The Northwest Georgia Science Education Partnership
Our National Science Standards now
include a content standard that focuses on the “unifying concepts” or "big
ideas” of science. These
concepts provide students with powerful ideas to help them understand the
natural world. Unifying concepts
are often principles and/or patterns that permeate different areas of science in
ways that can help us to organize and comprehend. A “big idea” approach to
science helps students to see the interrelatedness of scientific concepts and it
provides the opportunity for them develop a foundation for deep understanding
There are only 5 unifying processes or “big ideas” that are identified in the National Standards. They include:
Systems: Nature is made up of many systems that are related and/or connected in some ways. A system is a whole that is composed of parts arranged in an orderly manner according to some plan or function. Our body makes up a system, the planets around the sun make a (solar) system, and each classroom in our school makes up a system. Children can begin to understand systems by considering the parts that make up a system, the purpose of a system, and the changes that occur in a system. Having kids consider a classroom as a system or an aquarium as a system is a good place to begin this discussion.
Evolution and Equilibrium:
All organisms have their own distinctive characteristics and so there is
a great deal of diversity in nature. These characteristics are inherited from
one generation to another and nature selects the characteristics (adaptations)
that provide advantages for survival. While
both organisms and their environments change, natural systems tend to be balanced
(in equilibrium) over time. Children can quickly come to appreciate the
wonderful diversity found in nature and can gradually consider how traits are
inherited over time.
Summary: Organisms are diverse and nature selects the characteristics (adaptations) of organisms that provide advantages for survival.
Summary: There is a relationship between the form of an object and it’s function.
With the advent of the Internet
and the continuing avalanche of new information, it should become increasingly
clear to us that we cannot realistically be expected to teach the details of
what is now known about science. Perhaps
the details and facts, so often the focus of our instruction in science, should
only be stressed to the degree that help us to illuminate and better understand
the key "big ideas" of science. Our
efforts as science teachers could then focus on providing students with
strategies for thinking through ideas, encouragement in transferring their
knowledge from one situation to another, and practice in applying scientific
approaches to solve real-world problems.
In doing so, we can prepare our students to understand key unifying
concepts and develop the new “big ideas” for the future of science.