example of a concept-based curriculum

One School’s Approach to Concept-Based Curriculum

By Anna Murphy, Rubicon International | Spark Webinar featuring Marco Meireles, CLIP – The Oporto International School

**This blog is adapted from a webinar. Watch the webinar here!

In a previous blog post, we defined concept-based curriculum (CBC), explored its three-dimensions, and offered ideas for incorporating it into curriculum. If you aren’t familiar with concept-based curriculum or want a refresher, we suggest you read that post first. Now, we are going to explore one school’s approach to concept-based curriculum and curriculum mapping.

CLIP-The Oporto International School is a K-12 school in Portugal. CLIP follows British curriculum and aligns to NCfE, IGCSE and A-Levels. With 55% growth over the last four years, they now have 1000 students and over 100 teachers present on their campus, and over a third of its students are international.

CLIP’s CBC initiative began in 1996 with just one grade-level, and is now a school-wide program. Over the years, their approach to CBC has greatly shifted. Each year poses a new learning experience, ripe with ideas for improving and growing the CBC.

Going Beyond the Three Dimensions

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of CLIP’s CBC is the way it has adapted a 3-dimensional learning model to implement its vision and other initiatives. Building on the concepts, skills, and knowledge (facts) of CBC, CLIP created its own multi-dimensional model made up of its Vision and Mission, 21st Century Competencies, and Global Citizenship as equally important facets of student’s academic development and growth.

example of a concept-based curriculum
example of a concept-based curriculum

Clip’s Vision: The Vision for the International School of Oporto (CLIP) is to become an exemplary centre of teaching and learning, which nurtures and promotes brilliant minds for the future through innovation, international-mindedness, academic excellence and intellectual resilience.

CLIP’s Mission: CLIP believes the future will be shaped by extraordinary individuals who will meet the challenges of the 21st century through versatile intellectual competence, a passion for discovery, increased social fairness and uncompromising commitment. The Mission of the International School of Oporto is to nurture and inspire such individuals through the provision of a challenging, inclusive international education through which: (C) All are Challenged, (L) All are Lifelong learners, (I) All are Internationally-minded, and (P) All are Principled citizens.

By integrating its vision and mission with 21st Century Competencies, themes of global citizenship, and CBC’s three dimensions, CLIP seeks to holistically educate and nurture students into conceptual thinkers with the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in a changing world.

Snapshot of Concept-Based Curriculum at CLIP

The CBC takes place during a two-week period each January, when students work in grade level teams to explore and deepen their understanding of a chosen concept. At the end of the two weeks, the school convenes a community wide presentation for student groups to present their final projects. Three defining aspects of CLIP’s concept-based curriculum are:

  • Theme: An overarching theme that unifies content and skills towards a generalization and deep understanding
  • Collapsed Timetables/Duration: Organizing the CBC to fit into a two-week period in early January
  • Reach: Scaffolding the CBC from pre-Kindergarten to Form 9 students
Examples of Concepts & Themes
  • 2012-13: Interdependence & Earth Condominium (Lower School: Caring for our Local Environment)
  • 2013-14: Entrepreneurship & Social Responsibility (Lower School: Caring for the Community)
  • 2014-15: Hunger & Hope (Lower School: Helping the homeless)
  • 2015-16: Global Interdependence & Migration (whole school Interactive museum)
  • 2016-17: Freedom & Children’s Rights (whole school CLIP international court for children’s rights)
  • 2017-18: Evolution & The Oceans (whole school Oceans Summit & Exhibition Centre)
Scaffolding the Big Ideas and Essential Understandings

For students to meaningfully grapple with the concepts and themes, the big ideas and essential understandings need to be scaffolded to student’s cognitive ability. For example, below is a list of vertically-aligned essential understanding for forms 5 through 9 for Global Interdependence and Migration:

Form 5:

  • People may need to move to other places in order to survive or improve their life conditions.
  • We are all accountable for the welfare of other humans on the planet.
  • Humans have a set of rights.
  • There are consequences to any action a country decides to take.
  • Migration affects identity.
  • Migration affects cultural heritage both countries of origin and host countries.

