One of the big ideas that comes to mind is photosynthesis. It's probably not a stretch to say that most elementary educators don't give photosynthesis its due. All the way up to last year, I sure didn't. But consider all of the science concepts connected to what is easily the most important process on Earth, and its significance as a big idea becomes easy to grasp. (Don't believe me? Check out the book Eating the Sun by Oliver Morton). Consider that food chains begin with plants and they get their energy from photosynthesis. The fall leaf change occurs because leaves stop the process of photosynthesis and begin to lose their chlorophyll. Of course, this takes place because of changes in the hours of daylight which means you can teach about Earth's orbit around the sun and its effect on the seasons.
In social studies, westward expansion/progress is a theme that necessitates the teaching of several other big ideas: changes in transportation, settlement, treatment of Native Americans, exploration, the Gold Rush, Oregon Trail, etc. Because they fall under the umbrella of westward expansion, you can teach all of these concepts as part of a theme-based unit and have students create a nice project at the end.
So what are some other big ideas that you think are important to teach? Here's a list that I thought of with some of the other concepts that are connected to them:
- Scientific Inquiry (scientific method, developing experiments, identifying variables, scientific communication)
- Resources (renewable energy, fossil fuels, design process (have kids build wind turbines), earth science)
- Tessellations (polygons (interior angle measures), regular polygons, similarity, symmetry (transformations)
- Patterns & Functions
- Fractals (multiplying fractions, similarity, patterns, functions)
- Rivers (transportation, growth of civilizations, growth of cities & economies)
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