Daily Archives: May 9, 2007


I'm composing this post sitting on a Virgin Blue flight back to Adelaide at 7.52 pm. The bloke in front of me has just reclined his seat back into my face pushing the complimentary copy of Virgin Blue Voyeur magazine (you're got to wonder about Richard Branson sometimes) out of my hands. The little LCD screen on the back of his seat is at a absurd angle for viewing (not that there is anything worth viewing) and my assistant principal, Bec, has just bought me a Coke. I've barely used my Pocket PC on this trip to Melbourne and so with plenty of battery power in reserve, it's time to scribe a post.

The purpose of this trip was a conference called Teachers At Work thrown by the publishers at Hawker-Brownlow. Six of us went from my school with the sole purpose of doing the two day Understanding by Design workshop with US education consultant, Jay McTighe. Some edubloggers may be familiar with his work and I know Kim Cofino is one educator using his ideas as part of her work.

Surprisingly, I had never been to Melbourne before. But I have led a fairly sheltered existence and was looking forward to the experience. Over the two days I've experienced the sunny weather, rode in a Silver Top taxi and rode in a train past the MCG. As well as the serious business of the conference, I had hoped to catch up and meet a couple of fellow edubloggers with whom I've been interacting with over a period of time - Jo McLeay and Warrick Wynne. Unfortunately, Warrick had other commitments but after leaving voicemail at Jo's school, she rang me back on my mobile at a break time, keen to travel for more than an hour into the city centre to catch my colleagues and I for a meal and chat. That was absolutely fantastic of her to put herself out like that just to meet me and speaks volumes for the power of online connections and communication. It was also great for my teaching colleagues to see a real blogger who is a real teacher and that this power for mutual sharing and learning is real (and very easy). We chatted and although I will probably never meet the vast majority of my online teachers face to face, taking the opportunity to do so is a really cool thing to do. And just like Alex and Leigh, the Jo McLeay I got to know via The Open Classroom is the exact same person who shared a meal with us down on the Yarra.

Attribution: 'building the new city' by mugley

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Website - Jay McTighe, Workshop Resources.

Started by showing us a selection of doctored images titled “When Graphic Artists Get Bored.”

The goal is to create a curriculum design using the UbD Template using teams of 2/3 colleagues. Stated that using the design is enhanced by working in groups. Once the designs are completed , all are posted in a Gallery walk which is a great way to learn from others you may not have met. Use the ideas for UbD to apply.

Participant self assessment from novice to expert. Use of the three minute pause to summarize key points, add own thoughts, pose clarifying questions.

Big ideas of UbD.

Teach and assess for Understanding

What is worth understanding? Too much content material, too little time to cover it all.

What is understanding?

How might we better anticipate and address predictable student misunderstandings?

Why one the best curriculum designs “backward. “

How might we “work smarter” in curriculum design? Build on other people’s work rather than working in isolation. (Use of wikis to get teacher, working together on units of work)

3 stages of Backward Design.

1. Identify desired results. Some are pre-determined, but are also customized for the learners. What are the important ideas embedded in the goals?

2. Determine acceptable evidence.

3. Plan learning experiences and instruction.

Mantra - think like an assessor, not an activity designer. Comes naturally to performance based learning areas. Although the UbD is natural to some areas, if we are “intellectually honest” then it is something all teachers need to give attention to. Less important to focus on filling in the boxes of the template than it is to understand the logic of the design process.

Primary area tends to be activity based while secondary are focused on “coverage.” Use the textbook to “uncover” important ideas, not to cover content.

Cited a story about when he and his work partner were designing a three day workshop. Firstly, they started plugging in activities until they both realised that they needed to apply their own design principles to the planning of the three day workshop. Spending quality time on the stages of 1 and 2 meant the stage 3 planning really flowed.

Stage 1 – “unpacking standards”

Consists of 4 components - established goals, understandings, essential questions, knowledge and skills. To teach all benchmarks we would need nine more years of school K -21!

Used the iceberg metaphor to illustrate the concept of “big ideas.”

Having a close look at Essential Questions. A good example - Why do we preserve the past? Why is pattern important in Mathematics? How does science help save lives during natural disasters? A poor example – When did we decide to start playing God? How do students become global citizens?

Jay pointed out these Essential Questions should be posted in the classroom on display as it is the mechanism that engages the learning of the students.

What facts and knowledge we want to know can be tested. But understanding minimally requires a student to explain and apply their own learning in their own words.

Design tips - State understandings as full sentence generalisations. (Students will understand that…)

Do not state a skill based understanding as “how to…”

Avoid truisms (e.g. Things are always changing.)

Check the link between content standards, understandings, and essential questions. Look for connections between understanding and essential questions. List only those things (o.k.’s that you plan to teach and assess

Keep the essential questions short.

Avoid “leading” questions (e.g. What is the role of the three branches of government).

Use engaging, “kid friendly” language.

Posed an essential question to us – To what extent do we have a coherent curriculum… from the learner’s perspective?

Understanding not coverage – gave an example of a Social Studies unit that was running low on time from an Ancient World unit – spent a lot of time exploring essential questions so that when he had two sections left to go, he was able to break the class into two sections, then re-assigned the ten essential questions – two per pair. After the investigation, their job was to teach their work back to the class.

Stage 2 – determine acceptable evidence.

Think like an assessor, not an activity designer. The assessments must be designed before the lessons and activities and we must be clear about the evidence being sought. The assessment evidence must match or connect with the goals.

Showed us a judicial analogy – students should presumed innocent of understanding until proven guilty by a preponderance of evidence.

“ . . the capacity to apply facts, concepts and skills in new situations in appropriate ways.” Howard Gardner.

The Six Facets of Understanding

Explanation - theories and support

Interpretation - making meaning, stories, translations

Application - to new solutions

Perspective - other points of view, critical stance

Empathy - “walk in the shoes of…”

Self knowledge –“knowing thyself”

There is an important distinction between “side line drills” and “playing the game” in gaining understanding.

Uses the acronym of GRASPS – Goal, Role, Audience, Situation, Products/performance, Standards (criteria) as a tool for Designing Tasks Scenarios