Why Mosaic Works: What the Research Says

The Mosaic Project’s cur­ricu­lum, strate­gies, and phi­los­o­phy reflect the wis­dom of a wide scope of psy­cho­log­i­cal and edu­ca­tional research. The fol­low­ing review offers a win­dow into the vast body of study that informs The Mosaic Project’s meth­ods.

The research below sug­gests that the fol­low­ing Mosaic strate­gies con­tribute to the suc­cess­ful real­iza­tion of our orga­ni­za­tional and cur­ric­u­lar goals. Through our pro­grams we:

  • offer an inten­tional, safe space to dis­cuss issues that sep­a­rate and unite us as peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties
  • cre­ate pos­i­tive, non-competitive oppor­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds to con­nect and engage over a long period of time
  • offer chal­leng­ing but achiev­able goals that require diverse teams to work together
  • cul­ti­vate a sense of shared pur­pose and iden­tity among diverse stu­dent and staff par­tic­i­pants
  • address issues of prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion head on
  • offer pos­i­tive men­tors who reflect the diver­sity of those we serve
  • use expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion to cater to a wide range of learn­ing styles
  • use music as an inte­gral part of our cur­ricu­lum, facil­i­tat­ing mem­ory and recall of key lessons
  • use imag­i­na­tion, fun, and magic to inspire our stu­dents
  • pro­vide a safe res­i­den­tial set­ting in a neu­tral envi­ron­ment for peo­ple to step out­side their com­fort zones, learn, and get to know each other
  • work pri­mar­ily with chil­dren, aim­ing to decon­struct prej­u­dice before it becomes entrenched
  • work pri­mar­ily with 9–10 year-olds who are at a crit­i­cal point in their devel­op­ment where they have the capac­ity to under­stand oth­ers’ per­spec­tive and empathize

Contact Theory

Contact Theory states that under the right con­di­tions, con­tact between mem­bers of dif­fer­ent groups can reduce con­flicts and prej­u­dices. Simply plac­ing a diverse group of stu­dents together is not enough to break down stereo­types and prej­u­dice. They also need to be treated as equals; share com­mon goals and have oppor­tu­ni­ties for coop­er­a­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and pos­i­tive, non­com­pet­i­tive inter­ac­tions with one another; and feel like their inter­min­gling is sup­ported by men­tors and author­ity fig­ures. Research sug­gests that the more of these fac­tors in place, the more likely peo­ple are to over­come their biases (Fiske, 2008; Van Laar, 2005). Effective com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tive con­flict res­o­lu­tion strate­gies also sup­port healthy inte­gra­tion across com­mu­ni­ties of dif­fer­ence (Maznevski & DiStefano, 1996).

Fiske, S. T. (2008). Look Twice. Greater Good Magazine. Volume V, Issue I. link to cita­tion

Maghzi, S. (2004) Getting Along Across Differences: An Annotated Bibliography. Greater Good Magazine. link to cita­tion

Pettigrew, T.F. and Tropp, L. R. (2008) How does inter­group con­tact reduce prej­u­dice? Meta-analytic tests of three medi­a­tors. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38, 922–934. [pdf avail­able upon request]

Pettigrew, T.F. and Tropp, L. R. (2006) A Meta-Analytic Test of Intergroup Contact Theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 751–783. [pdf avail­able upon request]

Van Laar, C., Levin, S., Sinclair, S., and Sidanius, J. (2005). The effect of uni­ver­sity room­mate con­tact on eth­nic atti­tudes and behav­ior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 329–345.

Common pur­pose or goal

Social divi­sions may also be tran­scended and greater eth­nic har­mony achieved through a group’s unit­ing suc­cess­fully around a com­mon pur­pose or goal, espe­cially if it is designed to span ethnic/racial bound­aries. (Also see Sherif, 1966; James, 1910/1970; Holland & Andre, 1989; Staub, 1989, ch. 18; Sharan, et al., 1980; Fishbein, 1996; Bond, 1988.)

Maghzi, S. (2004) Getting Along Across Differences: An Annotated Bibliography. Greater Good Magazine. link to cita­tion

Super-ordinate shared iden­tity

Linked to the pos­i­tive effects of com­mon pur­pose and goals, research has found that the pro­mo­tion of a super-ordinate iden­tity unites mem­bers of oppo­si­tional groups and replaces hos­til­ity with com­mon iden­tity. (Gaertner et al., 1993). (See also Brown and Turner, 1979, on criss-cross cat­e­go­riza­tion or Dorai, 1993, on cross-cutting social ties.)

Gaertner, S. L., Dovidio, J. F., Anastasio, P A., Bachman, B. A., and Rust, M. C. (1993). The com­mon ingroup iden­tity model: Recategorization and the reduc­tion of inter­group bias. In W. Stroebe & M. Hewstone (Eds.), European Review of Social Psychology, 4, 1–26. [pdf avail­able upon request]

Maghzi, S. (2004) Getting Along Across Differences: An Annotated Bibliography. Greater Good Magazine. link to cita­tion

Conflict Resolution Curriculum leads to more emo­tional con­trol and pro-social behav­iors. It also leads to gains in stan­dard­ized test scores.

