Differentiating the complexity of content means making it more complex for high ability students, those eager to think about complicated ideas and relationships. The complexity of the content of a lesson, unit or course is determined by the density and sophistication of connections between concepts involved in it. In other words, it focuses on the interconnections among concepts, principles, generalizations and theories.
It is easy to confuse complexity of the content with it’s abstractness. What is the difference? Abstractness of content is based on the richness of individual concepts in the content. Complexity of content is based on the relationships among the concepts. The two forms of differentiation are closely related. Concrete content will not be complex because the ideas in it are not related, they are discrete.
The following are examples of simple content and more complex content that includes the simple content. High ability students are capable of learning complex versions. They can learn the simple within the complex. Less able students may be able to learn complex content but they will need more time and support to learn the complex version.
Table 4.5.2 Examples of simple and complex content
|Simple (and Concrete)||Complex|
|Definitions of individual punctuation marks||Expressions of joy|
|Individual events on a timeline||Issues and forces that cause wars|
|Individual math single digit math facts that result in a sum of “7”
|the different types of relationships (mathematical operations) between numbers less than ten that might generate “7” as a result
Content organized around an interdisciplinary theme is usually more complex than content relevant to a single discipline so choosing a theme is a good place to begin efforts to create curriculum with complex content. “Change,” “Power,” and “Patterns” are all interdisciplinary themes. Table 4.5.3 presents a collection of “Universal Themes and Generalizations” developed by Dr. James Curry and John Samara.
Interdisciplinary units of study can be found and created around themes. One example is the theme of patterns. Students of all ages can develop rich understandings of patterns that are relevant to the arts, sciences and humanities through their study of patterns in botany. These understandings can be revisited and enhanced throughout their education without repeating content. Increasingly sophisticated versions of content relevant to patterns in growth and development can be introduced over the years. They might explore and analyse patterns related to the growth and development of bean seedlings by tracking changes in their size, structure, appearance, responses to changes in access to light, water, nutrients, etc. They can take the role of botanists, identifying patterns that influence the life of their plant, seeking relationships among light, water and nutrients that might enhance (or end) the life of the plant or make its beans more (or less) nutritious or its foliage more (or less) attractive, etc. Students may identify and investigate patterns in other disciplines as well, exploring those patterns, taking on the role of a professional who would work with them. Examples include, meteorologists studying weather patterns, authors who use a “formula” in their writing, architects who design buildings, and so on.
Table 4.5.3 Interdisciplinary themes
|ORDER AND CHAOS