Concept-Based Curriculum Design and Practice in the United States

Tamra Stambaugh and Emily Mofield

An Introduction: Why Does Concept-Based Curriculum Matter?

The US educational landscape is changing as societal demands and new definitions of what it means to be an educated citizen require students to be prepared to live in a world they have yet to envision. For many US schools, there is a focus on twenty- first century skills and a documented need to better prepare students for college and career readiness and for work in a global society. Outcomes such as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been created in an effort to emphasise international competitiveness. Fast-paced technological advances and access to immense amounts of information open the world to students in ways that were not previously possible. Our new generation of students is computer literate before formal schooling begins and many have already amassed more information than others of their same age from previous generations.

The P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) (2015) recognises these issues and recommends that in order to be competitive in the world market place students need to master discipline-specific content and connect that content to conceptual understanding. Emphases are on investigations of real-world issues (especially those that focus on global awareness), economics (personal and global), responsible citizenship, health and environmental education (including how humans interact with the world around them). P21 further recognises that twenty-first century citizens must be able to think creatively, apply critical thinking strategies, communicate effectively, collaborate with others, understand how to access and analyse large amounts of information, use technology appropriately and adapt to an ever- changing world (Partnership for 21st Century Learning [P21], 2015). These are not

T. Stambaugh (*) • E. Mofield

Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

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L.S. Tan et al. (eds.), Curriculum for High Ability Learners, Education Innovation Series, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-2697-3_5

separate skills but ones that must be understood within the complexity of our current and future society.

With so much information to be acquired or accessed, concept-based curricula provides a way to help students link multiple disciplines together and make sense of significant amounts of information (Erickson, 1998). Common ideas within or across disciplines allow students to synthesise information into concepts and generalisations with the inclusion of relevant facts and details as justification of conceptual understandings. There are strong theoretical underpinnings for teaching a concept-based curriculum, and these approaches have been advocated in the United States for quite some time (Erickson; Taba, 1962; VanTassel-Baska, 1986).

This chapter explains the rationale for using a concept-based curriculum, as well as considerations for developing such curriculum. Models and intervention studies found successful with a variety of student populations will also be cited, and examples of concept-based curriculum will be provided, including key features of the curriculum design process, ideas for introducing concepts to students in creative ways and suggestions for leaders who are implementing, designing or adopting a concept-based approach to curriculum and instruction.

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