This quarter our culminating project for course EDTC 6102 (Teaching, Learning, and Assessment 1) in the Digital Education Leadership program required us to read the text, Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and create a lesson or unit of study incorporating technology in a meaningful way using backwards design as detailed in the book. While I have created thousands of lesson plans in my teaching career, the concept of backwards design was fairly new to me. While I like to think that most of my lessons are focused on and constructed around the learning objective, having the opportunity to really dive into the details of this concept of lesson planning and be forced to explicitly plan a lesson or unit step by step following Wiggins and McTighe’s framework was very valuable and allowed for a great deal of reflection on my own teaching practice and curriculum planning in general. I chose to explore how our youngest students first begin to understand coding and computer programming, both how it works and why it is important. This learning experience has students using age-appropriate robots (Code-a-pillar, Bee-Bot, or Code-and-go Mouse) that must be programmed to run. Students are required to problem solve, design, reflect, and be creative through the learning activities listed below.
Introducing Coding to Primary Students Using Robots
1. Pre-Assessment. What is a robot?
2. Group discussion: What do you know about robots? Where have you seen one? What do they do? Can they do different things? Can they help us? Share our pre-assessments.
3. Introduce the Code-a-pillar, Bee-Bot, or Code-and-go Mouse. How is this the same or different from other robots we have seen or heard about?
4. How can we tell the robot how to move? “Let’s test it out several times in several ways!” “Will the same code always do the same thing? Test it out whole-class, then in small groups.
5. Make a plan for the Code-a-pillar. First “code” the robot, then predict where it will finish. Next choose (or have a peer choose) where the robot should stop at the end of the code and program the robot to get to that location.
6. De-bug. How can we make changes if the robot doesn’t do what we had planned for it to do?
7. Work in Small Groups (3-4) students to build an Obstacle Course for your robot.
8. Class Discussion: What you are all doing in coding. What is coding? Why is it important? Where it is used in your life?
9. Verbal/written and classroom observation Assessment :
11. Reflection: Students will reflect on these learning experiences using a journal. Primary reflection journal from Code.org
12. Next Steps: Code.org curriculum: First, Unplugged lessons (K Lesson and 1st Lesson) and then Course A (Kindergarten) and Course B (1st grade).
ISTE Student Standard 2 is perhaps one of the most important standards for our students because with all the opportunities the digital world offers there is a great deal of potential for negative experiences and repercussions, especially when users are young and inexperienced. This is why it is critical that we teach our students to “recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world” and ensure “they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical” (ISTE, 2017). With my lesson on using robots, the students are exposed to this standard when they begin to understand the “big picture” of code and programming. During our discussions about what coding is and why is is important to our world, students will recognize the opportunities of living, learning, and working in a interconnected digital world.
Reflection on the Backwards Design Process
This project was valuable to me because it required me to become a more reflective teacher. Several times during this quarter when I was working on this project, I found myself going back to the beginning (or the end since I was working backwards) to look at the work I had done and make changes as I continued through the process. I also liked how this process allowed the teacher to become the “designer” of the lesson. While the process was well structured, it also allowed for a great deal of creativity and professional judgement and preference. The most challenging phase for me was actually the first phase – Desired Results. I think this was the case because it is often this phase of the lesson or unit that we, as educators, often just plug in from the list of standards we have be given for the grade and content area we are teaching. It is the part of the lesson or unit that it typically not given much thought or reflection. For this project I focused mostly on one lesson, but I think in the future when I use Backwards Design I will plan for an entire unit or even use it to look at my curriculum map for the entire school year. I think this way of looking at learning activities and instruction would also be beneficial to students. It could help answer a lot of the “Why are we doing this?” type of questions and allow students to be involved of the design of their own learning experiences.
The Six Facets of Understanding
In their book Wiggins and McTighe write “understanding is multidimensional and complicated. There are different types of understanding, different methods of understanding, and conceptual overlap with other intellectual targets.” Because of this complexity, Wiggins and McTighe “developed a multifaceted view of what makes up a mature understanding, a six sided view of the concept. When we truly understand, we
- Can explain—via generalizations or principles, providing justified and systematic accounts of phenomena, facts, and data; make insightful connections and provide illuminating examples or illustrations.
- Can interpret—tell meaningful stories; offer apt translations; provide a revealing historical or personal dimension to ideas and events; make the object of understanding personal or accessible through images, anecdotes, analogies, and models.
- Can apply—effectively use and adapt what we know in diverse and real contexts—we can “do” the subject.
- Have perspective—see and hear points of view through critical eyes and ears; see the big picture.
- Can empathize—find value in what others might find odd, alien, or implausible; perceive sensitively on the basis of prior direct experience.
- Have self-knowledge—show metacognitive awareness; perceive the personal style, prejudices, projections, and habits of mind that both shape and impede our own understanding; are aware of what we do not understand; reflect on the meaning of learning and experience. (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005)”
When considering my lesson on using robots to introduce primary students to coding, I feel like I touch on all of these facets. Although my students (for this lesson) are young, ages 5-7, their ability to understand really isn’t that different from an adult.
- When my students code their robots they can explain why they chose the codes they did.
- When my students create obstacle courses for their robots they can interpret what they have learned about programming these robots.
- When my students debug their code they can apply what they have learned to “do” the real work (makes errors and learning from those errors).
- When my students program the robot in two different ways (code first then predict the ending point and choose the ending point and then program the robot to get there) they have perspective to see the big picture.
- When my students discuss what they think of when they hear the word “robot” and share their ideas with their peers they can empathize by finding value in others’ understandings and experiences.
- When my students complete their self-assessment and reflect on the learning activity in their journals they have self-knowledge on how the learning experience impacted them.
Code.org website (Retrieved on 2018, March 10)
Gonzalez, J. (2014, June 23). Understanding by Design, Introduction and Chapters 1-4. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/ubd-chapters-1-4/
Iste.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Students. (Retrieved on 2018, March 17) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.