The DISCOVER Curriculum Model represents a new and exciting approach to expanding children’s abilities.  Even though full-scale DISCOVER Curricula for all grade levels is still in the development stage, curriculum prototypes, based on Curriculum Model guidelines, have shown promising results in pilot projects.  When designing the Model, DISCOVER researchers took into account the fact that each child has a different background, along with varying abilities and interests.  The resulting curriculum framework is flexible, diverse, and customizable according to the unique needs and potential of each child.  Some schools have used the Model to rework their existing curricula.  Others have adopted or written new curricula.  Either way, lesson plans following this Model stand in stark contrast to the traditional drill-and-practice, one-size-fits-all, regurgitation-of-facts approaches still used in many schools today.  They represent an emerging teaching methodology that takes advantage of new understandings of how learning occurs, and strives to capture—for education—the same astounding success brought about in industry and science through the use of specialization, hands-on problem solving, and other learning tools.

     Before discussing the essential components, it is important to note that DISCOVER Curricula follow a “constructivist” (rather than a “reductionist”) philosophy.  This approach is characterized by several key elements: (a) actively building new knowledge from experience and prior knowledge…learning lessons from past successes and failures that help increase future success; (b) acquiring higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills…rather than just finding the right answer—and in the process, understanding why that answer is right, how it was obtained, and how the same process possibly might be used in another context; (c) using and integrating several “already known” skills to learn a new skill…in essence, exploring a new task or concept by combining and experimenting with methods that have proven effective before; (d) exploring  fewer topics in greater detail, as opposed to many topics at a cursory level; (e) allowing students to be active “architects” rather than passive recipients of knowledge…posing scenarios which require the student to learn by first defining and structuring the problem, experimenting with possible solutions and trying to explain the results; (f) changing the role of teachers from merely “giving knowledge” to “guiding the learning process”…which might mean the teacher, in turn, learns from the students’ problem-solving processes.

     The following components characterize the DISCOVER Curriculum Model.  Some were included because of being effective teaching strategies used in high quality programs for gifted students—now used to enhance learning and raise standards for all students.  Others are found in successful bilingual programs.  Still others were included to broaden the applicability for students from diverse backgrounds.  All components are predicated upon the philosophy that we must first find, and then build upon, the strengths and interests of every student—honoring the fact that there certainly will be individual differences by providing numerous ways of learning the required material.


  • Active, Hands-On Learning—Sensory stimuli and bodily movement are an important part of many learning experiences, especially with children showing high Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (for whom movement is essential).  Many subjects can be taught in the context of movement and/or a rich sensory environment.  For example, a child with low Oral Linguistic skills might be able to tell a much better story when encouraged to add appropriate bodily illustrations throughout—and likely will have more fun doing so.  Or students can study abstract concepts by making and manipulating physical models or graphs.  Considering the fact that shape, texture, color, noise, movement and myriad other sensory inputs are a regular part of “real-world” learning, why should learning in a classroom setting be any different?  The DISCOVER approach, in fact, amplifies, concentrates, and integrates these natural processes into the regular school curriculum.   With the cooperation of parents, it also can be integrated into the home learning environment.

  • Integration of Culture and Language—DISCOVER philosophy strongly supports bilingual education, if implemented in such a way as to provide fluency in both languages, not just one.  Our research confirms findings of other studies, showing students who develop fluency in more than one language eventually demonstrate superior academic performance and are more successful as adults.  Integration of a child’s background and culture is equally important, especially for children newly arrived from a different culture or for children whose family environment differs substantially from norms of the dominant culture.  Using familiar symbols to illustrate concepts helps the child improve assimilation of new knowledge.

  • Group Activities and Choice—“Real-world” experiences can be classified roughly as: (a) individual observation and decision-making; (b) small group interactions; or (c) large group interactions…and often as some combination of these elements.  An effective classroom should contain all three on a regular basis.  Whereas individual decision-making emphasizes the cause and effect of personal choice, small group interactions build teamwork and group decision-making skills.  Large group interactions require both the individual and small group perspectives to be subordinate to the larger context.  They also usually involve teaching the same concepts—at the same pace—to all students in the class.  A teacher dispensing knowledge in a drill-and-practice routine is, basically, operating in a large group context, telling the students where they need to “fit in” to learn the pre-defined right answers.  Although knowing these “right answers” can be important, equally (if not more) important is learning the best methods to individually derive the right answer, or working with other people to collectively derive the right or best answer.  Unlike most traditional curricula, the DISCOVER Curriculum Model places significant emphasis on individual choice and small group decision-making…allowing students to determine which learning styles work best for their abilities and to experiment with how their abilities fit together with those of other peers.

