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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
new to classrooms, basic premises about learning with these tools need to be examined with respect to the principles of learning described in this volume.
Extend the Knowledge Base Through Elaboration and Development of Key Research Findings
6. Conduct research on key conceptual frameworks, by discipline, for the units that are commonly taught in K–12 education. A key finding of the research reviewed in this volume is that deep understanding—and the transfer of learning that is one of its hallmarks—requires that the subject matter being taught be tied to the key concepts or organizing principles that the discipline uses to understand that subject. The goal of teaching about a given topic is not simply to convey factual information, although that information is a necessary component. The meaning of that information as it relates to basic concepts in the discipline, the related analytical methods that answer the question “How do we know,” and the terms of discourse in a disciplinary field are all components in developing competence.
To illustrate, consider the topic of marine mammals as it might be taught in early elementary school. That unit would be likely to include identification of the various marine mammals, information on the features that distinguish marine mammals from fish, and perhaps more detailed information on the various types and sizes of whales, the relative size of male and female whales, etc. To the marine biologist, this information is the interesting detail in a larger story, which begins with the question: “Why are there mammals in the sea?” A unit organized around that question would engross students in an evolutionary tale in which the adaptation of sea creatures for life on the land takes a twist: land mammals now adapt to life in the sea. The core biological concepts of adaptation and natural selection would be at the center of the tale. Students would come to understand the puzzle that marine mammals posed for scientists: Could sea creatures evolve to mammals that live on land and then evolve again to mammals that return to the sea? They would come to understand the debate in the scientific community and the discovery of supporting evidence. And they would have cause to challenge the widespread misconception that evolution is a unidirectional process.
The approach of tying information on marine mammals to the concepts, language, and ways of knowing in that branch of science can be used in other areas of science, as well as in other disciplines. But the concepts and organizing principles that provide a framework for particular subject matter are often obvious only to those who are expert in the discipline. Discipline-specific research should be conducted in history, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences to systematically review units of study that commonly appear in K–12 curricula, specifying the conceptual framework to