Facts, Concepts, and Generalizations or Big Ideas
Explanations, examples, and instructional ideas
Fact is something that actually exists or existed, object or event, and can be verified by observation. Facts are single occurrences.
- The American flag is red, white, and blue.
- My birthday is in January.
- A square is a plane figure with four straight equal sides and right angles.
- A triangle is a plane figure with three straight sides and three angles.
Concept - An idea about a particular phenomenon people abstract from specific experiences. The idea includes all the properties that distinguish examples of the concept from all the non examples of the concept.
Flowering plants have flowers that develop into fruits, roots, stems, and leaves.
The following are also concepts: area, volume, density, flowers, energy, light, magnifying glass, animals, rock, soil, erosion, magnet, force,
Concepts summarize and categorize objects. The difficulty of learning a concept depends on the number of properties or characteristics, the abstractness or concreteness, and the reasoning that connects the properties or characteristics.
The abstractness of a concept is related to how the concept can be experienced.
- Sensory - often physical observation and manipulation of the actual object(s): playing with a puppy, bacon sizzling, burnt toast, media, sphere, cube, solids, liquids, …
- Concrete visual representation with models or diagrams or mental images: solar system, cell, heart, outline, plot, mixture, solution, temperature, density ...
- Abstraction where physical observation and manipulation are not possible. Examples: fiction, nonfiction, theme, tone, style, dystopian, politics, government, democracy, volume, atom, star, fission, fusion, evolution.
Concepts are best introduced through physical observation and manipulation (hands on exploration). Followed by a grand conversation; that provides a concept name, other examples, and non examples. Some concepts can be experienced at all three levels: temperature hot - cold to touch, concrete as read on a thermometer, and the abstractness of average kinetic molecular energy.
Concepts can be made more concrete by defining them operationally.
Generalizations or Big Ideas
Generalizations are statements of a relationship between two or more concepts.
- All matter has volume and mass.
- There is a relationship between an object's volume and surface area.
- Magnets attraction is stronger the closer they are to each other.
- Solids dissolve faster if they are smaller and the solution is warmer.
- Cold water will freeze faster than hot.
- Hot water will freeze faster than cold.
Generalizations are summary statements of relationships between concepts, summary statements of cause and effect, summary statements of predictions of future relationships, and a generalized condition of fact, all dogs have canines.
Notice generalizations require understanding of each concept to have meaning.
Generalizations are powerful as they provide a way to consolidate information to make it more usable and easier to remember. Laws, principals, and theories are all kinds of generalizations. These generalizations require the connection of concepts by a relationship.
Relationships can only be built with direct observational evidence and reasoning. Good teaching practices will mediate both.
- Evaporation will increase as the surface area, air movement, and temperature of the liquid increases.
- Plants grow from seeds. Generalization because it has three concepts plants, growth, and seeds. It can also predict future occurrences of the relationship - plants growing from seeds... It is also a summary statement not a one time occurrence.
- An implication for teaching is that in order for students to generalize, they must have multiple examples from which to construct a generalization.