• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Want to organize your cloud files? Sign up for a free webinar to see how Dokkio (a new product from PBworks) can help you find, organize, and collaborate on your Drive, Gmail, Dropbox, and Slack files: Weds, May 27 at 2PM Eastern / 11AM Pacific

Big Ideas

Page history last edited by sigrid.olson@... 7 years, 11 months ago

What is a Big Idea?


According to Grant Wiggins:


  • An idea is “big” if it helps us make sense of lots of confusing experiences and seemingly isolated facts.

  • If an idea is “big” it helps us make sense of things. So, an idea is not “big” merely because it categorizes a lot of content.
    “Change,” “relationships,” and “number system” certainly encompass an enormous amount of knowledge and understanding, but these concepts don’t contain much insight or direction beyond their definition. They aren’t particularly powerful or illuminating on their own as concepts.  On the other hand, “For every action there is an equal reaction” is a powerful idea about change: we can use it to study, organize, make sense of phenomena, and predict changes in motion. So, too, is the idea that “blood is thicker than water”

  • Similarly, in literacy or history teaching, the important “themes” are big ideas.
    Why? Because – if used properly – they provide learners with mental schemas or templates that help make sense of all the details of texts that threaten to overwhelm inexperienced readers. If I am alerted to “the heroic quest,” or “the American Dream” I can read and think with more control and insight. 

  • In short: think of “big” as “powerful” not as a large abstract category.

  • So, we musn’t equate “big idea” with a concept taught as a fact or definition. 
    Only when we help the learner see firsthand that an idea is an inference, and one with power to provide meaning and transfer, does it become a “big idea.” 
    No meaning and no transfer occur if “useful theory” is reduced to fact – even though teaching thereby becomes more efficient. The real harm of stressing that ideas are merely words, phrases, and statements with technical meaning (instead of the power they represent) is that such teaching tends to end thought rather than further it.

  • A true idea doesn’t end thought, it activates it. It has the power to raise questions and generate learning.



For every action there is an equal reaction

blood is thicker than water

Follow the money

the water cycle


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.