Creating Independent Learners: The MYP Technology Design Cycle

3 06 2007

I’ve had a lot of success this year utilizing the Understanding by Design model for my technology integration planning, but I have one more secret weapon: the MYP Technology Design Cycle.

Before I moved to Malaysia I spent five years teaching at Munich International School in Germany, which is a full IB school – from the Primary Years Program (PYP) all the way up to the Diploma Program (DP). During that time I really came to enjoy working with the Middle Years Program (MYP), and especially the Technology Design Cycle (TDC). The structure of the Design Cycle helps formalize the natural process that we go through when creating a product: Investigate, Plan, Create, and Evaluate.

A Recipe for Success

Students (and adults), especially when working with technology, tend to leap before they look – jumping right into the creating of the actual product before they think about what they would like it to look like, and what sorts of design elements and features are important in the final product.  By following the Technology Design Cycle, students are forced to take the time to investigate and plan before they begin creating. This gives them the opportunity to really understand what they want to accomplish with their finished product and how they will go about creating that product.

One of the best parts about combining the Design Cycle and the UbD model of curriculum planning is that by giving students an authentic goal to complete, and an organized structure in which to operate, they can complete their tasks almost entirely independently, working and learning at their own pace, helping each other when they get stuck, exploring different ways of completing the task, and discovering new skills along the way.

The Design Cycle ProcessMYP Technology Design Cycle

One example of a successful project that integrates the UbD model of curriculum planning and the MYP Technology Design Cycle is my seventh grade IT class project: the students were asked to design and create a logo that represents themselves in collaboration with students in the United States.

Upon completion of the logo, the students were asked to design a tutorial for the software application they used so that the other group of students could learn about both applications. Finally, they created an electronic portfolio presenting everything they had learned for the quarter. All of this was accomplished in our 9-week exploratory class.

Each stage of the Design Cycle is structured specifically so that students were able to develop the skills they needed to create their final logo:


  • What aspects of myself are import to include in a personal logo?
  • What are the design features of an excellent logo?
  • What are the technical skills students need to create a logo in Macromedia FreeHand?

During this stage of the project students used Inspiration to brainstorm aspects of their personality that they would like to include in a logo. Things like favorite colors, hobbies, and concepts that represent their individual personality. They then spent a lesson researching excellent logos online to determine what criteria are necessary in every good logo. Once they had compiled their individual research we completed a think-pair-share in partners, and then as a class to come up with a specific list of criteria that would later be used to grade their final logos. Next they worked through a jigsaw to investigate one major aspect of the software application. Once each group was confident in their area of expertise, the groups were re-organized so that there was one member from each group to teach their new colleagues how to use that part of the application. Eventually we went over all of the skills as a group to ensure that everyone understood all aspects of the tool they would need to use. Finally they reflected on the process so far and determined what they needed to learn next to make sure they would be able to complete their logo.


  • How can I utilize the design criteria to design an effective logo that represents me?

In this stage, students drew at least three different rough draft ideas for a logo using colored pencil and paper. They were encouraged to make their designs as unique as possible and required to track how well they met the design criteria that were determined in the Investigate stage. Once they had enough designs to choose from they selected their design, determined which tools in the FreeHand they would need to use to create this logo, and justified their design choice.


  • Using my plan and the design criteria, how can I create my logo using what I know about FreeHand?

Next students spent several lessons actually creating their logo on FreeHand. Having access to their brainstorm, design criteria and plans from the previous stages of the design cycle meant that they can work almost entirely independently to create their final logo. Once their design is finished they reflect on what they did well and what they would like to do better next time around.

Now that they truly understood all of the skills required to create an excellent logo, they split into groups to create an online tutorial using our wikispace. Their goal was to create a well designed site where students new to FreeHand could learn how to create a logo in the simplest possible way. If I had more time, I would have had them investigate other tutorials and plan out their own space, but due to the limited number of lessons I could allow, I helped them structure the space effectively.

Finally, they used the skills they learned from creating the tutorial to create their electronic portfolio directly on the wiki. The portfolio is a final presentation of all that they had learned during the quarter.


  • What have I learned?

The last step was to step back and look at the process from the beginning – before they new anything about logo design or FreeHand – and reflect on what they’ve learned.

Working through this process ensures that students have the skills that they need, when they need them. Each stage is carefully designed so that it builds on the previous step. In the end, even the most cautious and nervous students are able to complete their final project almost entirely independently. They may start the quarter thinking that they “only know how to play games” or that “the computer doesn’t like them” or that they just don’t “do computers.” But when they are given the opportunity to work through the TDC, by the end of the project they almost always feel empowered and excited about working with technology.

One Example of Success

This past quarter I’ve had an especially wonderful experience with one of my seventh grade students, Arjun. Before our class started he worked on the 1001 Flat World Tales project in English class. One day he was finishing work after school and he seemed very upset. I sat down and talked about the project with him and discovered that he felt totally confused, he had no idea how to work with the wikispace and he was starting to panic about getting his work done. It turns out that his partner had done most of the work during class, and now that he had to complete his section, he was totally overwhelmed. We spent some time working through it, but I knew that he would be quite anxious about coming to IT the following quarter.

