Curriculum design begins with “Big Ideas,” from which we derive everything else. You should have a personal understanding of and an intellectual commitment to your Big Idea.
As Grant Wiggins puts it in the book Understanding by Design, a big idea “offers a conceptual framework allowing the learner to explore answers to the essential questions involving a unit of study.” Big ideas inform the whole (or significant pieces) of your course.
Big ideas should do the following:
- Provide a “conceptual lens” for prioritizing content
- Serve as organizers for connecting important facts, skills, and actions
- Transfer to other contexts
- Manifest themselves in various ways within disciplines
- Require “uncoverage” due to their abstraction
Some examples of big ideas:
- Accounting is the language of business
- Literature is a way of coding human experience
- Correlation does not necessarily mean causation
- Skepticism is key to critical thinking
- Grammars are social material practices (embedded misunderstanding: Grammar is a skill/is editing)
- Narrative is a means of sharing a culture’s collective identity
- History is written by the victors
- The visual arrangement of information conveys meaning.
- The essence of photography is capturing light.
- America as seen by ourselves, our allies, and our foes
- Euclidean vs. non-euclidean geometry
- Form follows function
- You are what you eat
Check your big ideas by asking yourself:
- Does it have many layers not obvious to the inexperienced learner? (think “Unpacking”)
- Does one have to dig deep to truly understand its meaning or implications?
- Is it prone to disagreement? (think “Discussion or Investigation”)
- Might you change your mind about it over time?
- Does it reflect the core ideas as judged by experts?
RESOURCES: Presentation slides