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

The Mosaic Project’s Outdoor Project, which brings together students from very diverse backgrounds for a full week, is primarily based on Contact Theory. Contact Theory states that under the right conditions, contact between members of different groups can reduce conflicts and prejudices. However, 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; come together on neutral ground; and feel like their intermingling is supported by mentors and authority figures. Additionally, issues of prejudice must be directly addressed. Research suggests that the more of these factors that are in place, the more likely people are to overcome their biases (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011; Fiske, 2008; Van Laar, 2005). Effective communication and collaborative conflict resolution strategies also support healthy integration across communities of difference (Maznevski & DiStefano, 1996). Intergroup friendship is particularly important in reducing prejudice between groups (Pettigrew, et al. 2011). The effects of productive contact are generalizable beyond the initial contact experience, and proximity to others with diverse social networks reduces prejudice (Ramiah & Hewstone, 2013; Christ, 2014). The Mosaic Outdoor Project, led by a supportive and diverse staff team, creates optimal conditions for students to learn with and befriend those from a variety of backgrounds, breaking down stereotypes and prejudice at a young age.

More reading

Christ, O. et. al., (2014) Contextual effect of positive intergroup contact on outgroup prejudice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol. 111 No. 11. P. 3996-4000.

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.

Maznevski, M. L., & Distefano. J. J. (1996). The mortar in the mosaic: A new look at composition, process, and performance in decision-making groups. Paper presented at the Academy of Management annual meeting, August.

Pettigrew, T. F. and Tropp, L. R. (2011) When Groups Meet: The Dynamics of Intergroup Contact, Psychology Press, New York.

Pettigrew, T. F.; Tropp, L. R.; Wagner, U.; & Christ, O. (2011) Recent advances in intergroup contact theory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. Vol. 35 Issue 3, p. 271-280.

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.

Ramiah, A. & Hewstone, M. (2013) Intergroup contact as a tool for reducing, resolving, and preventing intergroup conflict: Evidence, limitations, and potential. American Psychologist. Vol. 68, No. 7. 527-542.

Rapp, C. and Freitag, M. (2015) Teaching Tolerance? Associational Diversity and Tolerance Formation. Political Studies. Vol. 63 Issue 5, p. 1031-1051.

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

Throughout their week at the Outdoor Project, students from different elementary schools learn, play, and complete challenges together. Research shows that divisions may be transcended and greater ethnic harmony achieved through a group uniting successfully around a common purpose or goal, especially if it is designed to span ethnic/racial boundaries (Maghzi, 2004). When students are of equal status and have to work together toward a common goal, attitudes toward ethnically different people improve (Hogg & Gaffney, 2018). Additionally, having a multitude of perspectives and cognitive diversity in groups improves their problem solving (Reynolds & Lewis, 2017). The Outdoor Project facilitates students in group challenges that they must work together to solve using the new knowledge they’ve learned about peacemaking from the Mosaic curriculum.

More reading

Hogg, M. & Gaffney, A. (2018) Group Processes and Intergroup Relations in Stevens’ Handbook of Experimental Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience. Wiley. Hoboken, NJ, p.1-34

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

Reynolds, A. & Lewis, D. (2017) Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse. Harvard Business Review.

Super-Ordinate Shared Identity

Linked to the positive effects of common purpose and goals, research has found that the promotion of a superordinate identity unites members of oppositional groups and replaces hostility with common identity (Gaertner et al., 1993; see also Maghzi 2004). People are much more likely to help each other and view those sharing their superordinate identity favorably without giving up dual identities (Gaertner & Dovido, 2014). Communication is also improved when a superordinate identity is established (Greenaway et. al., 2014). At the Outdoor Project students spend the majority of their time with their cabins and sharing groups (day time learning cohorts), each of which are mixed with students from all participating elementary schools. All students are united by the values of Mosaic, working together to become peacemakers.

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.

Gaernter, S. L. & Dovido, J. F. (2014) A Common Ingroup Identity A Categorization-Based Approach for Reducing Intergroup Bias. Chapter in The Handbook of Prejudice, Stereotyping, and Discrimination. Psychology Press, New York.

Greenaway, K. H. et al. (2014). Shared Identity is Key to Effective Communication. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol 41. Issue 2. p. 171-182.

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


Conflict Resolution Curriculum

Mosaic’s key curriculum revolves around the explicit teaching of assertive conflict resolution. 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. Facilitated and dialogical approaches to conflict resolution have positive effects on cross cultural conflicts (Loode, 2014). It appears that well-ingrained strategies for conflict resolution are also a protection against the escalation of tension, violence and bullying in schools. Teaching nonviolent communication can help increase empathy between peers (Nosek, Gifford, & Kober, 2014).  (Also see Latipun et al., 2012; Stevahn et al., 1996; Zhang, 1994; Gross, 1994.)  By learning Mosaic’s concrete steps for conflict resolution, students gain confidence in their ability to resolve issues.