Research sug­gests that stu­dents who study con­flict res­o­lu­tion exhibit more emo­tional con­trol and pos­i­tive social behav­iors than their peers. Research also links con­flict res­o­lu­tion study to gains in stan­dard­ized test scores (Aber et. al, 1999). Nonviolent con­flict res­o­lu­tion skills help reduce lev­els of eth­nic dishar­mony within the school set­ting itself, out­side school, and later in life. It appears that well-ingrained strate­gies for con­flict res­o­lu­tion are also a pro­tec­tion against the esca­la­tion of ten­sion, vio­lence and bul­ly­ing in schools. (Also see Stevahn et al., 1996; Zhang, 1994; Gross, 1994.)

Klass, P. (2009). At Last, Facing Down Bullies (and Their Enablers). The New York Times, June 8. link to cita­tion

Maghzi, S. (2004) Getting Along Across Differences: An Annotated Bibliography. Greater Good Magazine. link to cita­tion

Zhang, Q. W. (1994). An inter­ven­tion model of con­struc­tive con­flict res­o­lu­tion and coop­er­a­tive learn­ing. Journal of Social Issues, 50, 99–116. [pdf avail­able upon request]


Supporting chil­dren to feel pride in their racial or eth­nic iden­tity (with­out under­cut­ting other eth­nic iden­tity groups) helps boost their self-esteem (Bowman and Howard in Briscoe-Smith, 2008).

Briscoe-Smith, A. (2008). Rubbing Off. Greater Good Magazine. Volume V, Issue 1. link to cita­tion

Music as an Educational Tool

Research shows that learn­ing through music and singing songs helps stu­dents remem­ber and recall infor­ma­tion over time (Rainey et al., 2002; Wallace, 1994; Thaut et al., 2005).

Rainey, D. W. and Larsen, J. D. (2002). The Effect of Familiar Melodies on Initial Learning and Long-term Memory for Unconnected Text. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 20(2), 173–186. link to cita­tion

Thaut H., Peterson D. A., and McIntosh G. C. (2005). Temporal entrain­ment of cog­ni­tive func­tions: musi­cal mnemon­ics induce brain plas­tic­ity and oscil­la­tory syn­chrony in neural net­works under­ly­ing mem­ory. Center for Biomedical Research in Music, Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Neuroscience Programs, Colorado State University. link to cita­tion

Wallace, W. T. (1994). Memory for music: Effect of melody on recall of text. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 20 (6), 1471–1485. link to cita­tion

Link between Social-Emotional Intelligence and Academic Performance

There is a wide body of research that reflects a dis­tinct con­nec­tion between social-emotional intel­li­gence and aca­d­e­mic per­for­mance. Research sug­gests that early pro-social behav­ior strongly pre­dicts sub­se­quent aca­d­e­mic achieve­ment, even for those stu­dents whose aca­d­e­mic stand­ing at age eight was not high. Conversely, deficits in emo­tional intel­li­gence may lead to higher inci­dence of behav­ioral and learn­ing chal­lenges. The impli­ca­tion is that help­ing chil­dren develop social skills at an early age may have a greater impact on their aca­d­e­mic abil­i­ties than con­cen­trat­ing solely on their aca­d­e­mics. Skills that sup­port aca­d­e­mic per­for­mance include: man­ag­ing emo­tions that inter­fere with learn­ing and con­cen­tra­tion; devel­op­ing moti­va­tion and the abil­ity to per­se­vere even in the face of aca­d­e­mic set­backs and chal­lenges; work­ing coop­er­a­tively and effec­tively in the class­room and in peer learn­ing groups; set­ting and work­ing toward aca­d­e­mic goals. (Also see Caprara et al., 2000; Izard et al., 2001; Watson, 2004; Petrides et al., 2002, Ragozzino, 2003; Zins et al., 2004; Gross, 1994.)

Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Pastorelli, C., Bandura, A., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2000). Prosocial foun­da­tions of children’s aca­d­e­mic achieve­ment. Psychological Science, 11, 302–306.

Cherniss, C., Extein, M., Goleman, D., and Weissberg, R.P. (2006). Emotional intel­li­gence: What does the research really indi­cate? Educational Psychologist, 41(4), 239–245. [pdf avail­able upon request]

Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., and Schellinger, K.B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.

Elias, M. J., Wang, M. C., Weissberg, R. P., Zins, J. E., and Walberg, H. J. (2002). The other side of the report card: stu­dent suc­cess depends on more than test scores. American School Board Journal, 189(11), 28–30.

