The book Understanding by Design outlines a thoughtful method of designing “curriculum, assessment, and instruction – focused on developing and deepening understanding of important ideas.” (McTighe, 2005) The method introduced by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe requires the educator to deeply examine the purposes and intents of a course or unit of study. It takes into account what students should know, understand or be able to do as a result of learning. Teachers must ask themselves at the beginning of planning, “What are the desired results for my students at the end of this course?”
Understanding by Design provides templates and guidance for helping teachers design significant learning through 3 stages. First they must consider what students need to understand, beyond knowledge and skills, as well as developing essential questions to guide the instruction. The second stage of the Understanding by Design method of planning is to determine acceptable evidence of the learning through performance tasks and other forms of assessment. In a significant learning environment, performance assessments should be authentic, and may vary from student to student based on interests and abilities. The third stage outlines the specific learning activities and acts as a guide, or a WHERETO, that shines a light on the path to effective lesson, unit or course design. Effective instructional design requires that the outcomes and goals are meaningfully aligned with the activities and assessments.
In an effort to create a significant learning environment for the students attending summer STREAM camp at our school libraries, I have used the Understanding by Design method. The STREAM Camp planned for students in grades 1-8 in my innovation plan, will be a different experience for every learner involved. The main goal of the camp is for students to have an enjoyable learning experience as they explore and participate in activities of their choice centered around STEM topics. As I am more of an organizer and not an instructor of the camp, this proposed design is merely a draft. There is not a formal curriculum or standards that students are expected to master during the camp. After students’ interests are surveyed and librarians have had an opportunity to organize specific activities, this plan will be modified. Also, the three day camp is a much more informal learning environment than a typical classroom or course. The goals are more focused on exploration and gaining interests than mastering specific standards. The design template below will incorporate a few, but not all of learning activity opportunities for our STEAM Camp, which students will attend for a total of nine hours.
Previously I used Fink’s 3 Column Table to plan Significant Learning Environment Outcomes for STREAM Camp. Both of the planning methods gave me much to consider. The benefit of the 3 Column Table from Fink’s Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning is that it takes into account the bigger picture of the group of students, including the human dimension and how learners learn. It assumes that each kind of learning can stimulate other kinds of learning. Design for Understanding felt more effective at guiding the educator to specifically pinpoint what students need to understand in order to achieve and how they can get there. Going through each planning process has given me the tools I need to help the librarians create a significant learning environment during the three days of STREAM camp. Students will reap the benefit of our thorough planning.
- Avenues.org. (2013). Grant Wiggins – Understanding by Design (1 of 2). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4isSHf3SBuQ.
- Avenues.org. (2013). Grant Wiggins – Understanding by Design (2 of 2). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgNODvvsgxM.
- Fink, L. D. (2003). Self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Jossey-Bass.
- Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences, revised and updated: an integrated approach to designing college courses (Kindle). Jossey-Bass.
- Juliani, A. J. (2021, January 10). #1 – Jay McTighe: Everything You Need to Know About Backward Design and Curriculum Mapping 3.0. Backwards Podcast. episode. https://open.spotify.com/episode/5CStRpfsP1esy9mVhovzo1?si=LfUZDIaNTmyeBAHUWOtKig
- McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. P. (2013). Chapter 1. What Makes a Question Essential? In Essential questions: opening doors to student understanding (pp. 1–20). essay, ASCD.
- McTighe, J. &Wiggins, G. P. (2005). Understanding by design. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
- Mughal, Z. (2019, October 30). UbD Stage 3: Plan Learning Experiences through WHERETO (Series 4 of 4). Teaching Commons | Carthage College. https://www.carthage.edu/live/blogs/132-ubd-stage-3-plan-learning-experiences-through.
- Top 7 Kids Coding Languages of 2020 (everything you need to know). CodaKid. (2021, March 17). https://codakid.com/top-7-kids-coding-languages-of-2018/.