Engaging Students’ Conceptual Mind


“If we can’t articulate it, how can we teach for understanding? By teaching activities?!?” – Lynn Erickson

How do we write teacher guiding questions? What do thinking classrooms looking like? What is the difference between an activity, and a performance  of deep understanding? These are some of Lynn’s most powerful questions we should ask ourselves.


Good educators have always been concerned with what goes in a student’s mind. These educators are dynamic, forward thinkers, thoughtful, persistent and leadership orientated. They promote leadership by building capacities in others with the mindset of continuous student improvement. In the present days they spend more time with the kids than most other adult.

Spending two days in Lynn’s Erickson workshop it was a true inspiration at it happened in the beginning of the year when planning activity is high. I have spent the weeks after the workshop reading her book “Concept-Based Curriculum” and applying new ideas in my units or during the lessons. It is a continuous challenging activity that encourages higher levels of thinking and stimulates creativity.

Here is a short summary of what I consider is essential for me to improve on and put into action:

  • As knowledge continues to expand exponentially we must focus on the shifting to a higher level of concepts. The goal is to focus and process the information so it can be thoughtfully and efficiently accessed and utilized by our students.
  • We should teach for conceptual understanding and we should no longer assume that students are building on it. Our students must connect the conceptual understanding to supporting content.
  • The conceptual mind creates connection to prior experience and finds relevance. It works synergistically with the factual level of knowledge, and the strategy/skill level of process to develop the intellect. The conceptual mind sees patterns across examples which reveals deeper, transferable understandings. Through conceptual lenses we engage the conceptual mind.
  • Synergistic thinking requires the interaction of factual knowledge and concepts. Requires a deeper level of mental processing and leads to increased understanding of facts related to concepts, supports personal meaning making, and increases motivation for learning. It is motivating to use our minds well! Synergistic thinking stimulates higher-order thinking and leads to deeper understanding of facts, skills and concepts.
  • To develop the intellect and increase motivation for learning, curriculum and instruction must create a “synergy” between the lower (factual) and higher (conceptual) levels of thinking.

In a concept-based curriculum that is relevant and applicable to the world beyond the school our students exercise critical thinking.

  • When assessments are informative students build on strength, weaknesses, set goals and become owners of learning.
  • When social and emotional connections are made students develop divergent thinking, expressing thus authentically.
  • When they have 24 hours access to tools and resources, they express and communicate their learning.
  • Where there is a culture of creativity and innovation, the students own the learning and they create solutions.

As every other discipline the Physical Education has a conceptual structure. Most concept based of all my students are the pre schoolers. They are always excited about working with important ideas. I draw the inquiry from their understandings with the aim of developing a concept based thinking student. The main goal is to get them to transfer the concepts we use. I used to teach activities and I did mistakes as we all probably do but now I am becoming more aware of the fact that we need a higher level of pedagogy learning and “Concept-Based Curriculum” book is a great point to start.

Physical Education concepts to work with: movement, agility, behavior, weight transfer, autonomy, character, initiative, perseverance, resilience, self-regulation, trust, aesthetics, bio mechanics, body control, body form, challenge, competition, energy, flexibility, flow, growth, goal setting, improvement, leisure, mastery, overload, physiology, power, rest, spatial awareness, strength, stress, control, fair play, safety, team work, angle, space, action, reaction, endurance, speed, patterns, cooperation, motion, force, power, development.

Web Unit Planner completed with my colleagues during the workshop:


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