Form 6:

  • People may need to move to survive (voluntary or involuntary migration).
  • A person’s decision to move may be influenced by many factors (economic, social, political or environmental).
  • Migration affects an individual’s identity as well as the cultural heritage of both the host country and the migrant group.
  • We are all accountable for the welfare of other humans on the planet.

Form 7:

  • The causes and consequences of migration
  • The different perspectives of both sides of migration (the migrators and the recipient countries)
  • The social responsibility of the world regarding migration.

Form 8:

  • Causes and consequences of migration
  • Diverse types of migration
  • The different perspectives of all parties involved in migration
  • The social responsibility of the world towards human rights
  • The impact and influence on society from political and media sources

Form 9:

  • There are many facts that explain current and past migrations.
  • Everyone has a share of responsibility as part of a global community.
  • We are all accountable for the welfare of other humans on the planet.
  • Countries need to carefully consider resources and welfare of their own citizens when offering refuge.
  • Humans have a set of rights.
  • There are consequences to any action a country decides to take.
  • Migration affects identity.
  • Migration affects cultural heritage both countries of origin and host countries.
Organizational Structure
example of a concept-based curriculum

As evidenced by this depiction of CLIP’s CBC organization, students are guiding their own conceptual learning. Teachers operate as facilitators to support students in their pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Next, Year-Group Coordinators, Heads of Departments, and Deputies ensure alignment, and the Senior Leadership Team sponsors the project.

Planning Stages
  1. Concept and Theme are discussed and suggested by teachers with the leadership team. To identify concept and theme, teachers consider what is relevant and interesting for students and what will build engagement.
  2. Mapping the curriculum begins with Essential Understandings & Skills, just as would find with a traditional UdB approach.
  3. Following the backwards design model, CLIP identifies the End-Product of the CBC, which will meet and reflect upon the enduring understanding and essential skills.
  4. Next, CLIP selects the Assessments to measure learning.
  5. Learning Activities and Unit Plans pinpoint the subject-specific skills of the CBC.
  6. Teachers form the Teams (Cooperative Learning Teams). Cooperative learning teams address student needs in terms of:
  • Additional Languages
  • Cultural variety
  • Levels of thinking
  • Multiple Intelligences
  • Learning Styles
  • Readiness

Students then select their roles within the team. For example, the roles in the lower school include: Cheerleader, Voice Commander, Help Coach, and Taskmaster.

example of a concept-based curriculum
  1. Assemblies throughout the two weeks, guide the concept-based learning, culminating in the Final Day of the CBC
  2. In addition, Collapsed Timetables map out the logistics for the CBC.
  3. Finally, Folders and Classroom Allocation act as the resources that support students in their preparation and delivery of the final product.

Mapping Concept-Based Curriculum

CLIP relies on Atlas as a platform to document and develop its concept-based curriculum. Specifically, CLIP cites 4 aspects of Atlas that make it an integral part of its CBC process:

  1. Transparent Communication: “Atlas allows collaborative input into planning and schoolwide browsing of current curriculum.”
example of a concept-based curriculum

2. Vertical Alignment: “Atlas is a great tool to align standards, learning objectives and assessments”

example of a concept-based curriculum

3. Elements of CBC in Planning: “Units planned in light of UbD Framework also contain: Vision & Mission, Concepts, C21 Standards, IT Integration Standards, and Cross-Curricular links.”

example of a concept-based curriculum

4. Powerful Analytical Tools: “[The tools] help when selecting relevant curriculum under the light of Concept & Theme.”

example of a concept-based curriculum

Key Takeaways:

  • Concept-Based teaching and learning is an effective model for deep understandings and synergistic thinking.
  • It is possible to design a CBC unit to explicitly include other dimensions.
  • CBC must be an ongoing, multi-faceted endeavor to meet the students’ need, allow greater efficacy in learning, and adapt to current reality and school’s context.
  • Atlas is a powerful tool to assist in design and planning of CBC units of this magnitude.

Do you want professional development on reviewing or revamping your curriculum process? Learn about our professional development offerings!

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