More reading

Gross, J S. (1994). Improving Academic Achievement and Interpersonal Relationships among Diverse 5th Graders by Strengthening Self-Image and Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills. Ed.D. Practicum, Nova Southeastern University.

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

Latipun, S., Nasir, R., Zainah, A. Z. & Khairudin, R. (2012) Effectiveness of Peer Conflict Resolution Focused Counseling in Promoting Peaceful Behavior among Adolescents. Asian Social Science. Vol. 8, No. 9, p. 8-16.

Loode, S. (2011) Navigating the Unchartered Waters of Cross-Cultural Conflict Resolution Education. Conflict Resolution Quarterly. Vol 29.

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

Nosek, M., Gifford, E., & Kober, B. (2014). Nonviolent Communication training increases empathy in baccalaureate nursing students: A mixed method study. Journal of Nursing Education & Practice, 4(10), 1-15

Stevahn, L., Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., Real, D. (1996). The impact of a cooperative or individualistic context on the effectiveness of conflict resolution training. American Educational Research Journal, 33, 801-825.

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 and engagement with communities (Eckart, 2017; Bowman and Howard in Briscoe-Smith, 2008). Self esteem can also be improved by teaching empathy and perspective taking, which increases perceived closeness with peers (Peterson, Bellows, & Peterson, 2015). Two of Mosaic’s core values are self-respect and individuality, which encourage students to be kind and considerate to themselves, and to be proud of their strengths and culture. Empathy and perspective taking are two lessons emphasized throughout the Mosaic curriculum as essential tools for creating community and conflict resolution.

More reading

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

Eckart, K. (2017) Promoting self-esteem among African-American girls through racial, cultural connections. University of Washington News.

Peterson, J. L.; Bellows, A.; & Peterson, S. (2015) Promoting connection: Perspective-taking improves relationship closeness and perceived regard in participants with low implicit self-esteem. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Vol 56, p. 160-164.

Music as an Educational Tool

Mosaic’s unique, original music features into the curriculum directly: every lesson and concept has an accompanying song, and the Outdoor School has multiple music times each day. Research shows that learning through music and singing songs helps students remember and recall information over time (An et. al., 2011; Rainey et al., 2002; Wallace, 1994; Thaut et al., 2005). Music as a mnemonic device aids with word consolidation and line recall, especially when compared to people who learn concepts and words without music (Tamminen et. al., 2015; Lummis et. al., 2017). By learning songs like “Fighting is Not the Solution” and “Assertiveness,” students better remember key words and concepts long after their week at the program.

Link Between Social-Emotional Intelligence and Academic Performance

Mosaic helps students develop social emotional skills like empathy and awareness of others through games and discussions. 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. Therefore, 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; and setting and working toward academic goals. (Also see MacCann et al., 2020; Perera & DiGiacomo, 2013; Ahmed et al.; 2019; Caprara et al., 2000; Izard et al., 2001; Watson, 2004; Petrides et al., 2002, Ragozzino, 2003; Zins et al., 2004; Gross, 1994.)


More reading

Ahmed, Z., Asim, M., Pellitteri, J. (2019) Emotional intelligence predicts academic achievement in Pakistani management students. The International Journal of Management Education. Vol. 17, Issue 2, p. 286-293.

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.

Gross, J S. (1994). Improving Academic Achievement and Interpersonal Relationships among Diverse 5th Graders by Strengthening Self-Image and Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills. Ed.D. Practicum, Nova Southeastern University.

Izard C, Fine S, Schultz D, Mostow A, Ackerman B, Youngstrom E. Emotion knowledge as a predictor of social behavior and academic competence in children at risk. Psychol Sci. 2001 Jan;12(1):18-23.

MacCann, C., et. al. (2020) Emotional Intelligence Predicts Academic Performance: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 146(2), 150-186.

Perera, H., & DiGiacomo, M. (2013) The relationship of trait emotional intelligence with academic performance: A meta-analytic review. Learning and Individual Differences. Vol 28, p. 20-33.

