Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My first day with UbD

Some of our teachers are going through a 3 day workshop on Understanding by Design (aka UbD or sometimes backwards design). Some basic information can be found here, here, and here. What is kind of unique is that this workshop is only for our math teachers, so as a group they can make connections between this theoretical framework and their day-to-day functioning in the classroom as lead learners of mathematics. Every discipline has their unique set of lenses on how they view instruction, teaching, and learning, so the fact that we have a group of people viewing instruction through the same lens will help them support one another as we journey through this process.

Over the three days, we will come back to the 4 big ideas as a framework for this curriculum design process. Those ideas are:

  • Point of school is effective understanding, not prompted by recall of content and compliance
  • Understanding=using content effectively for transfer and meaning
  • UbD from engaging work and competent understanding, NOT coverage
  • Intellectual engagement is more likely when incorporated intentionally
We had a lot of chance to reflect on our instructional practices and how they relate to student learning. One of the reflective questions was "What is real understanding and how does that differ from a student just "knowing a lot"?". Some of the ideas that we came up with were that if you (a student) really understands, then they can demonstrate what they know and how they know it, they can know when NOT to use a process of learning and catch flaws and errors, and they will make
meaning via active inference in order to effectively transfer to a new context. When students just "know a lot" (without deep understanding), they can only understand what is being demonstrated, but not necessarily demonstrate/teach to others.

We need to help students learn how to apply an abstraction to a practical example. Unfortunately, too many times we leave out the practical examples with authentic applications of mathematics. Additionally, too often focus on students remembering and understanding (Bloom's levels), and leave about 1 day for creating and evaluating. It was suggested to us that we flip Bloom's to treat it like an area map and start students in the upper levels to provide authentic context to help bring the content into focus and it will provide students more opportunities to work in the upper levels of Bloom's even before the "content" is discussed. It was suggested that we let the learning of mathematics begin with a question and analysis and then let the number prove the conjecture. In other words, don't let the numbers and symbols of the language of mathematics get in the way of students learning the mathematics. Students don't need to know all of the details of statistics to have a meaningful discussion of what is fair. Here is an example activity for a student activity on determining what is fair. 

One of the other large takeaway was how authentic learning can take place in the classroom. 

Essentially, authentic learning occurs at the intersection of acquisition of knowledge, making meaning of the knowledge, and the transference of the knowledge and meaning to a novel situation. This image is meant to imply a cycle of learning without a hierarchy or starting point. Students do not necessarily need to know all of the facts and concepts to begin making meaning.

Overall, this was a very good introduction and beginning of a three-day workshop. I am looking forward to diving in more to developing essential questions and developing transfer goals. Those transfer goals are what we would want our learners to understand many years after formal schooling has ended.

Do you have experience with UbD? Have you just implemented the process? What suggestions do you have to share?

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