Friday, May 24, 2013

Backwards Design and Concept-Based Assessment in "Changing Face of North America" (the colonial era)

Backwards design means that we develop the appropriate assessments for a unit of study so we can monitor the development of student learning.  Instead of creating an assessment to test what we taught, we must create assessments that assess what students are expected to know, understand, and be able to do.

As part of concept-based learning, we want to incorporate more opportunities to see if students have developed conceptual understanding.  In a 5th grade unit titled The Changing Face of North America (some districts still use the Eurocentirc title of Colonial America), students should walk away with deep understanding of social, political, and economic facets of this era. 

Colorado Academic Standards state that students should be able to explain the development of political, social and economic institutions in the British American colonies.  Notice how this standard implies deep conceptual knowledge.  A teacher can't create an assessment with fill-in-the-blank or true-false questions and come away knowing if students can EXPLAIN these ideas.

To approach this goal, consider this performance assessment that connects student understanding of political, social and economic institutions to the historical concept of continuity and change over time

Instead of saying, "What do I need to teach?", begin your own mental conversation by asking, "If I were the student, what learning experiences would I need to prepare me for this assessment?"  You may even go so far as to try and complete the assessment as an adult.   Once you sense the learning experiences that students need, you may have a better sense of how to construct learning in a rigorous conceptual way.  (I suggest creating concept-based timelines as a tool for students.) It may not be easy at first, but we must move beyond the days of assessment that's about regurgitating facts...we must move to assessment that causes students to use facts to explain more complex concepts.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How does physical geography support understanding the geographic concept of region?

In your mind, using your mental map, how do you picture the United States?  Do you picture individual states or do you picture a set of states within a region?  Why do you think you have a mental picture of the United States by region? probably connect to characteristics connected to human geography (regions with political dispositions, regions with unique ethnic populations, regions with varying economic patterns, regions with different population density).  You might also view U.S. regions in a particular way because of how you associate physical features, climate, and weather patterns with different regions.

When teachers support students in developing the geography concept of region, we often begin with physical geography.  Physical geography allows students to consider facets such as landforms and climate.  In addition, we can begin to understand how weather patterns help students to develop an understanding of region

With recent news, people around the nation and the world are connected to the impact of tornados (physical geography, weather patterns) on people (human geography).  As someone from Denver, I watch the stories about this phenomena and have some connection knowing that a number of tornados occur in the plains region of Colorado.  Still, I often look at tornados as something that's connected to the midwest region and southeast region.  Imagine if you were watching these news stories from California, would you have a connection?  Probably not, and you would most likely associate this weather pattern with other regions in the United States.  In contrast, I associate forest fires with Colorado and the west region.  I associate hurricanes with the southeast region, portions of the southwest, and, increasingly, with the northeast. 

What regions do you think of when you hear about...drought? Blizzards?  Ice storms? El Nino? Hurricanes? Excessive heat?  Excessive humidity?

If we can support students in thinking through the conceptual lens of region, then we connect them to a deeper geographic understanding of the world.  Below, find some geographic tools to help support this learning with students who are beginning to explore regions of the United States.

(Note: I debated titling this posting Get Rid of Old Fashioned Fact-Based State Studies, Become a More Concept-Based Geography Teacher and Help Students Think About the United States Through the Concept of Region)


Find out about the deadliest and costliest hurricanes to strike the United States, in this LiveScience infographic.