We are told that pupils need powerful knowledge, but what does ‘powerful knowledge’ mean and what does it look like?
OK, let’s start by defining powerful.
Powerful is having a lot of strength or force or having a great effect.
So, what qualifies as knowledge with a lot of strength, force and has a great effect?
What’s the difference between common-or-garden knowledge and powerful knowledge?
What makes it powerful? It all seems very abstract, doesn’t it?
The concept of ‘powerful knowledge’, like much of the educational jargon that does the rounds, is being bandied about wantonly, without any real understanding of what it truly means.
We posed this question to teacher colleagues on our Facebook page recently:-
What does the phrase ‘powerful knowledge’ mean to you?
We had lots of varied responses, and here are just a few to get the ball rolling…
“Knowledge that has a purpose.”
“Knowledge that the learner can use to transfer understanding to other learning situations.”
“Knowledge to help you understand the problems that the world faces and how to make a difference.”
So, who’s right? Or is this a subjective issue, like Michael Gove’s “The best of what’s been thought and said” vision for the National Curriculum in 2014.
Well, a good starting point, by way of explanation, comes from one of my favourite education authors…
“Knowledge can be said to be powerful if it changes children’s perceptions, values or understanding. If knowing something causes you to ask new questions and explore different explanations, then that knowledge is powerful.” David Didau
This is knowledge that is not just useful, interesting, or ‘handy for a pub quiz’ kind of knowledge. It’s a catalyst for change in the way children think, feel, and behave. It is not only powerful knowledge, but also empowering knowledge. This kind of knowledge actually empowers those who possess it to do something with it, to make a change for the better and to improve their own lives and / or the lives of others.
It is about changing hearts and minds which, incidentally, is the premise on which our ‘Learning Means the World’ Curriculum is built.
That’s the theory sorted out, but what does it look like in practice. Again, we have ensured that our curriculum is stacked with powerful knowledge, so let’s look at some examples.
History – The American Civil War
Powerful knowledge in history teaches pupils not just about continuity and change, but also cause and consequence.
An example of this is learning about the American Civil War, which confirmed the establishment of the United States as a single political entity and laid the foundations for America’s emergence as a world power in the 20th century. As a global event with global implications, it also led to freedom for more than four million enslaved Americans which was a catalyst for human rights reform across the world.
Geography – Ocean Pollution
Powerful knowledge in geography teaches pupils not just about locations and environments, but also processes and changes.
No matter where we live, we all depend on our oceans. Globally, over 700 million people depend on fishing for their livelihoods and fish and seafood are the main source of protein for more than a billion of us. The oceans also give us oxygen to breathe and absorb greenhouse gas emissions. Through their role in the water cycle, they also give us water to drink. Pupils need to understand that our seas are now under threat as a result of the processes and changes that have occurred through all manner of types of pollution, over fishing and habitat destruction.
Science – Micro-Organisms
Powerful knowledge in science teaches pupils not just about processes and changes, but also about uses and implications.
The connection which Elizabeth Blackwell made between poor hand hygiene and disease in the 1860s is more relevant than ever for us today. With the global pandemic, COVID, in full swing, the importance of understanding what micro-organisms are and how they wield the power of life and death is definitely something pupils need to learn.
In answer to our title question… this is knowledge with significance.
This is knowledge that empowers by changing perceptions and values.
Most importantly, it is knowledge that helps children understand and interpret the world through the lens of a hopeful future, whilst unlocking doors to life beyond their immediate experiences.
Our ‘Learning Means the World’ Curriculum is built on a powerful knowledge base.