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Curriculum Links Part 1: Underlying Principles

In this blog, we look over some useful reading to consider when planning out your curriculum – what are some of the underlying principles upon which we should start to build. This is partly inspired by Matthew Benyohai’s blog where he discusses disconnect we sometimes see between principles and practices. This list is by no means exhaustive, and we’d love to hear any more of your suggestions. 

In Part 2 (coming in two weeks), we’ll look at some examples of science curriculum planning and how some of the ideas from this blog have been implemented.

Introduction to curriculum thinking 

CogSciSci have previously looked at the science curriculum in the ‘Curriculum In Science Symposium’ in a series of blog posts.

Amongst these great posts, Ruth Ashbee nicely summaries some of the key terminology surrounding curriculum

Ruth also has a blog that summarises why cognitive science should play a role in the way we think about curriculum.

To think about: the specification is not the curriculum, so what should our curriculum be? 

What principles might we base a curriculum upon? 

Some (or all) of these ideas could be considered the foundations upon which to build a curriculum and for each, we’ll present a few excellent blogs to elaborate. 

  • A knowledge rich curriculum 
  • The teaching being driven by the content 
  • Forgetting is a natural part of the learning process 
  • Our working memory has limits 
  • Practice makes permanent 

Knowledge rich curriculum 

The blog posts below discuss the ideas of what constitutes a ‘knowledge rich curriculum’ and why knowledge should be the cornerstone on which to build a robust and challenging curriculum.  

Clare Sealy’s post outlines the different ‘types’ of knowledge and discusses the issue of ‘skills’.

Daniel Willingham discusses how knowledge brings about more knowledge and improves your thinking

Jon Hutchinson examines some of the arguments against a knowledge rich curriculum and argues why they’re wrong

Pritesh Raichura looks at what knowledge should go into a science curriculum as part of the previous CogSciSci Curriculum Symposium

To think about: what content should we include (or not include) in our curriculum? What approach do we take to ‘skills’ and the need for knowledge to be able to perform skills? 

Quality Teaching, First 

With knowledge as our cornerstone, it’s worth thinking from the very beginning about the intersection between the curriculum and the teaching that will take place. These essays by Adam Boxer and Ruth Ashbee are worth having in mind, as they look at putting the subject at the heart of the teaching that will take place, and ensuring that this teaching is of the highest quality.

To think about: how can we present scientific content to students to allow them to see and enjoy it for what it is? How can we ensure that all students are engaged in thinking about the subject and not elements that are not strictly educational? 


How will your curriculum take into account the fact that students will naturally forget material over time? This finding from cognitive science – Ebinghaus’s forgetting curve – needs to be considered carefully and battled consistently.  

Niki Kaiser discusses what makes a memorable curriculum

Adam Robbins explains how Daniel Willingham’s famous ‘memory is the residue of thought’ quote has been implemented in their teaching and learning. Whilst the entirety of this blog isn’t focussed on curriculum, there are some vital points to consider.

To think about: How will your curriculum take this into account? How will you ensure that students don’t encounter material only once? 

Working memory and reducing support over time 

Focussing in towards individual lessons, how is your curriculum going to ease the cognitive burden of the more demanding parts of your subject?  

Adam Boxer’s blog explains his simplified version of cognitive load theory

Greg Ashman looks at the how we can boost student motivation by reducing the cognitive load

Bob Pritchard explains how the whole idea of learning fitting into lesson-sized chunks isn’t the best way to look at things. A curriculum isn’t simply a lesson map. Here Bob shows how that affects his lesson planning

To think about: how will you apportion time across the curriculum to certain topics/units to allow them to be broken down? What aspects of your subject are so fundamental that they need to be thoroughly encoded in long term memory as soon as possible? 

Practice (and performance) 

There are different viewpoints on the important of practice to learning. Important concepts here are that ‘practice makes permanent’ – students are going to remember what they repeat, so we need to sure that they’re practicing getting things right (this is one of the main ideas behind Shed Loads Of Practice – SLOP). 

The learning scientists give a great digest of some of the important findings surrounding practice.

Nick Soderstrom investigates the difference between learning and performance. This is of vital importance to understand. Just because students are getting it right, it doesn’t mean they’ve learnt it.

Adam Boxer talks about the advantages of using booklets, how student practice is incorporated and how guidance is faded over time.

To think about: how can we ensure students are practising the right things? What can we do to make sure students are truly learning and not just performing on the day?  


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