The DNA of MESH™The implementation of MESH™ in any given year is unified by a theme with both theoretical and applied components. The theme is broad enough to be explored across multiple subjects, promoting cross-curricular activities and learning. In essence, themes are expansive topics frequently debated in any society. Two examples of past year-long themes are “Energy & Power” and “Motion & Freedom.” Teachers facilitate learning about themes through universal questions, key concepts, essential questions, enduring understandings, and key skills – collectively, the DNA of MESH™.
Universal QuestionsAsking well-crafted universal questions is a core component of the practice of MESH™ and its Socratic, investigative approach to learning. Universal questions are important, deceptively simple, timeless, and have no definitive answers. Universal questions can lead to reasonable answers that, in turn, lead to additional universal questions; sometimes, a partial answer can lead to a better crafted universal question. “Why is the sky blue?” for example. The question is useful, focused, and causal, but it also easily leads one to respond with a simple and perhaps only technically correct answer. A better question might be a broader one. For example, “What is color?” or “Do I see the same colors you see?” With this second type of question – a question about the underlying phenomenon of color perception – our answer can rarely be final or definitive. When we answer the second type of question, we tend to immediately question our own answer. Asking students well-crafted universal questions leverages and focuses their native inquisitiveness and nurtures their ability to explore, learn and innovate.
Key ConceptsKey concepts are core ideas for exploring universal questions. They are not “big ideas” or truths that a teacher imparts to students, such as “Everything is made of atoms” (which, arguably, isn’t true). What was once a “big idea” taught in most classrooms is frequently destined to become a dated curiosity. Instead, key concepts are expressed as a primary vocabulary for engaging in meaningful conversation about universal questions. For example, genes, energy, survival, and migration. These four key concepts surface again and again when talking about evolution. Familiarity and fluency with this vocabulary is more important than making an authoritative statement with facility, such as “Phenotypes are determined by genes in an organism’s chromosomes.” Genes are a key concept for any unit about evolution, but the “big idea” that genes determine the physical characteristics of an organism is an overly simplified theory. Key concepts in the MESH™ framework are more about building vocabulary for a given domain than definitively answering a universal question.
Enduring UnderstandingsIn MESH™, enduring understandings constitute the limits of current knowledge backed by evidence when asking a universal question and exploring the unit’s key concepts and associated facts; they are true as far as can be known at this time. For example, “Organisms acquire inheritable traits through natural selection.” This “truth” is demonstrated to students through guided investigations and structured argumentation. That said, students may well discover and prove an enduring understanding to be flawed. MESH™ encourages teachers to see themselves as facilitators and to be open to learning and discovering along with their students. A student’s acquisition of an enduring understanding represents a threshold to deeper understanding. The skills practiced in acquiring an understanding become part of that student’s toolkit for becoming a more examined, engaged, and productive thinker and learner.
Incorporating the skill sets of the arts and humanities into everything students do not only eases the acquisition of these key skills for STEM-oriented students, it captures the imaginations of students who haven’t previously seen themselves as strong in STEM. Similarly, integrating the skill sets of STEM fields into the arts and humanities creates a common language for and respect among students with a wide variety of interests, strengths, and relative weaknesses, furthering and reinforcing the school’s Code of Honor for communication – civility, utility, self-reflection.