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Understanding Backwards Design - Civics. Dr. Sarah Mathews Florida International University [email protected] Presentation Influenced by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design (2006). Key Ideas. Start at the End Identify Big Ideas Generate Essential Questions

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Understanding backwards design civics

Understanding Backwards Design - Civics

Dr. Sarah Mathews

Florida International University

[email protected]


Presentation influenced by grant wiggins and jay mctighe s understanding by design 2006
Presentation Influenced byGrant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’sUnderstanding by Design(2006)


Key ideas
Key Ideas

  • Start at the End

  • Identify Big Ideas

  • Generate Essential Questions

  • Attach Objectives to Assessments

  • Plan Learning Activities


Avoid twin sins of traditional design
Avoid “Twin Sins of Traditional Design”

  • 1st Form: Activity Focused = “Hands-on activities that are not minds-on.”

  • 2nd Form: Coverage Focused = “Marching through textbook in a whirlwind attempt to cover every piece of factual information.”


Backward design approach teaching for understanding
Backward Design Approach – Teaching for Understanding

  • Step One: What questions can Motivate student learning? (Essential Questions)

  • Step Two: What are the Core Understandings from this unit? (6 Facets of Understanding)

  • Step Three: How can students Demonstrate these Understandings? (Assessment)

  • Step Four: Which Activities can Facilitate learning? (Learning Plan)

  • Step Five: How can we use Student Performance Data to Adapt our teaching? (Evaluation and Reflection)


Step one essential questions
Step One: Essential Questions

  • There are fundamental, recurring social questions in history

  • Focusing on these recurring questions helps make social studies more relevant to today’s world

  • No “Finite” “Right/Wrong” answer

  • Provocative or Thought-provoking

  • Incorporate core ideas and inquiries within a discipline


Examples of overarching essential questions
Examples of Overarching Essential questions


4. What should society do to promote fairness and justice for people who live within its jurisdiction?

  • What is Justice?

  • Who should determine what is just in society?

  • When do individual rights conflict with group rights?

  • When should citizens give up their rights for the good of the nation?

  • When are citizens justified in withdrawing their consent and seeking political separation from an established state?

  • What rights should be guaranteed to all citizens?


Now you try

SS.7.C.3.3: Illustrate the structure and function (three branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution.

Now You Try


Step two identifying big ideas
Step Two: Identifying branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution. Big Ideas

  • Broad and abstract

  • Represented by one or two words

  • Universal in application

  • Timeless

  • Represented by different examples

  • Provide a lens for study

  • Requires “uncoverage”

  • Can transfer to other areas


Examples of big ideas
Examples of Big Ideas branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution.

  • Separation of Power

  • Role of Media

  • Limits on Power

  • Now You Try…


Clarifying content priorities
Clarifying Content Priorities branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution.

Worth Being Familiar With

Important to Know

and Do

Big Ideas and Core Tasks


6 facets of understanding
6 Facets of Understanding branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution.

  • Explanation

  • Interpretation

  • Application

  • Perspectives

  • Empathy

  • Self-Knowledge


Now you try1

SS.7.C.3.3: Illustrate the structure and function (three branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution.

Now You Try


Step three determining evidence of understanding
Step Three: Determining Evidence of Understanding branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution.

  • What types of Evidence do we need?

  • What specific Characteristics in students’ products or performances should we examine?

  • Does this Evidence enable us to infer students’ level of understanding, skill-set, or disposition?


Range of examples
Range of Examples branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution.

  • Informal checks for understanding

  • Observations and dialogues

  • Tests and quizzes

  • Academic prompts

  • Performance Tasks


Two questions to ask
Two Questions to Ask branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution.

  • Could the proposed criteria be met but the performer still not demonstrate deep understanding?

  • Could the proposed criteria not be met but the performer still show understanding?


Step four plan learning activities whereto
Step Four: Plan Learning Activities - branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution. WHERETO

  • W – Ensure that students understand Where the unit is headed and Why

  • H – Hook students in the beginning and Hold their attention

  • E – Equip students with experiences, tools, knowledge, etc. to accomplish performance goals.

  • R – Provide opportunities to Rethink big ideas, Reflect on progress and Revise their work

  • E – Build in opportunities for students to Evaluate their progress

  • T – Be Tailored to reflect individuals talents, styles, skills O – Be Organized for deep understanding


Step five how can we use student performance data to adapt our teaching
Step Five branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution. : How can we use Student Performance Data to adapt our teaching?

  • Which students Understood what we wanted them to understand?

  • What Remediation can we provide for students that might need more time or instruction?

  • What Enrichment can we provide for students that may have already grasped skills or concepts?

  • How can we teach students to Self-Assess their own learning?


Thank you
Thank You! branches of government established in Articles I, II, and III with corresponding powers) of government in the United States as established in the Constitution.

Sarah Mathews

Florida International University

Department of Teaching and Learning, Social Studies

[email protected]


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