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Designing an Ideas-and-Skills Curriculum
to improve Learning and Problem Solving

I recommend first reading the summary` of this page.
This page examines principles for an ideas-and-skills curriculum with "mutually supportive... productive interactions" between ideas and skills, showing how Design Process can help students improve their ideas-and-skills knowledge.  To do this, I'll use a hybrid model (for Problem Solving + Learning) as a framework that has these elements:  Motivation, Metacognition, Conceptual Knowledge, and Procedural Knowledge (general skills & domain-specific skills), plus Collaboration and Communication.


Before we look at interactions between ideas and skills, here is a reminder about another interaction, between types of instruction:
IF our educational goals include a variety of ideas & skills, and IF different instructional approaches are useful for helping students achieve different aspects of these goals, THEN we should expect an eclectic blending of instructional approaches to be most educationally effective, IF we can design blends of instruction with productive interactions between the different kinds of teaching.



Three types of problem solving in two contexts — Design-Inquiry & Science-Inquiry in Design Projects, and Learning Strategies in Personal Education — can be mutually supportive to improve motivation.  How?

• When students do problem-solving Design Projects (for design-inquiry and science-inquiry) we can show them that the design-thinking skills they are learning in school will be useful in life, because they use design-thinking for almost everything in life.

• When students have a forward-looking expectation that learning-in-school will improve their performing-in-life, with a transfer of learning from school into life, they will be more motivated to learn.  Then we show them that they can learn more effectively when they adopt a proactive problem-solving approach, when their objective is to "make things better" for themselves with a project of Personal Education that includes developing-and-using Learning Strategies to improve the quality of their learning, thinking, and performing.

• To complete the cycle of mutually beneficial influences, the improvements due to Learning Strategies will help students succeed in their schoolwork (including the Design Projects they do as Learning Activities), and this success will reinforce their motivated commitment to Personal Education and Learning Strategies.



Most educators agree that metacognition "can be very useful" to improve learning and/or performing if it’s done well and is effectively regulated.

Two related ways to use Design Process for cognition-and-metacognition are Coordination Strategies (in Design Projects) that guide our action-decisions during a process of design, and Learning Strategies (in Personal Education).   We develop-and-apply both types of strategy, in a variety of contexts, by using a process of design that can be improved with Design Process;  during this process we use, and continually increase, our Conceptual Knowledge about Metacognition.

objectives:  These two cognitive/metacognitive strategies are similar, and are used for similar purposes.  Both can be used to improve Conceptual Knowledge and/or Procedural Knowledge, and to improve learning and/or performing.  But for a Coordination Strategy, usually the main objective is improved performance for the Procedural Knowledge being used in a process of design.


Conceptual Knowledge

Design Process can support conceptual learning in four ways:

1) cognitive-and-metacognitive Learning Strategies (which are developed using design and Design Process) will help students learn concepts, and perform by remembering-and-transfering.


2) In 2a and 2b, learning Conceptual Knowledge is supported by using Procedural Knowledge in a process of science-inquiry:

2a) Students can use Reality Checks in creative-and-critical retroductive reasoning that helps them select-or-invent theories (a valuable Procedural Skill) so they can learn by discovery and improve their skill in this type of learning, which is a useful skill for life.

2b) Design Process shows how-and-why scientists use Reality Checks to evaluate theories, to decide whether they should reject or accept each theory.  When students understand the how-and-why of scientific logic, this can help persuade them that they also want to use these scientific methods of thinking so they (operating as scientists using Reality Checks) can evaluate theories and logically decide which theories they want to accept.  This can be useful in overcoming misconceptions.  Based on their previous experiences, many students have pre-conceptions that are personally useful but scientifically incorrect.  By comparing reality-based observations with theory-based predictions, students will recognize why some of their pre-conceptions are mis-conceptions that do not accurately describe reality, and why scientists accept other concepts.  An understanding of logical Science Process will help students reject their earlier misconceptions and embrace scientific conceptions as part of their working knowledge that they use in everyday life, not just to answer exam questions in school.


3) Design Process emphasizes the importance of Preparation when, during a Design Project, we search for information — about potential problem-solutions, relevant theories, and more — so we can "understand the current problem-situation more accurately and thoroughly."  Searching promotes two kinds of learning.  Students can improve their Conceptual Knowledge when they are more motivated to understand because this new knowledge will help them solve an interesting Design Problem.  And they are practicing the valuable skill of searching for problem-relevant information, which improves their Procedural Knowledge.


different functions:  Conceptual Knowledge is learned in #2a/2b, and in #3 it's learned (with motivation) so it can be used.


Mutual Support — ideas and skills can be mutually supportive because

• Procedural Knowledge sometimes improves Conceptual Knowledge (as in #1, 2a-2b, 3 above), and

• Conceptual Knowledge sometimes improves Procedural Knowledge, in the two ways described below.


Procedural Knowledge — General and Domain-Specific

Here are two ways to improve the quality of Procedural Knowledge or the quality of its application, by using knowledge about Design Process (in #4) and other things (in #3):


3) This is just another perspective on 3 above:  during a Design Project, when students build a strong foundation of relevant Conceptual Knowledge by finding old information in Preparation (and perhaps also producing new information) this knowledge can help them answer a question (in science-inquiry) or solve a problem (in design-inquiry) so it helps them perform well in the current project.  It also (viewing from a new perspective) helps them improve their problem-solving skills if they learn so they will perform better in future projects, by improving their skill in Generating Information (old or new) that is relevant for their project, and motivating them to do this more thoroughly if they have been persuaded (by experience, plus reflection & principles) that it can help them answer questions and solve problems.


