“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is a choice unto itself.”
~ William James, American Philosopher
The depth vs. breadth debate roils on in education.
The depth party says, “kids need to learn important big ideas deeply… make personal connections… apply the content.”
The breadth party says, “kids need to be exposed to a range of concepts and topics… they might need to know these things for test X/ college/ work… you have to be exposed to something multiple times before it really ‘clicks.”
What if they’re both right?
What if they’re both wrong?
I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to pick a side!
When a student engages in a deep, rich project around a relevant real-world issue, problem or topic, they accomplish both – depth and breadth.
How is this possible?
Let’s look at an example:
My students just studied the issue of salmon and dams along the Columbia River for 6 weeks in our 9th grade program (PBL integrating biology, English, and history).
Some would say, “Whoa! How do you have time to spend 6 weeks on one topic? And, where is salmon and dams in the standards, anyway?
To which I would first answer, “have you read the Washington State Science Standards?”
And second, here are just a few important science concepts students experienced in this project:
- nutrient and water cycles
- life cycles
- energy production
- species relationships and interactions
- factors affecting population size
- systems thinking
- scientific inquiry
- climate change
- sexual reproduction
- and much more…
We sure managed a lot of breadth in our depth, didn’t we?
In the end, the answer is not depth or breadth, necessarily. The answer is asking kids to wrestle with complex, messy, challenging real world topics. In doing this, they will need to develop an understanding of the relevant content knowledge and apply it in a way that is meaningful and memorable.
What is your opinion on depth vs. breadth?