had the privilege of attending the Ecolint Educational Conference in Geneva Switzerland.  It was my second year attending and I was so thrilled to go again because this year I would get a chance to hear Lynn Erickson speak.
If you don’t know Dr. Erickson’s work then I encourage you to Google her and read her books. She is a leader in concept-based curriculum and instruction.
Now, let me digress for a minute, I was first introduced to conceptually based teaching while working on my masters degree. In fact, we had to use Understanding by Design to plan all of our lessons. I remember being told that UbD was “backward” planning, that we wanted to start with the intended student outcome and plan our lessons to guide students in that direction. Along the way they would acquire skills and facts and make connections. I started using this design and found it rather difficult to wrap my head around the “big idea”, “understandings” and “essential questions”.

As I started my first year as a pyp teacher I had to get used to the IB unit planner. Similarly to UbD we start with the “Central Idea” and again work towards the skills and knowledge that we want the students to gain (or this is how I understood it should be done). One area that started making more sense to me was the use of key concepts. In the PYP program we have seven concepts that are to be addressed, studied, woven through the six units of inquiry.
These concepts are:

I have used these concepts to try and direct our inquiry into specific topics. I have not, however, used them to really guide my planning process.

So, back to yesterday where I was sitting in my seat eagerly waiting to be transformed. And would you know…I was!

Lynn explained what she calls the structure of knowledge. She uses the following diagram to illustrate just how this structure is formed.

She shared with us the difference between the two dimensional curriculum model which is topic-based and the three dimensional model that is concept-based.

The difference as you can see from the illustration is that in the three dimensional model we add concepts and principles to simple factual content and skills. In a two dimensional model the facts are taught but very superficially. There is not real depth of understanding or analysis of why it is relevant. The facts that are learned are not transferable but rather, are locked in time, place or situation.

The three dimensional model,  on the other hand, is idea-centered. This means that the ideas provide the foundation to understand conceptual and transferable ideas. Through the use of a conceptual lens the students gain an intellectual depth in thinking and understanding.  WOW! Don’t we all want that?

Here are a few other key points that really resonated with me:

1.        Concepts are not an afterthought in planning but are the groundwork that everything else is built upon.

2.         A conceptual lens mustn’t only include one or two concepts but can utilize many related concepts as well.
3.        Teaching with conceptual understanding and teaching for conceptual understanding is possibly more important than making sure a child understands the Central Idea or our units.
4.        It might be a good idea to keep our lines of inquiry hidden from the students and to see where their conceptual lenses take them.
Amazing right? So I will be taking all of this back to the classroom with me and hoping to re-work the next unit I plan to really start with the concepts first.

I guess I really get it or at least starting to get it.
Thanks Lynn!