4) When students learn principles of Design Process & Science Process, this Conceptual Knowledge can help them achieve two educational goals, for improved Ideas (understanding) and Skills (performing).  It directly improves their ideas-knowledge (Conceptual Knowledge) for understanding the Natures of Design & Science.  It also will improve their skills-knowledge (Procedural Knowledge) for doing design & science, if experience + principles is more effective than only experience;  and we should expect this, because Design Process (which includes Science Process) will help students improve two levels of skill: their individual skills, and their whole-process skills when they develop-and-apply metacognitive Coordination Strategies that include Conditional Knowledge (for individual skills and combinations of related skills) and (for whole-process skills) the logical organization of Design Process that can promote a retention-and-transfer of knowledge for both skills and ideas.


different functions:  In science-inquiry or design-inquiry, the main usefulness of #4 is for learning (to improve the quality of skills),* and #3 is for performing (to improve the results of using skills);  the emphasis placed on Learning and/or Performing and/or Enjoying varies, depending on the person and the situation.   #4 is also useful for understanding the nature of design-and-science.   Coordination Strategies (used in #4 for a Design Project) and Learning Strategies (used in #1 for a project of Personal Education, to improve ideas and/or skills) are similar uses of cognition/metacognition for analogous purposes.

* Design Process can help students coordinate their creative-and-critical thinking skills to form a productive thinking process.  I think this is the most important reason to do Design Activities and teach Design Process, so we can help students improve the process of design-thinking they use for almost everything in life, which makes design-thinking an extremely useful skill with many opportunities for transfers of learning from school into life.


Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish between knowledge that is conceptual and procedural, because of dual characteristics.  For example, Conditional Knowledge is Conceptual Knowledge (about conditions & capabilities) that functions as Procedural Knowledge to coordinate a process of design;  so is it Conceptual, or Procedural, or both?   Due to these limitations of a two-term system, educators & psychologists have constructed ways to describe knowledge in more detail.

Similarly (but for different reasons), it can be difficult to distinguish between knowledge that is general and domain-specific, as explained below.*


The title of this section is "Procedural Knowledge – General and Domain-Specific" so...

What are the differences (and similarities) between procedural skills that are general and domain-specific?  and the relationships between them?

The procedural knowledge in Design Process is for general skills – defining, generating, evaluating, coordinating – that can be used in a wide range of subject domains (as in a wide-spiral curriculum) to help students improve their problem-solving skills in each domain, and promote a transfer of skills between domains.

But for optimal problem-solving performance in a particular domain, some of these general design-skills may have to be adapted so they will be more effective for the types of problem-contexts and problem-objectives that occur in this domain.  Also, adapting may be useful for different types of problems within a domain, in its sub-domains.

And the general skills of Design Process are usually combined with domain-specific skills that vary from one domain to another.  When general and domain-specific skills are used together, some combinations may have supportive synergistic interactions that make these combinations especially effective tools for solving problems.

* Sometimes a domain-specific skill (i.e. a skill originally developed for use in one domain) will also be useful in another domain, as-is or adapted.  We should be cautious in defining skills as domain-specific, by keeping an open mind about potential for generalizability, especially with suitable adjustments.  When similar skills are used in different domains, we can view them as minor variations of a general skill, and knowing one skill will make it easier to learn the other due to transfers of learning.

Helping Students Learn:  If students, guided by a teacher, compare the skills of design-thinking in different domains and for different objectives, to find similarities and differences, their analysis will help them develop a deeper understanding of procedural knowledge, both general and domain-specific.  As part of this comparative analysis, Design Process can be used to show the logically organized functional relationships between skills, and to help students develop their conditional knowledge of when-and-why to use each skill.



Students often work together during design activities, giving them practice with the skills of collaboration.  The principles of cooperative teamwork and effective coordination — for groups of students, players, or workers (facilitated by a teacher, coach, or supervisor) — are part of Design Process.



Internal:  Students in a group can develop communication skills, and practice communicating in ways that are appropriate, clear, and productive.

External:  Many design projects include communication in order to explain or “sell” the project or solution, or to describe the process of design (what was done, observed, and concluded), or for other purposes.

Any presentation — oral or written, verbal and/or visual, short or long, formal or informal, choreographed or improvised, by an individual or group, for a design project or in other contexts — is itself a design project in which the main goal is effective communication that achieves a desired objective.


Mutual Interactions between Goal-Components

While designing an Ideas-and-Skills Curriculum, it's useful to consider mutual interactions between goal-components.  Below, influences exerted by Motivation (on Metacognition, Conceptual Knowledge,...) are in the first yellow column, and influences on Motivation (by Metacognition,...) are in the first row.  In each gray cell you can describe the ways you plan to use this component for instruction or in a curriculum, and in its column (where it's an influencer) you can predict the effects that this type of use might produce on other components, or you can observe the effects.  And maybe you'll want to revise your use of this component when you think about its effects, or (looking across a row) how it's affected by other components.   /   also:  Why do you think I've made groups of components? (shown by the different colors)  In what ways do you think these distinctions are justifiable or useful, or are not?

table for Mutual Interactions
Of course, you also can think about interactions that are more complex, with influences exerted by systems of components, not just one.  For example, POGIL (Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) claims that their 5-step metacognitive strategy (for a self-regulation methodology of self-explanation) "helps students construct the large mental structures that are essential for success in problem solving: those linking conceptual and procedural knowledge."
Skills and Subjects:  An example of a general skill is learning from lectures, which is useful in many situations.  This general skill is the objective for learning in my explanation of how to develop a Metacognitive Strategy for Learning.  When a student wants to improve several general skills in several subject areas — in a “wide spiral” approach for using similar skills in different contexts — a valuable tool for coordinating their efforts is a Skills-and-Subjects Table that promotes two useful ways of thinking.   I.O.U. — I'll finish this section later, probably in early 2013.