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 Lowered Bullying-type Behavior

The Mosaic Project’s curriculum centers on fostering social-emotional competencies and practicing peacebuilding skills in order to address bullying-type behaviors such as aggression, teasing, and exclusion. Students with high emotional intelligence are less likely to have unauthorized absences and less likely to be excluded in schools; additionally, bullying behavior is negatively associated with emotional intelligence, and students adopting strong prosocial behaviors are much less likely to bully other students (Schokman et. al., 2014; Baroncelli & Ciuddi, 2014). Higher emotional intelligence is associated with lower levels of aggression across ages and cultures (Garcia-Sancho & Salguero, 2014). 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). Short-term interventions on emotional intelligence can have effects lasting far beyond the program (Nelis et. al., 2011).

More reading

Baroncelli, A. & Ciuddi, E. (2014) Unique effects of different components of trait emotional intelligence in traditional bullying and cyberbullying. Journal of Adolescence. Vol 37, No. 6, p. 807-815.

Garcia-Sancho, E., Salguero, J.M., & Fernandez-Berrocal, P. (2014) Relationship between emotional intelligence and aggression: A systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior. Vol 19, No. 5, p. 584-591.

Nelis, D., Kotsou, I., Quoidbach, J., Hansenne, M., Weytens, F., Dupuis, P., & Mikolajczak, M. (2011). Increasing emotional competence improves psychological and physical well-being, social relationships, and employability. Emotion, 11(2), 354–366.

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.

Schokman, C., Downey, L., Lomas, J., Wellham, D., Wheaton, A., Simmons, N., & Stough, C. (2014) Emotional intelligence, victimisation, bullying behaviours and attitudes. Learning and Individual Differences, Vol. 36, p. 194-200.

The Power of Residential Programs

Mosaic’s Outdoor Project  is a unique weeklong experience in an outdoor camp where students sleep in cabins and spend much of their time outdoors. Residential outdoor experiences encourage success by elevating students’ motivation and confidence (James & Williams, 2017; Kalert, 2018). Substantial evidence suggests that outdoor adventure programs can positively impact young people’s attitudes, beliefs and self-perceptions. 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. Unfortunately, outdoor education has historically excluded students of color and non-upper class kids (Kalert, 2018). By expanding residential outdoor program access to students from a diverse set of backgrounds with an explicit focus on equity and social-emotional skills, Mosaic actively works to close that gap. (Also see Dettmann-Easler et al., 1996; Muñoz, 2009; Rickinson et al. 2004; American Institutes for Research, 2005.)

More reading

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.

Buskirk-Cohen, A. (2015) Effectiveness of a Creative Arts Summer Camp: Benefits of a Short-Term, Intensive Program on Children’s Social Behaviors and Relationships. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. Vol 10, No. 1, p. 34-35.

Dettmann-Easler, D., & Pease, J.L. (1996). Days of Wonder: Benefits of Residential Environmental Education Programs. The Science Teacher, 63, 41-44.

Goodman, C. (2017) Landscapes of Belonging: Systematically Marginalized Students and Sense of Place and Belonging in Outdoor Experiential Education. M.A., United States — Arizona: Prescott College. 

James, J. K. & Williams, T. (2017) School-Based Experiential Outdoor Education: A Neglected Necessity. Journal of Experiential Education. Vol 40, No. 1, p. 58– 71

Kalert, D. (2018) Social Justice in Outdoor Experiential Education: A Literature Analysis of K-12 Outdoor Education Programs in the United States. International Development, Community and Environment, No. 221.

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.


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 (Fishbein et al., 1996). The Mosaic Project works with children as soon as possible before their prejudices and stereotypes become entrenched. As young adolescents, people start to shift their understanding of in-group and out-group differences to actual prejudice. They also begin to conceptualize morality and fairness in more nuanced terms (Rutland & Killen, 2015). Research suggests that children increase their capacity to take a different perspective, or empathize, in their pre-adolescent years (Selman and Byrne, 1974; Selman, 1976)—the age students attend The Mosaic Project Outdoor Project. Out-group contact is particularly effective for reducing prejudice in upper elementary school. The ages Mosaic primarily works with are especially sensitive to environmental cues to either develop stronger prejudices or not (Raabe & Beelman, 2011).

More reading

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

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

Raabe, T. & Beelman, A. (2011) Development of Ethnic, Racial, and National Prejudice in Childhood and Adolescence: A Multinational Meta‐Analysis of Age Differences. Child Development. Vol 82, No. 6, p. 1715-1737.

Rutland, A. & Killen, M. (2015) A Developmental Science Approach to Reducing Prejudice and Social Exclusion: Intergroup Processes, Social‐Cognitive Development, and Moral Reasoning. Social Issues and Policy Review. Vol 9, No. 1, p. 121-154.

Selman, R. L. (1976). Social-cognitive understanding: A guide to educational and clinical practice. In T. Lickona (Ed.), Moral development and behavior: Theory, research, and social issues (pp. 299–317). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

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.