In two different classes this week I have been introduced to the concept of Understanding by Design (UbD). It was a way of looking at the curriculum and planning from the desired end result and working backwards from there. You find or create the big idea found in the curriculum and then develop essential questions that will help students come to understand the big idea. From your essential questions you plan activities, projects, etc. that will help students answer these questions and begin to make meaning of the content that is being learned, enabling them to better wrestle with or address the beginning big idea. It really seems far more effective than matching activities and content with no defined purpose but the content itself.
My brilliant sister-in-law used UbD in creating her Romeo and Juliet unit titled, “Love, a Fair.” See? Brilliant. She wasn’t just having her students read Shakespeare because that’s what English classes do, it was for the purpose of looking at deeper issues involving love, the cost of loving, and helping students make sense of the work in relation to their own lives. And while the ECS class that covered UbD didn’t feature a horrible rap video like my ESST class on UbD, it did talk more about how assessment fits in. Varying assessments by tasks, content, and time can all help to provide the teacher with a clearer picture of student learning and understanding of the big idea.
It definitely feels like a more difficult way to plan, but it feels so worth it when I remember some of the classes I have endured that served no greater purpose than the final test.
I didn’t cry during David Suzuki’s, Suzuki Speaks, video, but I was motivated and confused during different parts of it. Let’s start with the confused.
Suzuki takes a magic time travel back approx 480 billion years, but immediately dies because their is not yet breathable air. He repeats this time travel several times, and each voyage we learn that there is no water, then no soil, then no plants, and so on are his time travel problems. How these vital natural elements came about and built upon one another he doesn’t address. For a scientist that adheres to evolution, he sure made the whole idea seem quite impossible. He may have approached that differently.
Suzuki also rages against the machine, explaining how the economy and growth are the giant whip-wielding slave driver that is pushing us towards the apocalypse. He made several important points that hit home with me. For instance, I believe focusing solely on the economy at the expense of the social welfare of marginalized groups or our fragile environment is detrimental to all of us. However, issues are rarely black and white, and the slave-imagery and simplified view of “the economy” doesn’t give viewers an ability to understand opposing arguments and formulate their own.
Now we can all relate to little Suzuki recalling his magic places growing up, but in a video that is displayed as scientific and fact-driven, it felt kind of like a cheap emotional grab to gain support. Everyone has places they frequent and spaces that are special to them. To insinuate that we all need or deserve our own private marsh to have a worthwhile childhood discounts the many individual and shared spaces that are not ecological in nature that have meant the world to people.
My favourite part of the movie was Suzuki’s daughter who didn’t pull any punches when addressing UN delegates. Essentially she said that waiting for the next generation to make positive changes was an inadequate excuse and how are kids supposed to do any better than adults if the older generation are terrible role models. Her points were at the core of why I want to teach. I want students to develop a sense of responsibility and agency in regards to the world around them, but I also want to consistently set a good example in how I live my life.
Was this my favourite video? Definitely not. I think he jumped between science, opinion, and emotion in presenting his views. I agreed with many things he said, but not the most enjoyable watch.
As part of ECS 210 this semester, students are to write reflections and responses to weekly readings. I’ll be putting mine up here.
This first week of school we started reading Kevin Kumashiro’s book, Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice. The phrase “social justice” is very trendy, and many find the concept an attractive one. And why not? Help those who have been oppressed and work for change, righting current societal wrongs. Unfortunately for myself, and probably others, I am not sure exactly how to someday “teach” social justice, while already overwhelmed with thinking about teaching basic subject skills, preparing kids for the information age, and helping them lead productive and enjoyable lives, as one student says in the introduction. It’s a tall order for sure. That’s why I’m excited for this book. On a quick look through the table of contents, Kumashiro takes a look at different subject areas and how to effectively incorporate anti-oppressive education in all subjects. This is a textbook that will be read.
Kumashiro says we need students to think independently, critically and creatively about whatever story is being taught. Being aware of context, perspectives, consequences, etc when analyzing situations/problems are such valuable skills across the board. Kumashiro then turns this critical lens on teachers themselves. He begins to show how many common sense, or traditional teaching practices can be oppressive to all or some students. We need to critically and creatively look at how and what we are teaching. To not explore new ways of approaching an old curriculum or new information, we may be perpetuating oppression in our classes. This feels so important as all teachers want their students to feel safe and cared for in their classrooms.
Finally, I may just be a sucker for a quality alliteration, but the questions at the end of each chapter to encourage comprehension, concretization, and critique seem well done. They may be no different than other study guide questions, but the 3 C’s really sold me.