  • Centers with the Tools of Multiple Intelligences—One of the ways DISCOVER Curricula encourage individual choice is by using “Exploratoriums”.  As the name suggests, an Exploratorium is a place where students explore various facets of learning, through what we call “Centers”.  A Center is organized according to Intelligence or content area.  For example, a Musical Center might contain various instruments and other audio-related items that allow students to explore music and sound in diverse ways.  An Art Center might have clay, brushes and paint, paper, scissors, and other materials that can be used to create many forms of art.  An Exploratorium may contain only a few, or up to as many as twenty or more Centers.  Some schools choose to reserve an entire room for this purpose, while others create small Exploratoriums in each classroom.  In either case, we recommend that students be allowed a sizeable block of time, perhaps and hour or more each day, to immerse themselves in the Center(s) of their choosing.  During this time, teachers act as guides and advisors, encouraging students to explore ever deeper into the progressively more complex problem solving exercises offered at each Center.  The content areas of the Centers are tied directly to the class curricula and are used, in part, to teach the required core competencies.

  • Interdisciplinary Themes—Content and problem-solving exercises are organized by Intelligence, according to themes.  The teacher and/or class may choose a theme such as “Habitats”, and within this theme, a topic such as “Oceans”.  They likely will start with a Problem Type 1 exercise (read about Problem Types at Problem Solving—Problem Types), in the context of a specific intelligence; for example they might explore an ocean-related exercise relating to Spatial Intelligence such as “Trace the route of the Humbolt current on a map of the world's oceans”.  Additional exercises become gradually more complex and open-ended, transforming eventually into Type 5 problems such as “Daydream about being at the bottom of the ocean. What can you make to express what you experience?”  Many diverse themes exist, appealing to numerous interests and backgrounds.

  • Varied Problem Types—The entire structure of DISCOVER Curricula is built upon problem solving and is designed to model and enhance real-world problem solving skills.  The inclusion of multiple problem types ensures the problem solving exercises will foster a wide range of necessary capacities.  For a detailed description of problem solving and problem types, as applicable to DISCOVER, see Problem Solving and Problem Types.

  • Visual and Performing Arts—Numerous studies have shown the importance of including visual and performing arts into curricula—not only for the intrinsic value of art, but to enhance the effectiveness of learning.  Each of Gardner’s Intelligences is directly related to several, if not many, types of art.  Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence can be augmented through the use of mime, dance, and theatre.  Spatial Intelligence responds to sculpture, painting, design, and computer-enhanced imagery.  Individuals with Intrapersonal Intelligence gravitate toward quiet, reflective, solitary art forms (and often indirect audiences) whereas those with more Interpersonal Intelligence prefer active art forms with a more lively social interaction (and a visible audience).  The DISCOVER model encourages schools to partner with members of the local community and practicing artists to integrate as many forms of performing and visual arts as possible.  It’s an emphasis that helps create active bodies as well as active minds, with far-reaching impacts.  Visit the Recommended Resources of this website to read descriptions of excellent and compatible programs we recommend.

  • Self-Selected Formats—As part of an emphasis on individual choice, DISCOVER encourages “self-selected formats” for students to “show what they know”.  To illustrate, consider an exploratory lesson on oceans.  Students might be asked to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject matter using their choice of formats.  Some might write a story and read it to the class, while others might perform a drama, act out the movements of a sea creature, or draw a picture.

  • Technology Integration—Familiarity with technology is becoming an increasingly important part of the regular classroom.  The DISCOVER approach, however, stresses the importance of using technology as a tool, not merely as a set of expensive “toys”.  Computers and other digital equipment are used alongside hundreds of other items as part of regular lesson plans and problem solving activities.  Use of computers with pre-school children is actually discouraged, the better option being the use of hands-on materials that encourage brain development and increase motor skills.  Computer use is encouraged only sparingly for children ages 5 through 9.  Older students, on the other hand, receive a much deeper emersion in many aspects of technology use, again with an emphasis on problem solving.  Internet collaboration and use of software that encourages higher-level thinking are regular parts of coursework for high school students.  As an example of an exercise that incorporates technology, students, as part of a history lesson, might use digital cameras, recorders, and video to interview grandparents—afterwards creating a digital report and presentation that is delivered to the class.
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