The Perfect Match: Technology Integration and Understanding by Design

I’ve done a lot of technology integration projects over the last seven years, but this year I started doing things a little differently. I realized that technology integration is about more than just finding a way to embed technology into a project, it’s about planning an authentic assessment task which utilizes technology in a meaningful way. I’m starting to feel like a curriculum coordinator for technology, rather than a technology facilitator. I don’t just facilitate technology, I develop entire units in partnership with the core subject teachers, and if technology fits, so be it; if not, we don’t force it in. The ultimate goal is always the development of a solid unit of study.

This process really started for me at the beginning of this year when I attended a fantastic Understanding by Design workshop with Jay McTighe. I had been using the UbD process rather superficially for the last few years, but never really applied the process to my integration consultations with other teachers. I usually just sat down with the teachers, talked about what they wanted to accomplish and then helped them achieve their goals. Usually they already had their curriculum mapped out, activities and assessments defined, technology was basically just an fun new way to do the same old things – even though I never realized it at the time.

This year, though, I’ve been going through the UbD process every time a teacher approaches me regarding an integrated project. We spend a lot more time planning than I ever used to, but it is so worth it! For example, I’m currently conducting a great math integration project with our sixth grade math teacher, M. When she came to me to ask about doing a project she told me she was a “digital dinosaur” but she really wants to be a “digital immigrant” (this was right after our PD days). So, right away I had three goals:

  • Focus on making this experience a positive one – sometimes the best tool to complete a project isn’t always the most practical tool. This time was it going to be nice and easy – no pressure.
  • Thoroughly plan out this project based on her math standards to make it crystal clear that math was the focus, not technology.
  • Take all the stress of working with technology away from M. – make sure she does not have to worry about any technical issues, ranging from booking the laptop carts to software issues.

If I could achieve these three goals, I would in turn make some inroads towards the most important goal:

  • Have M. share her positive and stress-free experiences with a technology project around the school – maybe in an official way, like presenting at a staff meeting, but more importantly, in social conversations. Having a self-proclaimed “dinosaur” praising technology integration as an exciting and productive method for teaching math is the best sales pitch to get the rest of those “resisters” on board.

So, basically, there’s a lot riding on this project. I’ve worked with about 70% of our middle school staff this year, but they’re all enthusiasts, interested and ready to explore. M. is the first teacher that is really taking herself out of her comfort zone and experimenting with something that is totally new.

In setting up this project together, we spent at least 3 hours planning and following the UbD process:

  • On the first day M. showed me the project that she was trying to enhance (the previous sixth grade math teacher used to do this project) – a to-scale drawing of a park on graph paper. She knew there would be a way to do the project utilizing technology and she saw this as an easy, introductory way to start integrating IT into her math program.
  • After M. left, I spent about a half hour experimenting with the various applications we have at school to see which would be the best fit for her. My goal was to keep it simple and non-intimidating, so I ended up setting up a template in Macromedia FreeHand with guide lines evenly spaced to reproduce graph paper. This may not have been the absolute best solution, but I always think in practicalities – the simpler the better, especially for teachers new to technology.
  • The next day, we sat down for about an hour to discuss which math standards M. needed to meet with the project. We made a conscious effort to only apply the standards that will actually be assessed over the course of the project. The unit planner started with almost every math standard listed, but now we have 5 (which is still a lot).
  • After we had selected the appropriate standards, we talked about what those standards really were trying to achieve. What were the essential understandings for the unit? What did M. want the students to remember after they’ve graduated high school? What is the big picture?
  • Then, we re-phrased those essential understandings into questions. All the while we are focusing on the standards we listed in step one – what will the students be able to demonstrate if they have truly understood the standards?
  • Next, we took the project that the last teacher developed and looked at how we could adapt that experience to accurately reflect the standards. We rephrased and reorganized the project to reflect the GRASPs model of assessment planning (Goal, Role, Audience, Situation, Product). This was a lot of fun for M. – taking the somewhat stale project idea and transforming it into an authentic assessment with a real-world application. The students would now all play a role in designing an accessible park for our neighborhood as members of the Community Planning Committee They are responsible for taking into consideration the needs of all park enthusiasts and persuading the committee to accept their design. Every student in sixth grade will then share their own park, and have a chance to vote on the park which best meets the needs of the community, via our wiki.
  • After we had designed the final assessment task, we developed additional assessment activities to support student learning to enable them to be able to successfully complete the final assessment. Taking the time to plan activities through the lenses of the 6 facets of understanding really helped us to develop some exciting activities, all focused on the standards but not all involving technology. We thought about accessibility and had the students conduct a “field experiment” by trying to access our upper field on a wheelchair (impossible) to reach the facet of empathy. We also wanted to emphasize the real-life application of mathematical concepts through the use of a digital photo-story journal to reach the facet of self-knowledge. We honestly never would have thought of these ideas if we hadn’t utilized the 6 facets of understanding as we were planning.
  • Once we had the project sorted, we posted everything on M.’s brand new sixth grade math wiki (yay!) and created the corresponding student wiki for this project.

Honestly, it was so much fun coming up with all these ideas. UbD makes it so natural to develop ideas that are truly relevant to the standards, but also unique and exciting. And now that the project has started (yesterday, so no finished work yet) M. has been so pleased at how smooth and stress-free things have been progressing. Every day she tells me how nervous but excited she is about this project.

The cool part is that we did all of this to develop a technology integration project. Which, to me, means it’s not a technology integration project. It’s an awesome math project that utilizes technology in an authentic and meaningful way. To me, technology facilitator isn’t just about bringing technology into the core classrooms, it’s about the process – the process of learning how to plan a new unit in a new way, using new tools…

17 thoughts on “The Perfect Match: Technology Integration and Understanding by Design

  1. Hi Kim.I enjoyed reading your blog. I understand your enthusiasm about using UBD. At my school we have just begun implementing Jay McTighe’s UBD principles when co planning. I was fortunate to attend a Jay McTighe conference recently held in Melbourne with 5 other colleagues. Listening to Jay speak really helped understand how to use his planning model. In fact, from our time at the conference we have been able to produce a proforma that will help ‘walk’our staff through the stages when they collaboratively plan inquiry units of work using the Understanding By Design model.

  2. You are such an enthusiastic technology specialist. The time and effort you put into making things as painfree and enjoyable for teachers is a real credit to you. Any school will be lucky to have you working for them and I’m sure that your new school is very much looking forward to claiming you as their own! It is such cool to complete collaborative projects with you and I am so lucky to have crossed paths and journeyed somewhat with you in the vast ocean of ICT!! Long may it continue!

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  4. Thanks for this – inspiring stuff and definitely a methodology I need to explore with some of my own “dinosaurs”. I’m still wrestling with identifying the “sweet spot” Web 2.0 application that really moves our people into a new kind of space altogether (so far, different for each person!)

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  7. Maria,

    Jay is amazing isn’t he?! When he was here in KL we got to pick his brain about everything related to curriculum planning and he was so inspirational! You could ask him how to design any curricular unit and he had creative, unique and engaging ideas for every one!

    Chrissy,

    Thank you! Clearly the fates aligned to bring us together! I can’t wait to see what exciting ideas we cook up next year when we’re in different school divisions!

    Michael,

    I love your “sweet spot” idea. I think of it like bait. Once they get hooked, they’re in for the long haul 🙂

  8. Kim, You constantly inspire me. On my summer list is to revamp how teacher tech integration plans are created. I will not yet be able to bring them through this level of planning for the plan, but I’m now seeing a way to put my UBD training to work. Might even inspire me to take the next level training online from ASCD this summer.

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  11. Hello Kimberly! I found your posting via Chris Lehmann’s Science Leadership Academy blog. I’m a K-4 technology facilitator at a school in New Jersey and I’m heading to this UbD workshop later this month:

    http://www.authenticeducation.org/si2007/week1.html

    Your posting is inspirational … and I am curious … what advice do you have for someone new to UbD technology?

    I teach five classes a day (K-4, lab setting) and have about 90 minutes a day for collaboration and facilitation. I’m told we are considering a new facilitation model for next year, and though I don’t have details yet, I am told it will involve less time in the lab and more in the classroom. Asuming my role will remain a mixture of regular lab instruction and facilitation, how would you proceed in terms of implementation?

    In short: how do I structure a rollout for this new, collaborative lesson design methodology in an environment where teachers are (largely) accustomed to planning by themselves?

    I really love your last paragraph, it echoes my sentiments exactly!

    -kj-

  12. Thanks for your insights and suggestions. Your enthusiasm is contagious. How do you know your projects and plans “work,” that is students learn more than they would with other instruction?

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  15. Kim: Thanks for posting this. What you describe is exactly how I’ve been interacting with my teachers. We select a long term project, I get resources, sometimes doing this together, then we block out the times. It’s about the learning, and not the technology, so we look at what we want them to be able to understand by the final presentation which can take many different forms, and what standards we want to hit. What your post added were the specific 6 facets. I was surprised to see how many teachers didn’t go beyond the first one. -Brad penobscotriver.edublogs.org

  16. Susan,

    I really find UbD so helpful when planning – I guess that’s why it’s so famous and so popular – it really is useful 🙂

    Kevin,

    I think the biggest thing is to go into the collaborative process with the core-curriculum learning at the focus. There are so many ways to bring technology into the classroom that I’m sure you will have no trouble at all seeing them. The critical aspect is to make sure teachers are aware that you’re not taking up their time with “computer class,” but instead you’re helping their students learn their content even better in, perhaps, a more engaging or exciting way. UbD will help you stay focused and will help your collaborating teacher see that the partnership is about student learning – not technology.

    Bob,

    Good question. I guess that’s basically a question of experience. I can see the difference in my students now, as compared to how I used to teach when I first started. I see the independence, the motivation, the quality, the enthusiasm that, to be honest, I didn’t see in my first few years. It’s pretty obvious to me that this is because of my quality of planning and instruction based on UbD.

    Brad,

    Yes! The facets really help you look at a project in a variety of ways! What’s interesting for me, is that as an MYP teacher I always had students develop 3 different plans for a final product during the planning stage and I always told them because even though they came up with one idea, it might not be the best and having to think of others may force them to be more creative and come up with something even more interesting. In the end, students rarely go with their first idea… It’s the same with those 6 facets!

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