Petrides, K.V., Frederickson N. and Furnham, A. (2002). The Role of Trait Emotional Intelligence in Academic Performance and Deviant Behavior at School. Personality and Individual Differences. 36, 277–293. [pdf avail­able upon request]

Ragozzino, K., Resnik H., Utne-O’Brien, M., and Weissberg, R. P. (2003). Promoting Academic Achievement through Social and Emotional Learning. Educational Horizons, Summer. 169–171.

Watson, M. (2004). A Curriculum of Care. Greater Good Magazine, Spring.

Zhang, Q. W. (1994). An inter­ven­tion model of con­struc­tive con­flict res­o­lu­tion and coop­er­a­tive learn­ing. Journal of Social Issues, 50, 99–116. [pdf avail­able upon request]

Zins, J. E., Bloodworth, M. R., Weissberg, R. P., and Walberg, H. (2004). The sci­en­tific base link­ing social and emo­tional learn­ing to school suc­cess. In J.E. Zins, R.P. Weissberg, M.C. Wang, & H.J. Walberg,(Eds.), Building aca­d­e­mic suc­cess on social and emo­tional learn­ing: What does the research say? NY: Teachers College Press.

Link between Emotional Intelligence and Risky Behavior

Students with high Emotional Intelligence are less likely to have unau­tho­rized absences and less likely to be excluded in schools. Research indi­cates that emotion-related, self-perceived abil­i­ties implicit in emo­tional intel­li­gence decrease deviant behav­ior, with effects that are par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to vul­ner­a­ble or dis­ad­van­taged ado­les­cents (Petrides et al., 2002).

Petrides, K.V., Frederickson N. and Furnham, A. (2002). The Role of Trait Emotional Intelligence in Academic Performance and Deviant Behavior at School. Institute of Education, University of London, UK, December. [pdf avail­able]

Payton, J. W., Graczyk, P., Wardlaw, D., Bloodworth, M., Tompsett, C., and Weissberg, R. P. (2000). Social and emo­tional learn­ing: a frame­work of pro­mot­ing men­tal health and reduc­ing risk behav­ior in chil­dren and youth. Journal of School Health, 70, 179–185.

The Power of Residential Programs

Residential out­door expe­ri­ences encour­age suc­cess by ele­vat­ing stu­dents’ moti­va­tion and con­fi­dence. There is also sub­stan­tial research evi­dence sug­gest­ing that out­door adven­ture pro­grams can pos­i­tively impact young people’s: atti­tudes, beliefs and self-perceptions. Examples of out­comes include inde­pen­dence, con­fi­dence, self-esteem, locus of con­trol, self-efficacy, per­sonal effec­tive­ness, and cop­ing strate­gies; as well as inter­per­sonal and social skills, such as social effec­tive­ness, com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, group cohe­sion, and team­work. (Also see Cooper, 1996; Dettmann-Easler et al., 1996; American Institutes for Research, 2005.)

Muñoz, S. A. (2009). Children and the Outdoors: A Literature Review. Forres, Scotland: Sustainable Development Research Centre.

Rickinson, M., Dillon, J., Teamey, K., Morris, M., Choi, M, Y., Sanders, D., and Benefield, P. (2004). A Research Review of Outdoor Learning. National Foundation for Educational Research and Kings College. Field Studies Council. link to cita­tion

American Institutes for Research. (2005). Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California Executive Summary. Submitted to: The California Department of Education. January 31. [pdf avail­able upon request]

Working with chil­dren at a crit­i­cal devel­op­men­tal phase

Research sug­gests that racial aware­ness is formed between the ages of three and four years, and that chil­dren begin to show prej­u­di­cial atti­tudes toward mem­bers of other races by the age of five. The Mosaic Project strives to work with chil­dren as soon as pos­si­ble before their prej­u­dices and stereo­types become entrenched (Balch et al., 1978; Fishbein et al., 1996; Williams, 1977). Research also sug­gests that chil­dren increase their capac­ity to take a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, or empathize, in their pre-adolescent years, the age stu­dents attend The Mosaic Project Outdoor School (Selman and Byrne, 1974; Selman, 1976).

Bronson, P. and Merryman, A. (2009). See Babies Discriminate. Newsweek. Sept 14. link to cita­tion

Cotton, K. (2001). Developing Empathy in Children and Youth. School Improvement Research Series. NW Regional Education Laboratory. link to cita­tion

Selman, R. L. and Byrne, D. F. (1974). A Structural-Developmental Analysis of Levels of Role Taking in Middle Childhood. In Child Development, 45, 803–806. [pdf avail­able upon request]

Shultz, W. P. (2009). The Moral Call of the Wild. Scientific American. Dec 1. link to cita­tion

Full bib­li­og­ra­phy and full pdf ver­sion avail­able.

Alumni Survey

We are thrilled to share with you the pre­lim­i­nary results of an excit­ing study. We have begun sur­vey­ing our alumni who par­tic­i­pated in Mosaic’s Outdoor School as 4th/5th graders five or more years ago about the long-term impact the expe­ri­ence has had on their lives. The responses have been over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. Here is a sneak peek: