CBL or concept-based learning is (and has been) a real buzz word in IB circles. But what is concept-based learning and how can you bring it into the classroom? I am hoping that this month’s blog post will give you some ideas that will motivate you to find out more about CBL and hopefully, try it out in class.

CBL is driven by ‘big ideas’, rather than content that is subject specific. CBL also supports the attributes of the learner profile. Traditional teaching can be thought of covering understanding and memorisation of information whereas CBL covers a deeper understanding of disciplinary content, transdisciplinary themes, and interdisciplinary issues. It has the goal of developing the intellect.

Big ideas

So what do we mean by big ideas? Well, all big ideas will have five similarities running through them: they will all be universal, timeless, abstract, content-based and skill-based.

Universal ideas will be able to be applied across different aspects of knowledge: an example of a universal idea could be global warming. It can be applied to and learned about in a number of subjects – not just chemistry.

Timeless concepts will remain the same over time – they don’t change. For example, this could be a pattern. However, that said, the understanding of the pattern may change but the actual pattern won’t.

Abstract concepts develop higher-level thinking and use concepts such as interdependence and cycles. An abstract concept could be something like symbolism.

So far, this has all probably been seeming a bit abstract (excuse the pun) but CBL is very different to traditional teaching: concepts such as symbolism permeate through many subjects and chemistry just touches on one aspect of this. The student will (hopefully) join together the thinking across different subjects.

It is quite clear to see that if a teacher is trying to teach CBL in isolation, it becomes difficult. From the teaching perspective, CBL needs careful coordination between teachers so that each is aware of what the other is doing.

What does a CBL lesson look like?

Once a concept has been decided upon, the flow of the lesson roughly follows the order:

Teacher gives examples of factual content and / or skills and a ‘research question’ (the concept).

The teacher supplies guiding questions to bridge the factual to the conceptual.

Student action: Learning experiences (assignments) support learning of the knowledge and assessments align to identify learning targets, knowledge skills, and lesson understanding.

I hope the following video also gives you a flavor of what CBL is all about:

Have you used CBL in your class? Are you able to share with us any examples of CBL in practice? If so, we would love to hear more so please share your ideas with us below!