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Depth & Complexity

Iconic Teaching

One way in which differentiated instruction is accomplished is through the integration of depth and complexity principles, theories, and generalizations into the core curriculum. The NMUSD GATE curriculum is structured around iconic teaching, which means that our teachers utilize icons or symbols that represent the different aspects of depth and complexity.

Full Depth and Complexity Icon Chart

Dimensions of Depth and Complexity

Dimensiones de Profundidad y Complejidad (español)



Language of the Discipline: An important part of being a scholar requires the use of appropriate terminology. Instructors encourage the use of appropriate language when addressing specifics in the curriculum.

Recognize the Details: This icon involves elaboration of an idea or event. Recognizing and describing the distinguishing traits of what they see develops students' ability to think both creatively and critically and is integral to the learning process.

Note the Patterns: This icon is used to train students to identify the recurring elements or repeated factors of an event or idea. It also focuses on the order of events that occur. Finally, students are asked to identify the pattern and to predict what comes next.

Define Unanswered Questions: What ideas are unclear? What information is unclear? What don’t we know? What areas have not been explained or proved yet? Do any conclusions need further evidence or support? Using this icon, these are questions that arise when discussing any area of study.

Identify the Rules: Through the use of this icon, students are taught how to define the organizational elements affecting the specific curriculum that is being studied. This process requires the identification and description of factors, either human-made or natural, which affect the information at hand.

Statement of Trends: This icon encourages the identification of changes over time. Students are guided on how to note factors or events – social, political, economic, geographic – and recognize what effects they produce.

Ethical Considerations: Students are instructed to identify and analyze the possible rights and wrongs of a given idea or event. This allows them to determine the elements that reflect bias, prejudice and discrimination. Through this focus on ethics, students develop the ability to state pro and con arguments.


Big Idea: The "big idea" is a generalization, principle, or theory about the curriculum being studied. Students are directed to make a conclusion from evidence that explains:

  • a collection of facts or ideas
  • a group of facts or ideas with a summary statement
  • identify a rule or general statement based on repeated/recurring observations of
  • data information or collection of ideas

Over Time:  This icon encourages students to identify and describe the effects that time has on the subject matter being studied. Since some aspects change throughout time and others do not, students are asked to explain how and why things change or remain the same.

Multiple Perspectives: Students are encouraged to look at ideas and events from different perspectives. It is important for students to understand that not everybody views things the same way. A common technique used to help students accomplish this is to ask them to think like an historian, anthropologist, economist, archeologist, etc.

Contact Us

GATE operations and student placement differ slightly at each school site within NMUSD.

Please contact your GATE Coordinator or Principal for more information about your school's GATE program.

Visit the School Directory to find contact information for your school.

Lori Hernandez
Director of Teaching & Learning-

Tracey Nelson
Administrative Assistant