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Understanding by Design In Social Studies. in Social Studies. Refresher Training Jennifer Rauscher , Angie Strick & Paul Aleckson March 2, 2009. To sum up ….

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Understanding by Design

In Social Studies

in Social Studies

Refresher Training

Jennifer Rauscher, Angie Strick & Paul Aleckson

March 2, 2009


To sum up …

Big ideas go beyond discrete facts or skills to focus on larger concepts, principles, or processes. These are applicable to new situations within or beyond the subject.

Wiggins & McTighe, Understanding

by Design 2e, 2005







Rules/Laws Values

Conflict Interdependence

Fairness Diversity

Power Rights

Adaptation Movement

Diffusion Democracy

Region Self Interest

Government Cooperation

Compromise Aggression

Innovation Leadership

Family Life

Texas History

U.S. History

Political Science



World History

Understanding concepts is ultimately what enables students to transfer understandings learned in one time/place setting to a new time and place – even a setting with which they have no previous acquaintance. When we teach concepts we allow our students to transcend the settings that we have taught.

-John Hergesheimer


Concepts and Generalizations: Teaching for Understanding in Social Studies

Using BIG IDEAS to Teach History


Points to consider

  • Both models value foundation of specific fact-based knowledge and skills
  • Difference is in culminating focal point of instruction
  • Topic-based: learning specific facts about a given topic
  • Concept-based: learning conceptual understandings drawn from the facts
    • Learning WHY things happen rather than WHAT HAPPENED in the past.

be able to list all of thecompromises made at the Constitutional Convention


  • be able to explain the role of compromise and conflict throughout history using examples from the Constitutional Convention?

Would you rather your students…

  • be able to tell you the populations, natural resources, and climates found in Latin America


  • be able to explain the impact of population, natural resources, and climate on Latin America’s role in the contemporary world?
  • Concepts include:
    • Global connections
    • People, places, and environment
    • Production, distribution, and consumption

You’ve got to go

below the surface...


3 Stages of (“Backward”) Design

1. Identify desired results

2. Determine acceptable evidence

3. Plan learning experiences

& instruction


The stages are logical but they go against habits

    • We’re used to jumping to lesson and activity ideas - before clarifying our performance goals for students
    • By thinking through the assessments upfront, we ensure greater alignment of our goals and means, and that teaching is focused on desired results

to uncover the

really ‘big ideas.’


Worth being familiar with

Worth being familiar with

Important to know and do

Important to know and do

“Enduring” understanding

“Enduring” understanding

Establishing Priorities

Knowledge that is worth being familiar with

Knowledge and skills that are important to know and do

Understandings that are enduring


Taking a Closer Look at Understandings: They are...

  • specific generalizations about the “big ideas.” They summarize the key meanings, inferences, and importance of the ‘content’
  • Require “uncoverage” because they are not “facts” to the novice, but unobvious inferences drawn from facts - counter-intuitive & easily misunderstood
  • deliberately framed as a full sentence “moral of the story” – “Students will understand THAT…”