We had a school workday today, and our guest facilitator gave us a quick overview / review of Understanding by Design, a sort of “backward planning” process. You plan a unit by first defining your student learning objectives, then writing essential questions, then planning your assessments, and then planning individual lessons / activities to support all of the above. It’s something all teachers learn in their university course of study, but the review was helpful. I actually had been skipping the “essential questions” part of the planning, but overall following the process with my colleagues.

I decided to make use of the time by re-designing one unit that had given me poor results in the past couple of years. I met with our math department coach and another teacher who teaches the same course, and we started in with UbD (as it’s called).

The course is Connected 2 Accelerated, which is also known as seventh-grade pre-algebra. We started assigning almost all seventh-graders to this course last year, so the range of abilities in the class is very broad.

The unit is “Comparing and Scaling”. This is the second unit we teach during the course. It covers a lot of material and is going to cover even more this year, thanks to some newly revamped standards courtesy of our state department of education.

In a nutshell, we go through percents, fractions, decimals, rates, ratios, and estimation skills. It’s a very broad unit and it’s usually broken into two parts because it takes so long. It’s a struggle, I won’t lie. It is supposed to build strong number sense about these concepts, but it hasn’t come easily in past years. Students end up learning tricks and procedures, but the knowledge seems quite fragile and the deep understanding is weak.

We got as far as unit objectives, essential questions, and the start of a rubric for grading an assessment. I was really intrigued with the essential questions. These drive inquiry, and I feel rather proud of what my colleagues and I came up with. If I can design lessons that really get at the essential questions, we could have a unit that really has deep thinking in it. Here’s what we came up with. Supposedly, they’re good ones if they make the reader start wanting to answer them 😉 What do you think?

Essential Questions for Comparing and Scaling:

– When is a big number not actually so big? How can you tell a small number is small?

– How do number comparisons influence your decision-making?

– How do you communicate numbers so your audience appreciates what is important about them?

– How can you tell if you have made a good prediction? What information is needed to make predictions?

Our school uses standards-based grading, which means part of my unit plan must include what we define as “proficient” work – and then “advanced” work and “partially proficient” work. The “proficient” is reasonably easy to define, as I have a good sense of the kinds of problems kids should be able to solve in this unit. Advanced is much more difficult. How do you go beyond expectations in solving problems with, say, percents?

Once my colleague and I have a draft of the rubric and goals, I’ll post it here!