A curriculum for understanding is intentionally designed around the organizing principles and essential concepts of the domain and provides opportunities for in-depth exploration in a variety of contexts (design principles for curriculum are summarized in Box 7-1). Such a curriculum emphasizes depth of understanding over breadth of coverage. It is designed to provide genuine opportunities for high-quality instruction and multiple points of entry into mathematics and science (Au and Jordan, 1981; Brown, 1994; Heath, 1983; Tharp and Gallimore, 1988).

Research reveals that experts’ knowledge is organized around core concepts or organizing principles that guide their thinking in their area of exper-

BOX 7-1 Principles of Curriculum for Understanding

A mathematics or science curriculum for advanced study that promotes learning with understanding:

  • Structures the concepts, factual content, and procedures that constitute the knowledge base of the discipline around the organizing principles (big ideas) of the domain.

  • Links new knowledge to what is already known by presenting concepts in a conceptually and logically sequenced order that builds upon previous learning within and across grade levels.

  • Focuses on depth of understanding rather than breadth of content coverage by providing students with multiple opportunities to practice and demonstrate what they learn in a variety of contexts.

  • Includes structured learning activities that, in a real or simulated fashion, allow students to experience problem solving and inquiry in situations that are drawn from their personal experiences and real-world applications.

  • Develops students’ abilities to make meaningful applications and generalization to new problems and contexts.

  • Incorporates language, procedures, and models of inquiry and truth verification that are consistent with the accepted practice of experts in the domain.

  • Emphasizes interdisciplinary connections and integration and helps students connect learning in school with the issues, problems, and experiences that figure prominently in their lives outside of the classroom.

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