I’m often asked to share my strategies for developing integrated units that incorporate 21st century skills. An upcoming PBL I’m developing is on The Alamo. It will blend content areas while building 21st century skills and promoting family involvement.
Giving students opportunities to develop and refine their 21st century skills is something most of us see as paramount to learning in today’s classroom. Where many struggle is not with the “why” but with the “how”. One of the most successful ways I’ve found for doing this has come through integration of curriculum and grabbing ahold of Problem Based Learning. When I talk about integration, I mean that in terms of not only content, but 21st century skills as well. I intentionally plan and integrate these for one simple reason:
What Gets Measured Gets Done.
It’s important that students have the ongoing opportunity to develop and refine these skills. They also need the opportunity to examine their progress in specific 21st century skills and reflect on how they are progressing over time. Here are four of my rubrics used to measure these skills: 21st Century Skills Rubrics
For this unit, I’m going to bring in:
Collaboration, problem solving, technology literacy, and public speaking.
Each will be measured throughout the unit in the form of self, peer, and coach (me) evaluations.
Now let’s take a look at how I develop integrated units. I will also share my plans for my upcoming PBL as well.
Backward Design Intended Outcomes
I start with identifying what specific content knowledge and skills are coming up each six weeks, and what students need to know at the end of each respective course unit. This is perhaps the “heaviest” part of the process. I’ll use my own upcoming units as an example here.
Social Studies: Understand the significance of the events leading up to the Alamo, and it’s impact.
Language Arts: Develop and refine skills in reading and analyzing nonfiction text. Develop and refine writing skills and produce an expository essay that includes descriptive details to support a main idea..
Math: Understand and manipulate fractions and decimals, and their relatedness. Understand 3D shapes and identify attributes.
Science: Identify forms of energy and understand interactions, pathways, conversions.
I have specific learning outcomes identified for each content area (though here I am just giving you a brief synopsis of the content covered). I also have formatives and summatives identified so I know where we are going. I can now plan out how to get there.
How And Where To Integrate
Now that I have my concepts identified, I move on to how and where. Quickly we can see a connection here with Social Studies and Language Arts. So I will start there. I know that, throughout the Alamo unit, I want to include opportunities for literacy skills in nonfiction genres. Here is how I will embed this throughout:
- Primary and Secondary Sources. I will use autobiographies, letters, journals, and our Social Studies textbook as the mentor texts during Reading Workshop. Mini lessons will center on nonfiction reading strategies.
- We will examine quotes found in letters and journals to interpret meaning, context, and also find synonyms. Rewrite pleas from today’s perspective.
- Media. We will critically examine a movie poster promoting the film “The Alamo”, and discuss the impact of the chosen colors, taglines, and images.
- Writing Workshop will be used to provide instruction on effective expository writing strategies, with opportunities to respond to Alamo related prompts, journaling, letter writing, persuasive debate, and cause and effect essays.
Math. We are working with fractions and decimals, while continuing to spiral in measurement concepts and move into 3D shapes and attributes. How can I use the Alamo unit to support this learning?
- We will learn about the number of soldiers and ratios between armies.
- Money as it relates to this historical period.
- Fractions of time.
- Comparison of rifle and musket range of fire (200 yards/70 yards) and conversion.
- Examine 3D shapes and attributes found in pictorial representations of Spanish missions.
- Suggest and design upgrades to the Alamo layout.
Science. We are going to identify forms of energy and how they interact with matter. I will include:
- Potential and kinetic energy as it relates to gunpowder, cannons, and firewood.
- Thermal energy.
- Sound energy as we listen to replays of music used during this battle.
Social Studies. We will examine key players, dates, and locations. We will consider events leading up to the battle, and impact on future events. Students will uncover the significance of this historical event and take a virtual tour of the site using Google Earth tour.
Planned throughout in each content area to measure progress on specific content skills as well as 21st century skills. Ongoing feedback allows students to refine and improve in each strand. The Alamo PBL includes benchmarks along the way which are related to both content and 21st century skills. As an example: Students can improve on a grade in Social Studies by improving on a 21st century skill, such as their current level of performance in the area of collaboration.
