Time: 8 weeks
Role: curriculum design
Methods: backwards design, interviews with subject matter experts, evidence-based learning principles
Morning Booster is a 10-hour long unit for teaching concepts, procedures and dispositions relevant to design. I used a backwards design approach to base this unit on learners and goals, in order to first develop assessments and then instruction.
The unit begins by giving students a lens through which they can look at the world around them. The intention is for them to be able to look critically at objects and answer the question who is this for and what is it for?
The rest of the unit involves the students tackling a design challenge: how can you improve the morning of a classmate? Specifically, the students will invent something a peer can use between the time they wake up and the time they leave the house.
Based on my knowledge of design thinking, I developed the following goals.
The assessments in Morning Booster give teachers multiple viewpoints into each of student’s learning. That is, the goals are assessed in more than one way. Some are performance tasks, therefore they have a real audience in mind, and involve a lot of information that the students need to sort through and make sense of.
Types of assessments included:
- Journal entries
- Interview plan
- Project definition
- Revisions to work
A book changed my perspective on teaching, The ABCs of How We Learn by Schwartz, Tsang and Blair. Many of the instructional methods were based on this book, and backed by high quality research.
Schwartz, Tsang and Blair inspired me to incorporate learning principles such as these:
- Students and the teacher embody positive norms – Since design is an inherently creative and iterative process, everyone in class must feel safe in taking risks and sharing their ideas, even the crazy ones. Therefore, supporting norms around sharing and responding with feedback is important.
- Use contrasting cases to identify important details – By showing students similar objects and asking them to make conclusions, the teacher can draw students’ attention to important details that might otherwise be overlooked. In design, noticing features of objects is important for critique and analysis
- Let students experience problems before direct instruction – Letting students build up their prior knowledge before direct instruction helps them integrate information. “The problem [with lectures] is that students often do not… construct knowledge from what they read or hear. Their only recourse is to memorize the words (or tune out) rather than understand the implications of those words” (118, Schwartz et al)
- Teach students metacognitive skills – In the unit, there are prompts to model thinking about thinking, i.e. the teacher thinking aloud. Other activities give students opportunities to practice metacognitive skills like understanding assignments fully, and comparing their work to expectations.
- Give students worked examples – The teacher models procedures step-by-step instructions and gives the reasons behind them.
- Teach facts and concepts with direct instruction – Mini-lectures are spread throughout the unit.