Which is why I was actually moved to tears when I read his final evaluation. Some of my favorite parts are:

“In the Investigate part, I made a very organized and detailed brainstorm that I thought impossible for me at first. I later discovered that it is a mind set that I don’t know “anything” and that I can do almost anything if I set my mind to it.”

“…the project taught me how to work more independently and navigate around the website and FreeHand myself. It was more fun to discover things yourself which is the opposite of what I thought in the begining of this unit. So… I am not only happy with my finished work during this project, but also how it has changed me and what I learned while working on this unit.”

432307hands-holding-seedling-posters.jpgMy goal as a middle school teacher is to empower students with technology, to teach them how to learn with technology, and to ensure that when they leave my classroom they are confident that they can handle anything that comes their way. Every year I have a number of students that are hesitant with technology. They arrive to my class thinking that technology is scary and that they can’t do anything on the computer except play games. I love those students! I love the challenge, and most of all, I love the feeling of success at the end of the quarter when those students realize that they too can be an expert with technology. It’s not something to be afraid of, it’s fun, exciting and much easier than they think. Working through the Technology Design Cycle allows me to help my students reach that goal every time!

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14 responses to “Creating Independent Learners: The MYP Technology Design Cycle”

    12 06 2007
      Bob Heiny (01:03:32) :     

    How would you apply UbD, etc. for an 11 year old interested in astrophysics, sophisticated science, not regular classroom content? Her science teacher is enthusiastic like you and has received many awards, but doesn’t know anything about hard science or astrophysics, so holds this student back with lessons learned on her own while in 3rd and 4th grades. Most classes have such students. How do you suggest we address these individual abilities?

    28 04 2008
      mscofino (14:52:51) :     


    I think this is a real example of the need for differentiation. It sounds like the problem might not be with the teacher’s unit design, but with the differing needs of her students. In that regard, I would want to make sure that the student has mastered the grade-level content (s/he could test out, do a unique project, or complete the work along with the rest of the class) and then get the opportunity, perhaps to design his/her own project.

    Why not sit down with the student to discover what s/he is really interested in and then design an individual project? I know I’ve done that a number of times. Sometimes, when it’s entirely out of my comfort zone, I just look online for project ideas, UbD guiding questions or general research. In my opinion there’s really no excuse for not knowing enough about a topic to let the student learn independently.

    Using the MYP Design Cycle makes it incredibly easy to do this as the student can progress through the stages totally independently with only the teacher for guidance or facilitation. The student can determine what s/he wants to investigate and show the teacher before the research starts. The teacher can set standards for the quality of the research without knowing a thing about the content. Then the student can plan what kind of project would best reflect their learning. This can involve the advice of an expert, which is probably just what the student needs. Finally the creation of the product can be conducted either in class or during the student’s own time – either way it’s easy enough to find rubrics or samples online to be able to asses that work even if the teacher is not an expert. The reflection/evaluation should be no problem for any teacher.

    Does that help?

    10 05 2009
      Patrick (23:24:26) :     


    The image of the cycle you include here doesn’t load when I try to access it. Is there a way you can send it along to me? I’d like to take a closer look. Thanks!

    11 05 2009
      Kim Cofino (11:35:27) :     


    Sorry about that! I have updated the post to include the image in my Flickr account so that should solve that problem :)

    29 08 2009
      Mahika (14:15:48) :     

    Im a grade 9 student and am having difficulties in completing my project.
    It is my first time and the design cycle format my teacher gave me to follow is of 10 pages and I am very confused:(
    Is there a simpler way to summarize what the contents of the design cyle should be?

    12 09 2009
      Kim Cofino (16:59:35) :     


    Well, I can only summarize in the way that I use them to teach, so I don’t know if it will work well for your class, since every teacher is different. But here’s how I would explain it:

    Investigate: this is the research stage. You focus your energies on trying to understand all aspects of what you need to do, you find all the resources you will need to create your project, and you begin to brainstorm what kind of information you will need to include.

    Plan: this is the planning stage. You set up a schedule for what you need to do and when you will complete it. You develop an outline describing your project and exactly what needs to be created and how you plan to finish.

    Create: this is when you create your final project. You use all of the resources you have from the Investigate and the Planning to create your project.

    Evaluate: this is when you look back to see how you did. You look at your finished project compared to your Investigate and your Planning and see if you met your goals. You take time to reflect on what you did, what you could improve on and perhaps seek feedback from others.

    13 10 2009
      jessica hardey (19:58:44) :     

    i think this website has a lot of information for everybody that wants to be a technition my school (dougherty international educational middle school) (located in ALBANY,GA) we are now a IBO school and we are doing many projects in our classes and we need some more information on some of the subjects can anybody help us out


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