Universal Concepts

What are Universal Concepts?

Learning is interconnected and therefore instruction should naturally be interdisciplinary. However, setting up instruction that interconnects disciplines is challenging.

Using universal concepts, such as Power or Change, and related generalizations: 

  • provides a scaffolding or organizing system to classify information from various disciplines.
  • facilitates greater retention of subject matter as students make connections within, among, and across the disciplines.
  • necessitates the use of critical and creative thinking, problem-solving , and research skills in an integrated and contextual manner.
  • affords students opportunities to examine the areas of similarities and differences in the structure and topics of the disciplines.

Curricular Example

Students in a kindergarten class learn about four topics in a day: counting to one hundred, the life cycle of a butterfly, writing their names, and defining what it means to be a good citizen. At first glance, these topics do not seem to have anything in common. The teacher decides to frame the learning under the universal concept of systems, which creates a framework for students to see connections across these areas of study. Normally, these topics are taught one after the other. Instead, the teacher introduces the idea that systems have parts that work together and challenges students to prove or explain where they can find systems within these topics throughout the day. 

Within this universal concept, students will see the connections and cohesion as they recognize that the counting system is made up of numbers, the butterfly life cycle is a system that involves a series of parts where the butterfly develops, the letters of their names are a part of the alphabet system, and characteristics of a good citizen are defined by a system where people work together to function. The framing of the content under the universal concept of systems creates interdisciplinary cohesion, connections, and increased rigor for all learners.


  • have segments that repeat
  • allow for predictions
  • have an internal order


  • have parts that work together
  • interact with one another
  • follow rules


  • has parts that interrelate
  • is no stronger than its weakest component
  • has parts that support and are supported


  • are purposeful
  • change over time
  • are powerful


  • can be positive or negative
  • is inevitable
  • is necessary for growth


  • influences or changes
  • attracts, holds, or repels
  • Is codependent with inertia


  • may be natural or constructed
  • is a form of communication
  • Is reciprocal with chaos


  • is the ability to influence
  • can be used or abused
  • may take many forms


  • can be intentional or unintentional
  • is composed of opposing forces
  • may allow for change