Watersheds "by Design"
"The many compelling stories, problems and perplexities of our places can be woven into formal learning plans to benefit students, teachers, and the communities within which they work."
Planning learning experiences in real places with real problems, working with real people, is challenging. The Understanding by Design model of curriculum provides tools that allow us to frame these experiences and serves as the basis of our approach to watershed education.
The Understanding by Design or "backwards planning" theory of curriculum design, presented by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (ASCD: 1995/2005), suggests we embed our teaching and learning in essential questions. They outline a process that begins by identifying important enduring understandings, determining what evidence would show understanding—and then to plan backwards to decide what students would need to know, understand and do (KUD) in order to answer the essential question.
"I learned that place-based learning is not simply a field trip, but instead intentional activities that require time to develop and execute."
Karin Ames, WEC teacher-2010-2011, Final Reflection
With natural boundaries that serve as a framework for shaping essential questions, watersheds provide a valuable lens with which we can focus our efforts to understand the complex natural and cultural processes that shape places.
Places provide rich and authentic opportunities to learn content, skills and important life-long lessons. While such knowledge is dealt with in school as separate subjects, many connected lessons emerge naturally from places as students seek to understand watersheds by design.
When students grapple with problems and possibilities in local places, they learn content, acquire skills, and grow as civic-minded human beings.
When teachers design curriculum using a local place such as the watershed they need to make decisions about the size and scope of the unit. What will be the Design Focus?
- What size?
- What place?
They also need to make decisions about the focus: What questions will frame my study?
- What is the focus?
- What is the outcome?
- What will be the evidence of new learning?
Designing curriculum becomes an exercise in alignment of purpose, outcome, and process.
- What is the question that will determine the answer?
- How can I equip students to get to an answer successfully?
- How can I best align the plan for learning with my intended outcome?