What’s so BIG about Big Ideas?

Characteristics of Big Ideas

Big Ideas is a technical term which applies to a particular set of ideas that match specific characteristics, in particular, they:

  1. are few in number provide criteria for the selection and prioritising of subject knowledge in the curriculum
  2. set out learning outcomes in terms of what students should understand
  3. are capable of differentiation so that they may become the basis of progression
  4. are transferable to events outside the classroom
  5. have long term relevance
  6. make sense of what might otherwise be confusing information/experiences and isolated facts.

The use of Big Ideas as organising principles in the curriculum was largely the work of Jay McTighe and the late Grant Wiggins. (Wiggins, G. and J. McTighe (1998) Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).

    Big Ideas and types of knowledge

    Big Ideas bring together two types of knowledge in developing pupils’ understanding.

    Substantive knowledge

    Also known as ‘contextual’ or ‘factual’ knowledge’ is the ‘content’ or ‘stuff’ of a subject. In RE it includes the information about people, places, buildings, festivals, beliefs and so on that pupils study in RE. That a Mosque is a place of worship for Muslims; that it has a mihrab, minbar, qibla wall, minaret and so on are examples of substantive knowledge.

    RE contains an enormous amount of substantive knowledge and the Big Ideas act as criteria to select and sequence it.

    Disciplinary knowledge

    Sometimes known as ‘procedural’ or ‘theoretical’ knowledge – is knowledge about the subject as a ‘discipline’.  The knowledge involved is of what scholars have discovered in the process of studying the subject – the observations and theories that have resulted from this study.

    Big Ideas and disciplinary knowledge

    Like disciplinary knowledge, Big Ideas do not emerge directly from within religions / worldviews but from the study of religions / worldviews by communities of experts, which have provided the interpretations, connections and associations that bring factual knowledge to life.

    The Big Ideas proposed for RE in this project are a product of disciplinary thinking and reflect both the processes of study and some of the key theories to emerge from the disciplines with which RE is most closely associated: religious studies, theology, philosophy, and others drawn from humanities, social sciences and the arts. Just as emerging theories change over time, so will the Big Ideas.