Backward Design 101
And by dragons, I of course mean grad students (don’t get between a grad student and caffeine if you don’t believe me!), and by grad students, I mean me ;-).
Wait wait wait, before you skip over this: If you aren’t interested in features like this, I would love for you to comment and tell me, I can take it, promise! I don’t want you to be bored once a week because no one felt they could say this was a boring feature ;-).
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming….
Grad school is obviously a very large part of my life at the moment, and while I get sick of classes and work just like everyone else, I’m often struck by how cool some of the stuff I’m learning is. So I kind of want to share all that cool stuff with you! It’s also a good chance for me to solidify some of my studying since explaining it helps that :D. Let me know if this sounds like a fun feature to you, since I might keep it going then :).
This semester I’m taking an Engineering Education class, which in theory is supposed to teach us about education theory and how to be really helpful professors. While I’m getting a bit annoyed at some of the discussion we’ve been having, I have gotten really excited about this idea of Backward Design. Backward design is a fancy-schmany way of planning a lesson/class/workshop etc. The “backward” part refers to the idea that normally we think we should start with what activities we should have the students do, then try to figure out how to test them and just kind of hope that they learned something. Traditional methods (what you have probably encountered plenty of times in school!) focus more on what the teacher is teaching than what the students are learning.
Backward design flips that traditional model on it’s head. First, you decide what are the “big ideas” you want your students to learn. This whole process can be for just a small module of a class, or a full semester’s plan. In my class, I only have to make a lesson plan for a module, whew! Once you’ve figured out what you really want your students to walk away remembering, you figure out how to actually test for that understanding. And when I say understanding, I mean that really deep “aha” kind of understanding. You can probably guess that this generally doesn’t mean multiple choice tests. It could, but generally it’s better to have students do essays or projects that really get at the important skills and concepts. “Assessment” as it’s called is really freaking hard. That’s what I’m learning about right now ;-). Since we can’t just take a scan of every students’ brain, figuring out if they have the concepts in there correctly is tough and requires careful assessment planning. Once you’ve figured that out though, then you decide how you are going to teach them what they need to know for the assessment. Since you’re assessment gets at the big ideas you care about, this means that teaching for the test will actually teach them something :D. I haven’t gotten to the third step yet, so I’m not sure what exactly that involves, but it seems like that step tends to emerge naturally from well thought out “big ideas” and “assessment.”
So that’s what I know! Or kinda know… am in the process of knowing? Something like that ;-). Have I completely bored you? Want to read more random snippets from my classwork (and maybe even research :D)? Please let me know! Either way is fine ;-).
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