DEVELOPING THE PROBLEM BASED LEARNING UNIT
The Driving Question
In creating a Problem Based Learning unit, I start with looking at the standard. I then develop a driving question. This is the most difficult part of the task. It’s also the most critical. We want students to not only know what they are learning, but internalize and be able to articulate why they are learning it. The DQ is written ultimately for the students. The question will fuel understanding if it’s written well, articulates the standards, and includes a motivation to learn. It can promote ownership and guide students as they move through to unit. It also needs to include a community connection. I use a “tubric” to help me do this. Here is a video on that:
Here’s my DQ:
Why did the American public popularize the Alamo and how might this legacy apply to my own life?
Now, this is the over-arching DQ. Throughout the unit there are Learning Targets which are written to help them ultimately answer that driving question. Here are questions that will be embedded in this PBL:
What were the issues leading up to this battle, and why were they important?
How did those issues impact decisions that were made?
What might I have done had I been involved in this event? What are the issues that drive that decision?
What are some suggestions I might make if I were in a position to affect change?
How can we share our impressions of the Alamo battle with a larger audience?
How do members of my family approach decion-making situations?
Though they will be incorporated throughout, the above DQ’s are where I will specifically embed those 21st century skills I will assess within this unit. I will leave much to student choice as far as designing their final products is concerned. However, I will provide structured choices for them to consider and work with them to identify appropriate avenues for demonstrating their learning. I also have identified required products along the way to help build capacity and to assess 21st century skills. Each week, the four identified 21st century skills will be assessed through these required activities:
Collaborate in book clubs using texts centered on the event and players involved, such as biographies
Compare/Contrast presentation essay on two key players
Measurement and Conversion/Time/ Fractions
Digital descriptive timelines
Decision Making Brace Map presentation
Journal entries from different perspectives/problems/solutions (will continue throughout)
Character trait analysis
Student-chosen problem and it’s impact: Cause and Effect presentation Graphic Organizers
Critical writing on energy conversion in science
Collaborate to design a movie poster for an Alamo film. They will decide on a tagline, colors, and actors who they imagine would portray main and supporting characters. These will include critical writing on the reasons behind their selections.
Student-chosen problem and it’s impact: Cause and Effect Graphic Organizers
Impact of different energy sources on the events of the Alamo/presentation
Fraction and decimal conversion practice with Alamo facts and figures we uncover
Students collaborate to produce a news broadcast of a self-selected problem and it’s impact on events
4 Corner Stance with critical writing to defend a position
Shared Classroom Debate with Public Speaking Skills
Collaborate and submit suggested upgrades to Alamo design and layout
Expository Essay: An Important Decision I Have Faced
The final product needs to answer the driving question. These will make excellent artifacts for our Standards Based Bulletin Board as well. For more on SBBB’s embraced by my district, visit this link.
Guiding Options for Final Products:
Web page design
Student-produced documentaries on a chosen Alamo figure
Artwork depicting important events and/or people
Digital Biographical sketches
Reenactments, student-written plays
Poetry anthologies related to the significance of the Alamo/events
Personal analysis through persuasive essay
Resource curation on Pinterest or Live Binder
Creation of games (can be 2d or 3D)
Blueprint design of the Alamo, accompanied by student built model to scale. Includes Legacy Snapshots, which are written supporting documents placed on the model
Produce and direct a Public Service Announcement
Lyric writing/music to accompany a scene
Each will allow for problem solving, collaborating, and public speaking/sharing work. By choosing an option above, or by following their own inventive ideas, we can leverage student passions, which always become top-notch products! Each product must be submitted in digital form for uploading to student’s ePortfolio. This will allow for sharing of work with a global audience. Students will include a written reflection on the product, it’s significance to the student, and what was learned through the creation of that product. Each student will also be encouraged to provide ongoing feedback to their peers both during the learning and on the final product. Weekly projects can also be uploaded to ePortfolios, with students selecting the artifacts to share globally.
Students will talk with their families about how they approach big decisions and collect this information. They will explore with their family different strategies for making decisions and short/long term goals. These will be compiled into a class “family advice” book that students can refer to when facing their own “big decisions”. I think this will be a great way to open home communication and provide students with a variety of diverse viewpoints.
Throughout this six week unit, there will be specific mini-lessons and common assessments as written in our curriculum. The backdrop for our day to day learning and connections will be Alamo PBL.
All in all, I’m looking at a great opportunity to develop my students 21st Century Skills, integrate curriculum for deeper understanding through a PBL, and promote family involvement with building decision making skills. So I am very excited heading into the 4th six weeks!
For more on PBL and integrated curriculum, visit here. Visit the Buck Institute for Education for further research based information on PBL.
SBBB informative PDF link that I referenced originated via NISD website.