The best single piece of research on learning is a book called How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School published by the U.S. National Research Council. It’s available for free download on the website. The findings strongly support a concept-based approach to curriculum and instruction.

Three principles emerged from hundreds of studies on learning:

1. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.

2. To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.

3. A “metacognitive” approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.

They published a subsequent book applying the principles in mathematics, history and science classes, which is also available for free download here.

A third study is called Authentic Intellectual Work which also supports concept-based curriculum. The quote below is from page 15:

In-depth understanding: A knowledge base of value to students involves more than being familiar with a broad survey of topics. Knowledge becomes most powerful when students can use information to gain deeper understanding of specific problems. Such understanding develops as one looks for, imagines, proposes and tests relationships among key concepts in order to clarify a specific problem or issue.”

This powerful research was published over a decade ago. Why then, is most curricula still organized topically instead of conceptually? Is it too overwhelming to reorganized it?

It’s really not that complicated. Print out this one-pager and get started today!