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

In commemoration of the 64th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the National Coalition on School Diversity released the research brief, Weaving the Social Fabric through Integrated Schools: How Intergroup Contact Prepares Youth to Thrive in a Multiracial Society. The brief makes a strong case for Mosaic’s strategies, quotes our Executive Director as well as a student, and includes us as a resource.

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).

More reading
Fiske, S. T. (2008). Look Twice. Greater Good Magazine. Volume V, Issue I.

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

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.

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.

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.)

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.)

More reading
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.

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

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.)

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

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

Zhang, Q. W. (1994). An intervention model of constructive conflict resolution and cooperative learning. Journal of Social Issues, 50, 99-116.


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).

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).

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.)


More reading
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.

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).

More reading
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.

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.)

More reading
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.

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.

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).