Thursday, October 30, 2014

Using Learning Targets and Backwards Design in Planning (Colorado, 4thgrade)

Every person goes through their own planning process. This is how I went through my planning process for the 4th grade Colorado unit. In this process, I use backwards design to write Learning Targets and inquiry questions.  I do this so my attention stays focused on student thinking rather than information. (Here are the final Learning Targets that you see me develop within this blog post.)

I began by creating a large poster that included the social studies disciplines that are in this unit.

I used the Unit Outline, which is available in CCAP Stage 3, to create a broad outline for the entire unit. With each "chunk" of learning, I added the social studies disciplines that I think we would elevate. This helps me to keep focus on skill and conceptual goals.

I created a list of the Big Ideas and Organizing Concepts in the unit. I can find these on Stage 1. This is just another way to stay focused on concepts within the unit. I might end up creating an anchor chart that includes these and our inquiry questions.  That way, our anchor chart stays focused on concepts. In the future, I'll be writing Learning Targets that are focused on skills and processes that students will learn and apply in their classroom work.

Some "chunks" of the unit need to broken down into smaller sections. This is helpful in planning the entire unit.

I start to add days to my unit plan. Days are general to start and I know that this may change as I go deeper into the planning process.

I use Stage 1 and focus on the section with skills and processes. I stay focused on this section because it helps me to think about the skills and processes in the unit. Historically, social studies has been about information. I know that 21st century learners must focus on how to use information and sources, and the "Students will be able to..." section provides that guidance. I also know that this helps me to understand rigor within the unit, and I also start to sense what type of modeling I will need so students can be successful with our Learning Targets.

Last, I want to elevate the conceptual goals. To do this, I use Essential Questions and redesign them so they are connected to the facts and skills that have been highlighted in the Learning Targets. I write a few questions that we can use as part of classroom conversations.

Here are my Learning Targets. I decided what a final Learning Target would be, and then I asked myself, "What additional Learning Targets can I write that will help students be successful with their final Learning Target?" Notice how I've established the number of days to accomplish the goals. In addition, notice how I've created different Learning Targets that feel like "the right steps" to be successful. 

My first Learning Targets focus on describing the location of Colorado in relation to other places.

My second Learning Targets focus on using geographic vocabulary to describe Colorado's physical regions.

My third Learning Target is related to comparing regions.

My inquiry questions are open-ended with broad answers. In addition, I've included a question that starts to point in the direction we are going for the unit.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Specialization - Economic Change Over Time AND Economic Systems

Specialization can be used with different concepts. Students can use specialization to understand the historical aspect of how economics has changed over time. Students can also look at specialization through the purely-economic lens.

5th grade - Early American History
When students are engaged in studies of early American History, a common conceptual goal involves economics. The ways people participate in the economic community has changed over time, especially as it relates to specialization. Early communities had wig makers, brick makers, and other different specialized ways of participating in the economic community. View the following videos and ask students, "How does specialization in the colonial era compare the specialization today?"

6th grade - Economic Systems
When student are engaged in studies of the Western Hemisphere, they are frequently asked to describe different characteristics of economic systems. Specialization is something that some economic systems include, and others do not. View the following videos and ask, "What might specialization look like in different economies of today?"

The Bike Maker (specializing to create a good)

Made by Hand / Teaser - The Bike Maker from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

The Beekeeper (specializing to provide goods)

Made by Hand / No 3 The Beekeeper from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

I love the video "The Knife Maker" (specializing to provide a good) - This IS NOT recommended for students when using sound. The knife maker uses foul language a few times in the video, but his craft is amazing. I suggest turning off the volume and ask students to observe the process of this craft.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Nelson Mandela - Understanding Actions of Individuals and Civic Ideals

