Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Active Learning and UbD

Our bookclub has been reading Understanding by Design. The first few chapters really gut-punched me in several places and I marked next to them "BLOG POST!!". However, I was out-of-town at the AP Reading and a workshop, so it's taken a while to actually get my thoughts down on "paper".

Here's what got me in Chapter 1...

"How will we distinguish merely interesting learning from *effective* learning?" (pg 14)

"But many teachers begin with and remain focused on textbooks, favored lessons, and time-honored activities - the inputs - rather than deriving those means from what is implied in the desired results - the output. To put it in an odd way, too many teachers focus on the *teaching* and not the *learning*. They spend most of their time thinking, first, about what they will do, what materials they will use, and what they will ask students to do rather than first considering what the learner will need in order to accomplish the learning goals." (pg 15)

That still has the power to take my breath away. How many times have I been that teacher? How many times I have thought about what *I* will do without considering the end goal? One of the design tips suggested going up to a student mid-lesson and asking them "What are you doing? Why are you doing it? What is its purpose/connection?" and I want to do that more this year. I want to be more explicit in the WHY, so that at any point kids should know the purpose of the lesson/activity.

A few days later, we read and discussed chapter 2... again, I felt convicted:

"Doing something correctly, therefore, is not, by itself, evidence of understanding. It might have been an accident or done by rote." (pg 39)

"Students should not be able to solve the new problems and situations merely by remembering the solution to or the precise method of solving a similar problem in class It is not a new problem or situation if it is exactly like the others solved in class except that new quantities or symbols are used." (pg 41)

"We cannot *cover* concepts and expect them thereby to be understood; we have to *uncover* their value - the fact that concepts are the results of inquiry and argument." (pg 46)

I am guilty of coverage. Especially this year :( After 11 snow days, I was in a race against the clock to cover it all. I cringe to even use that word, but it's what I did :( I am also guilty of the new problem issue, although not as bad as I used to be. Early in my career, I was bad about giving a worksheet of 20 problems that were all alike, then giving a quiz with 2-3 more and declaring a success because the kids were able to repeat a process like a trained monkey. Thankfully, I have gotten away from that as much, but it still can creep up on me if I'm not watching.

The next few chapters in UbD weren't as exciting to me, but now we're on Chapter 5, which is about Essential Questions (EQ). I'm about halfway through the chapter at the moment and am eager to finish it and discuss it with my bookclub buddies. Last week, I was at an AVID workshop and one of the cornerstones of the AVID system is the use of Cornell Notes (CN). This year, they rolled out an updated version of their CN template that includes a space at the top for the EQ. I know a lot of districts around the country have adopted UbD as a planning tool and require their teachers to post the daily EQ on their boards at the beginning of the hour. I really like this new addition to the AVID CN template because it helps focus the students in their note-taking and their summary should be a direct link back to the EQ of the day.

As always, when I leave an AVID workshop, I feel challenged to do more WICR activities in my math classes. (WICR = Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Reading). I really feel that the use of WICR activities may help the issues mentioned above and aid in student understanding of concepts. Today, as I was working on some literacy strategies in math, I saw a link being tweeted about PBL, which lead me to another link about Student Centered Learning. (link here) The idea behind this article is that this teacher writes a step-by-step lesson plan and has his students teach themselves. That's not a very good explanation, so please go read his article for yourself. :) I do something very similar in my AP class, where students work through lab activities to gather data, learn vocab and concepts, and work collaboratively with their groups with me acting as a facilitator. I am eager to try something similar (on a smaller scale) with Algebra 2. All afternoon, I tried to visualize this classroom dynamic and the pros/cons of it. I'm not there yet, but so far, I think this could work for me.

It's been a busy summer and while I love going to workshops and learning new methods/ideas, sometimes I walk away feeling pretty down on myself. I don't know if it's something other teachers feel or if it's the perfectionist in me. I know I always have room for improvement and I think that quest for continuous improvement is a good thing. At the end of the day, all I want is to be able to answer "YES" to this question... "Have you done everything in your power to be the best teacher/person that you could be today?"


Stats and Stats said...

Last year I accidentally stumbled on a technique that proved very effective in AP Stats. I call it WISK (What I Should Know). Basically it consists of two problems that the students try to solve individually. After 10 minutes they turn to their nearest neighbor (say on the left) and work together for another 10 minutes or so comparing solutions and asking each other questions. At the end, we go over the problems as a class with me moderating the discussion and trying to extract the main ideas. WISKs were often done a week or so before an exam so participation (both as individuals and as duos was very high). I did not get the same degree of involvement from my Algebra I students - they mostly wanted to socialize. WISKs are not graded.

cheesemonkeysf said...

I loved Paul Bogdan's description of his student-centered "lesson plan" approach. I could definitely see using this with my sophomore-and-up students.

One of the hardest things for me (probably for everyone) is establishing a baseline of study habit expectations for 9th graders. No matter how good their middle school preparation was, high school-level study skills are a quantum leap above what they think is thorough. I'm not sure my 9th graders could pull this off yet.

Also, I love Stats andStats' WISK technique!

Thank you both for sharing these ideas!

- Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

druin said...

Love teh WISK idea! It reminds me of Think-Pair-Share.

Agreed, I really liked the lesson plan. I'm working on some similar ideas for Alg2.

Thank you both for sharing!