To truly understand means to engage deeper with a concept through empathy. It goes beyond simply “knowing.” To know something relates more to facts, information, memorization, or “how-to,” but doesn’t address the real understanding that comes from reflecting on an idea until it becomes our own. Understanding means interacting in such a way that implies wisdom. It stirs responsibility and cultivates integrity beyond shallow knowledge. Think of knowledge as the “dots,” and understanding as the “connecting of the dots.” So how do we attempt to not only help our learners understand how to connect the dots, but also assess their own growth in the process? How do we measure understanding and ensure that the design of our lessons promote students’ learning?

In this week’s assignment, we were asked to design a course using Wiggins & McTighe’s (2005) Understanding by Design model. This model approaches planning with the end goals in mind. It frames the unit or project in such a way that allows both the teachers and the learners to know where they are headed. This design addresses what the students will know, understand, ask, create, assess, and if all of the above points back to the purposeful goal. Targeting planning in this way asks the facilitator to thoughtfully approach projects by asking essential questions, and addressing if what the learner is meant to know is worthy of knowing.

In the prior week’s assignment, we designed a 3-columned course map (Fink, 2005) that addressed the learning goals within each stage of the learning process. I believe both the UbD and the course map are beneficial to designing meaningful courses that help learners understand what, how, and why they are learning what they are learning. The course map gives the learner an idea of the bigger picture of what they are to learn, while the UbD addresses the day to day learning goals or project plans. The course map is valuable because students need to know what is expected of them, and how they can take ownership in exceeding those expectations. UbD is much more detail oriented, and asks that we zoom in on learning goals to map each step of the learning process. I will admit that both frameworks seemed overwhelming when I began designing my course for my students next year. There were so many moving pieces that it took draft after draft and revision to finalize. It took careful attention to detail so that my “knowledge” of the lesson turned into a true “understanding” of why I was planning this in the first place. As I worked through both designs, I see how beneficial both are in creating a significant learning environment. My questions were met with more questions, but somehow by the end of designing the course and reflecting on why these frameworks were set up this way, I finally began to have some clarity. I believe each course I design in the future will work more harmoniously after I get the hang of all of the moving pieces that comes with mapping out every detail of a course. I have a newfound respect and perspective on how much work and effort goes into designing meaningful courses. Below you will find my course organized in UbD’s three stages:

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The key to fostering our learners’ understanding depends on how we create the significant learning environment and thoughtful course design. If true understanding is our goal, then we have to ask relevant questions, and give our learners clear expectations of their outcomes. We need to set an environment that not only helps them learn how to learn, but also discover who they are becoming. Both the UbD and 3-column course map help our learners make sense of the objectives and develop a sense of purpose in their learning. Both of these frameworks invited me to really consider the unique needs of my learners, and design it through their perspective. I believe that these two frameworks will be vital in planning Project-based learning units, and help create an argument that further promotes my innovation plan to implement PBL at my campus. When other colleagues witness the progress of my students through this approach, I believe it will further convince them to get on board. We all want our learners to learn and discover what the world has to offer, we just have to be open to changing our old ways of planning, and take a new approach that is more relevant to our 21st century thinkers.


Fink, L. D. (2005). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Retrieved from:

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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