Thursday, May 1, 2014

Backwards Planning our Regions Unit

Teaching third and fourth grade, we teach our Science and Social Studies units every other year. So, recently members of our team met to revisit our backwards designed unit around the regions of the U.S. Jeff and I spent a lot of time planning this unit years ago, but we knew that we needed to revise parts. This is one unit Jeff and I team teach, so collaboration is key. This year I had a big ah-ha while looking over our plan.

 Overall, we felt like our essential question and enduring understandings were still appropriate. They matched the standards nicely.

-Essential Question:  How does a region's economy, culture, geography and issues shape each region?  How does each unique region contribute to the U.S. as a whole?

-Enduring Understanding:  Every system is made up of interdependent elements that make unique contributions to the system as a whole.

Although, when I started looking at how students were going to show what they learned and know I became torn. Originally I had a list of genres and products that students could choose from in order to show/share their research findings. In this list were a realistic or historical fiction story, newspaper article, poem, etc. (Secretly, I wanted to do a multi genre project.) In thinking about our essential question and enduring understandings I had to stop and think. Can students show me in a poem, newspaper article etc. how each region is shaped by the economy, culture, geography, and issues? Sure. It's a tough task, but it's possible with great amounts of synthesis occurring. But, then I stopped to think about about the literacy standards we are trying to meet, and immediately I felt discouraged. During this unit I'm supposed to be teaching how to read nonfiction effectively, research (determine importance), and relay the learned information in an organized manner (synthesis). Along with that comes paragraph writing, organization, thesis statements, transitions, providing evidence, etc. By letting students write a historical fiction piece, I'm not holding true to the informational reading and writing standards. It's not that they wouldn't learn about the regions-but I'm not sure the product meets the standards I declared important.

Since this experience, I've been thinking about if whether or not my end products match my essential question, enduring understandings, and 'can dos' or standards. It's easy to get caught up in something that I'm passionate about, but from time to time I needed to be wrangled in. It's also made me think about how we integrate the Social Studies and Literacy standards into our plan. Looking back, the Social Studies content and standards are very evident in our plan, but I realize now we don't have the literacy can dos and specifics written into the plan. The next time I'm planning, I need to stop and reflect on these aspects.

Perhaps one day we'll have enough time to do a multigenre project with the regions where they could show their learning by writing an organized essay but then other genres of their choice as well...

Here is the link to our full plan if you'd like to see it.


  1. Jamie, I can relate--our passions can derail us. Reining ourselves and/or getting reined in is a valuable reflection. This UbD study has been useful in ways we hadn't quite anticipated, hasn't it?

  2. Jamie,
    I appreciate your reflection on what is valuable to the kids while balancing teaching of the standards. More and more in 1st we are encouraging experimentation with all genres, despite what we are currently teaching. Yes, we want to make sure kids are proficient with the genre, however, we are still getting kids to pick up the pencil, so if we can engage them with a poem or historical fiction piece, I DO see the value: you are inspiring passion.