      As students are engaged with units of study related to the U.S. Constitution, they certainly explore the concept of citizenship and explore the topic of civic ideals. While you explore this concept, you can also extend student thinking to support students as writers. You might look at the civics portion like this (writing is included at the end of the lesson):
  • Social Studies Discipline: Civics
  • Concept: Citizenship
    • Understand: Students will understand that an individual's actions communicate their conviction to civic ideals.
    • Essential Question: How do actions reveal someone's conviction to civic ideals?
      • Why is this a transferrable concept? Everyone takes ownership of their vision of citizenship and everyone develops their own understanding of what civic ideals look like within their lives. In our day to day actions, we see evidence of what people in society believe about civic ideals. Sometimes we agree with those actions, sometimes we don't. The ways people apply civic ideals might look different across time, place, or culture.
    • Know: Students will know civic ideals (including freedom, rule of law, equality, civility, cooperation, respect, responsibility, and civic participation)
    • Skill: Students will be able to relate and describe how group/individual actions are connected to an individual's/group's belief about civic ideals.
In this learning activity, students will engage with a multiple resources. The video shows Maya Angelou sharing a poem about Nelson Mandela. The video includes specific images and specific phrases from a poem that students might use to support the goals for this lesson.
Source One - Video: His Day is Done - Maya Angelou's Tribute Poem for Nelson Mandela

Source 2 - The Day is Done (poem)

Source 3 - 17 Inspiring Facts About Nelson Mandela (from The New Yorker)

Student task:
As writers - Use source 1 and 2 to understand how video and language are used to communicate the impact of a citizen on society.
As citizens - Use details from all sources to describe how Nelson Mandela's actions and beliefs reveal his conviction to civic ideals and society.

As citizens - To show you have transferred this idea, create a list of inspiring facts about someone you admire (possibly yourself). Identify how this individual's actions are related to his/her beliefs about civic ideals.
As writers - Write a poem to effectively communicate the impact of "someone you admire" on society.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Using Essential Questions with Intentionality AND Purpose

When visiting classrooms, teachers are regularly using visual reminders (posters, anchor charts, pulling up digital charts) of the big ideas and essential questions that frame the work within different chunks of a unit. Yet, "merely posting the essential questions and occasionally reminding kids of it is pointless: the aim is to use the question to frame specific activities, to provide perspective, " and to focus on the conceptual ideas that are prioritized for the unit. Most important, essential questions bring the critical thinking and reasoning of students to the forefront of inquiry. After all, essential questions are designed for inquiry...and daily classroom experiences should be designed so students skillfully develop new knowledge and evidence to answer questions with reasonable ideas.

This can be a huge leap, especially in social studies, because of traditions that regularly take over a teacher's approach to social studies instruction.  Sadly, social studies still seems to driven by reading non-fiction text and completing activities that provide a break from learning more facts and masses of information. In contrast, students should be:

    • taking time to apply critical thinking skills to analyze and gather the big ideas from multiple sources (charts, graphs, images, maps, primary sources, secondary sources, and visual media),
    • asking additional questions due to interaction with sources (even if those questions are not answered),
    • using newly learned ideas to engage in discipline-specific critical thinking and reasoning (Look at what students should be able to do. This is discipline-specific thinking/work and allows students to engage in the thinking practices and skills of historians, geographers, economists, and engaged/informed citizens), and
    • using newly learned ideas to connect with the big ideas and essential questions (essential questions are designed with students as the audience, and they're designed so students uncover conceptual understandings)
"At every turn, in other words, the essential question looms large in the unit. Students are not only encouraged to keep pondering them" over the course of many days, "but they take notes on the question and routinely remind one another that the essential question is the focus." As a point of self-reflection, ask yourself:
  1. Is the teacher the only one who keeps referring to the essential question? Or, do students continually refer to the essential question, indicating that they know it's a tool central to their learning?
  2. Does the teacher primarily use an essential question so students can point out "answers"? Or, does the teacher use an essential question so students can use what they've learned and also pose additional ideas beyond what they are learning? (Students owning the question is central to a guided release model.)
  3. Is the essential question central to assessment?
  4. Is there a plan whereby the question goes from the teacher's control to the students' control?
I'm going to steal from Grant Wiggins' blog post, and use his Four-Phase Process for Implementing Essential Questions. (For more insights, check out his book Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Students Understanding.) As you read this chart, notice how inquiry with essential questions is supported with design of the unit. Because social studies units frequently contain a mix of complex concepts and skills, consider how you might organize a unit into chunks. Each chunk can address an essential question (or possibly a few related essential questions). To answer that question, students engage with sources and process their learning by using discipline-specific thinking skills AND the essential question(s) that are aligned to conceptual understandings. 

