UbD as a Framework

“If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.” -- Yogi Berra

Science educators often fall into the trap of designing curriculum that is either activity-orientated without sufficient intellectual engagement in learning the content, or unduly focused on ‘coverage’ of concepts in order to meet the demands of external exams. In utilizing the framework described by Wiggins and McTighe in Understanding by Design (2005), the New Visions Living Environment curriculum shifts emphasis towards considering the end-point desired results or the priority learnings when designing learning sequences or units of study. High quality formative and summative assessments serve as the road maps that lead teachers in designing instruction that prioritizes students’ learning needs, ensuring that activities are aligned to learning goals and ‘minds-on’ rather than simply ‘hands-on.’ Through backward planning, we have developed engaging learning activities that are in service to, rather than in service of, the desired learning results of the course.

Spiraled Curriculum

Spiraling of content is based on cognitive theory advanced by Jerome Bruner, who proposed that any subject can be taught in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development if it is properly structured and presented (Hannum, 2005). In a spiraled course, students revisit a topic, theme, or subject several times throughout the year. The complexity of the topic or theme increases with each revisit, and the new learning is put in context with the prior information. Therefore, the information is reinforced and solidified each time the student revisits the subject matter, allowing students to build connections and deepen their understanding of the content. 

The New Visions Living Environment curriculum strategically spirals core concepts (such as evolution) and themes (such as energy transfer) to facilitate multiple opportunities for students to interact with the overarching themes of biology and to promote success on the Regents exam. Teachers are guided through this process by a designation of high, medium, and low content on the curriculum map, and provided detailed implementation strategies in unit plans. Additionally, spiraling provides language learners and students with diverse learning needs the opportunity to engage in a science concept in multiple contexts, building content knowledge through a targeted and discipline-appropriate sequence.

The BSCS 5E Instructional Model

A strong research base promotes the use of sustained, coordinated, and coherent learning sequences in effective teaching and learning in science. These learning cycles, or instructional models, bring coherence to different teaching strategies, provide connections among educational activities, and enable science teachers to make decisions about interactions with students. We have integrated the BSCS 5E Instructional Model into the New Visions Living Environment curriculum to facilitate inquiry-based learning, providing teachers a pathway to fully involve students in the learning process. 

In the BSCS 5E instructional model, teachers guide students through a series of learning phases: engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation. In the engagement phase, teachers probe students’ prior understanding of the concept, and encourage questioning to engage learning. This information is used to plan a targeted response to student need through the facilitation of a series of experiences designed to build, extend, and evaluate knowledge -- all leading to deep learning through conceptual change. The exploration phase acts as the anchor for learning, focusing on authentic experiences that allow students to engage in science as a practice. During the explain, elaborate, and evaluation phases, students interact with a variety of texts and data sets that may challenge their pre-existing models and ideas to construct and internalize a more thorough understanding of the content. In addition, the curriculum includes the use of discipline specific literacy strategies such as the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) framework for writing scientific explanations. The CER framework supports students in developing their abilities to articulate their understanding of the content, aligning with expectations found in the Common Core Literacy Standards. 

Open Educational Resources

As Porcello and Hsi (2013) argue, there is no shortage of free, high-quality resources available for science teachers. Many of these Open Educational Resources (OER) have been created by nonformal institutions or governmental agencies, and they represent the current research and thinking in the field of science education. There is, however, often a gap between the instructional strategies with which teachers are familiar, and the pedagogy expected to make these OER materials land well in the classroom. Further, teachers need to have a procedure or a framework for critiquing OER resources; otherwise, their selection of materials may be determined by which is easiest to use or least expensive to execute.

In selecting resources for this pilot, we have prioritized high-quality open educational resources. It is our hope that this will both keep the materials up-to-date and reflecting current scientific development and ensure that teachers learn important skills for curating OER science curriculum.

Collaborations & Parternships

Engaging students in authentic inquiry-based experiences requires expertise, resources, and opportunities to learn and reflect with peers. In designing the common scope and sequence for Living Environment, we looked to organizations whose work directly addresses or engages with the science content in the scope and sequence. To this end, we are working with the following organizations, and are in the process of developing additional relationships:
  • Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s DNA Learning Center will provide participating schools access to and training in cutting-edge biotechnology tools and protocols, in part to replace traditional paper-based activities that only simulate biotechnology techniques. 
  • Late Night Labs  will provide participating schools access to their virtual lab experiences, designed to engage, explore, or extend student understanding of the content throughout the curriculum.
  • The American Museum of Natural History will provide professional development around the River Ecology teaching case materials, as a support for the unit on human impact and invasive species.

Strategic Inquiry

Curriculum Components

Google Systems