Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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10. How We Organize Knowledge - The Structure of the Disciplines
“When we want to learn something new, we have to figure out what are the main guideposts in the terrain of a body of knowledge. And that's what we call the structure of the disciplines – the big ideas, the big modes of inquiry that are used in history, mathematics, science and so on. And when teachers provide those structures for students – so that they have a map of the territory – they can learn more effectively and hang lots of other pieces of information onto that understanding. So that the structure of knowledge itself becomes a learning and a teaching tool.”
Linda Darling-Hammond
Three students

Key Questions:
  • How does the way knowledge is organized influence learning?
  • How can teachers use the structure of a discipline to organize their teaching and enhance student learning?
two students

Learning Objectives:

  1. Structure of the disciplines – Teachers will understand that disciplines have structures representing interrelated core ideas and particular modes of inquiry. They will think about how to use these core ideas and inquiry tools to help students understand disciplinary ideas more deeply.
  2. Pedagogical content knowledge – Teachers will consider the kinds of knowledge of content and students they need in order to represent disciplinary ideas so that they are more likely to be understood.

Video Program

This episode covers the ways in which the organization of knowledge and understanding can influence learning. It also introduces Bruner's and Schwab's ideas about the structure of the disciplines. Julie Helber, a fourth grade teacher at Paddock Elementary School, Milan, Michigan, tenth grade biology teacher Mary Edmunds at the Detroit High School for the Performing Arts, Detroit, Michigan, and ninth through twelfth grade teacher Avram Barlowe at The Urban Academy, New York City, New York are all featured in this episode. Lee S. Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, provides expert commentary.

Key Terms - New in this Session


central modes of inquiry

core ideas



pedagogical content knowledge

spiral curriculum

structure of the discipline

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