Looking Back at Backwards Design

Screenshot of my completed Demo Unit
Screenshot of my completed Demo Unit.

Backwards Design was a very complicated process for me. For the past six years, I have worked in a school district that has very strict rules about lesson design, including a list of instructional norms and a very intricate common lesson design template. However, my district has not devoted much time to designing entire units.

Now that we have provided each student in our district with a Chromebook, and teachers are busy adapting their course curricula to take full advantage of technology, we have noticed that unit design will have to be a renewed area of emphasis for our district. My new boss, the incoming Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, has made unit design a top area of priority for the coming school year. She has even mentioned the UBD framework as a possible focus of professional development for teachers next year. So my intricate experience with UBD lesson design over the past several courses here at Brandman have not only helped me design better units, they have also given me a leg up on my District’s near-term instructional goals.

My own learning journey with UBD has been very refreshing. I very much liked the emphasis on developing key learning objectives, including deciding how those objectives will be measured, prior to the design of any lessons or learning activities. It is too easy for teachers to fall into the trap of designing a lesson first, particularly when a teacher simply wants to design a lesson in order to try out a new technology tool. I often hear teachers ask me, for example, to help them create a lesson in Pear Deck, or some other tool. I always answer this sort of question with my own question: What is it you wish your students to learn? Teachers frequently need this prompt to back up their thinking and make sure that the technology tool really is the best choice for the desired learning outcome.

I am confident that I will use my Demo Unit in the future. I’m not sure it will be used in its complete form, but bits and pieces of it can certainly be used for various professional development experiences that my partners and I will be designing in the coming months. In fact, I have already used one of the resources I created for the Demo Unit, the YouTube Diner, as part of several recent presentations I have given at local technology conferences. This resource is a particularly good example of how my Demo Unit helps learners engage with content, because they must learn several specific concepts and skills related to embedding a YouTube video into a lesson for their own students.

My Demo Unit also has several examples of learners constructively engaging with peers, including the regular Threaded Discussion and Wiki posts. This is a skill that my district does not develop much up until now, because our professional development has traditionally been done in-person at faculty meetings, small-group work sessions, summer academies, etc. One of my bosses recently challenged us to start offering some of our training and professional development resources in an online format. My experience with this Demo Unit’s online discussions and virtual online meetings has helped me design a prototype professional training portal. A few weeks ago, my partners and I created our first training via this portal, a web-based conference designed to help teachers design Digital Citizenship lessons via Pear Deck. My partners and boss were very impressed that I was able to effectively lead a one-hour virtual online meeting with teachers. I never could have done this without my recent experiences in developing my Demo Unit.

Finally, my Demo Unit has several examples of engaging learners in the electronic environment, including the Key Summative Assessment New Google Sites Portfolio. This portion of the Demo Unit is, to be honest, one that I am not completely satisfied with. Whenever I expect adults to design an authentic product with a new technology tool, I like to provide a template for them to modify, so they don’t have to start a new product completely from scratch. However, there is, as yet, no way to share a template web site with others on New Google Sites. This functionality is available in our District’s G Suite domain with Classic Google Sites, but unfortunately Classic Google Sites is not nearly so user-friendly. Hopefully New Google Sites will add this capability in the future. In the meantime, I am still looking for a way to more effectively scaffold the creation of this portfolio.

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