What’s so important about a “big idea” anyways?

What comes to mind when you think of a big idea? Really think about it. Do you think you would be able to come up with a big idea if it weren’t for your background knowledge? The little ideas you have? Or anything that has sparked your interest?


Today I am going to blog about what a big idea means in the classroom, and how educators implement a big idea within the content we are teaching. According to Concept-Based Teaching and Learning, incorporating the big ideas into our teaching influences our students to consider the context in which they will use their understanding and bring the“real world” meaning to content knowledge and skills. An example of a big idea for astronomy, which is the unit I will be focusing on, is the 2017 solar eclipse. However, keep in mind that a big idea does not need to be HUGE. The idea is to make our teaching meaningful in the real world for our students.

Benefits of using real world, big ideas in the classroom could be:

  1. Big ideas creates connections to our students prior experiences and background knowledge.
  2. Big ideas brings relevance to our students learning.
  3. It facilitates deeper thinking and understanding of content knowledge.
  4. Lastly, it acts as a springboard for students to respond to their learning with action of their understanding.

How I will implement my big idea: The 2017 Solar Eclipse 

As a student teacher in an 8th grade science classroom, I have the pleasure of teaching my students about astronomy. The main ideas for astronomy that I will be focusing on will be the phases of the moon, the motion of the sun and the moon, as well as the seasons. With all the these little main ideas, I want the “big idea” to be the 2017 solar eclipse. To me, this is something I could connect my students to the real world, especially how they viewed the solar eclipse in Rochester (making connections to their community!). However, I’m sure some of you are thinking, how does a solar eclipse relate to anything in their everyday lives?

Why I consider the 2017 solar eclipse as my big idea 

Definition of a solar eclipse: occurs when the Moon passes directly between the Sun and Earth, blocking the Sun’s light and casting a shadow over a certain area on Earth. This can only occur during a New Moon.

  • A solar eclipse only occurs during a New Moon, which is a moon phase. This moon phase is when the moon is not illuminated, which our students can interpret as the moon not being visible! A big misconception I have found in my classroom is that the moon generates its own light. I can end this misconception when I teach the New Moon phase, in which I will explain how the Sun reflects light onto the moon, making the moon luminous. However, when the moon is in the New Moon phase, the sun is not reflecting any light to it.
  • In addition, the solar eclipse does not occur every month. Why is that? Well, the moon orbits Earth at a tilt. Students can relate this to how the Earth orbits the sun at a tilt, making that connection!
  • If the Moon orbits Earth at a tilt, and they know the Earth orbits the sun at a tilt, this is where the season can come into play. However, I must be careful of the misconception that the moon has seasons. As educators, we know that is absolutely not true, but to an 8th grader, they could think it is possible (and that’s okay!).

What if I cannot think of a big idea for my unit?

As a science educator, I can look at the Next Generation Science Standards to understand what concepts I should meet for my unit. These standards provide you guidance as to what topics to teach in a specific unit, as well as including cross cutting concepts to ensure your students will understand the content. Below is an example of astronomy, in which I will follow for my unit.

These standards help me recognize what practices, core ideas and crosscutting concepts I need to meet in order to make my big idea successful in the classroom. Looking at the state standards can be helpful too, however I like that NGSS includes crosscutting concepts.

As I said in my last blog post, I want my students to be able to relate their science education to their every day lives. Whether that means looking up at the moon and knowing what phase it is in, understanding the phenomena of the solar eclipse, or being able to recognize why Rochesters seasons are different from other parts of the world!