Four-Phase Process for Implementing Essential Questions
(Access a blank version of this template to use in planning)

Finally, as you reflect on essential questions that you choose to drive different chunks of a unit, consider the components of a GOOD essential question (from Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins):
  • "A GOOD essential question:
    • is thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, meant to spark discussion and debate.
    • calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, and prediction. It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone.
    • points towards important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across disciplines).
    • raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry.
    • requires support and justification, not just an answer.
    • recurs over time (i.e. the question can and should be re-visited again and again)."
Questions that meet all or most of these criteria qualify as 'essential.' These are questions that are not answerable with finality in a single lesson or brief sentence - and that's the point. Their aim is to stimulate thought, to provoke inquiry, and to spark more questions, including thoughtful student questions, not just pat answers. They are provocative and generative. By tackling such questions, learners are engaged in 'uncovering' the depth and richness of a topic that might otherwise be obscured by simply 'covering' it." 

** I want to note that significant facets of this post (identified within quotes) come from a post by Grant Wiggins, "On genuine vs bogus inquiry - using EQs properly."

How Might I Assess If Students Understand "Culture"?

     In various grades, students examine culture. It might be...the culture of an individual or family...the culture of a state, region or nation...the culture of indigenous peoples. When students examine culture, they look at the pieces that make up the whole.

Over time, students begin to understand that unity and diversity across cultures can be identified when looking at different elements of culture, such as:
  • Social Aspects of Culture (major beliefs and values, holidays and celebrations, religion, art, language, education, food, games/sports)
  • Economic Aspects of Culture (economic organization, interdependence and specialization)
  • Political Aspects of Culture (governmental organization, laws and policies, mechanisms to foster cooperation and to deal with conflict)
For social studies teachers, assessing a student's understanding of culture is very difficult. Yet, demonstrating understanding of culture provides a number of pathways to empower students and incorporate student creativity. When I asked fellow social studies teachers about the different ways they assess culture, these were some of their ideas:
  1. Students create a museum exhibit with artifacts. When you visit a museum, artifacts are used to represent the culture. With any artifact, there's an explanation about the artifact and why it's important to a culture. Students could select artifacts that represent different elements of culture. Students can explain the artifact's connection the culture while also identifying why the artifact is a strong example within a particular element of culture. Museum exhibits can be created by small groups of students and placed on display. Students can also use different digital tools to gather a digital museum exhibit and create a video with voice-over to be docents of the exhibit.
  2. How about a survival guide? When we must "step-in" to new and different cultures, we must figure out ways of assimilating so we can fit-in and survive. What are the cultural norms that are necessary to blend in, assimilate, and acculturate? 
  3. Create a video report complete with photos, artifacts, music, etc. It provides a creative opportunity for students to share their understanding. 
  4. Create alternate lines of culture.  We might study a particular culture and then ask, "What if our culture included this aspect of another culture? How would this impact us? What if this event would have happened in our culture, how would that have impacted our culture of today?"
  5. Within a culture, life is seen differently by its members. Culture is different for a young boy or young girl.  Culture is seen differently by a rich or poor person, man or woman, leader or citizen.  Students might create diary entries or design short skits that elevate the perspective of different members within a culture. Students can be required to identify the different elements of culture that are being addressed within the diary entry or skit. This might also be accomplished by students creating documentaries that involve someone interviewing different members of a culture.
  6. Add any of your ideas in the comments section.